Conan O’Brien: Proving NBC Wrong Would Be ‘A Hollow Feeling’

Conan O’Brien is not at all interested in what people are calling his “folk hero status” after the ‘Tonight Show’ debacle, and he’s really not keen on dwelling on it. All he wants to do is make people laugh, again.

I am someone who wants to be recognized for things I do that are funny,” O’Brien says in a new interview with New York Magazine. “The hoopla of the last 10 months — I’m anxious to have that phase be over and just have people say, ‘I saw him last night and this thing really made me laugh.’ Yeah, I like to believe that I stand for some things, here and there, but that’s not really what I’m interested in getting across, you know?”

“It’s very important to me that my comedy doesn’t mean anything,” he continued. “And I really mean that. It either makes you laugh or it doesn’t. I’m a really strong believer that comedy should have no meaning. And that’s probably upsetting to some people. But it should just make you laugh. Anyone who is sticking around with me because they think it’s a social movement will be gone pretty quickly if they don’t like the comedy.”

Does that mean Conan discounts socially-relevant movements like the Rally to Restore Sanity spearheaded by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?

“Jon and Stephen do political humor, but they’re also funny,” O’Brien explains. “They’re not around just because, you know, they’re striking a political tone — because a lot of people do that. They happen to be very funny, talented guys and I think that is what I always believe I’m going to live or die on. I don’t want to necessarily represent anything.”

O’Brien is also not interested in revenge or proving NBC wrong for their decision to dump him in favor of Jay Leno. “It’s very human to feel, ‘I’m gonna show those guys.’ The problem is, it’s not a very healthy motivation because, who are ‘those guys?’ They’re constantly changing. If I’m looking for satisfaction in some way from this group of people [at NBC] that made this decision for whatever reasons or backing this decision or whatever happened, it’s gonna be a hollow feeling. The biggest waste of my time right now would be to try and change some executive’s mind about me, because my guess is they moved on.”

In fact, O’Brien says he’s not going to spend a lot of time even joking about the NBC mess. “I want to make new comedy, I want to make new things. This is a new phase of my career that I hope lasts a long time, and I hope is very creative, so I don’t want to refer back. We’ve already [done jokes like that] and we grew bored of them really quickly. It was, ‘Eh, who cares?'”

So what can we expect from TBS’ ‘Conan’ when it debuts Nov. 8 (following an online sneak peek this Monday at 11/10c)? “At this point, after everything I’ve been through in the past 10 months, my instinct is to be probably bolder and looser, and just go for it. Whatever that means,” O’Brien offers. “All my favorite moments in late night, it’s about the silly… the random… the thing you find. It can’t be high opera every night; the medium just doesn’t sustain it.”

As for which of his favorite comedy bits might survive the shuffle to TBS, O’Brien seems as foggy as the rest of us about that. Whatever he decides to resurrect, “I don’t imagine it’s going to be a big issue,” he says, “First of all, I don’t see Brian Williams having any need for the Masturbating Bear. But I’m not looking to be provocative in that way.”

That may seem somewhat conciliatory, but he still shrugs off any idea of having a conversation with Leno. “I don’t think there’s much to say. I don’t think we have much to talk about, so…. Life is short, you know. And like I say, I don’t want to waste any time. I don’t think anyone should waste much time dwelling on it.”

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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