The Max Travel Show Proves Life After Late Night: NPR

Conan O'Brien dresses up as a Viking in Norway.

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Conan O'Brien dresses up as a Viking in Norway.

Conaco/Max

To be honest, when I first heard that Conan O'Brien was ending his TV talk show in 2021, I assumed that the news that he would be turning to variety shows and online programming to further his career was a combination of face-saving and wishful thinking.

But after watching the four episodes of his new Max series Conan O'Brien has to go, it's now clear — even to a thick-headed critic like me — that leaving late-night TV was truly liberating for O'Brien. He has used his unique sensitivity in several podcasts, a deal with Sirius XMspecials with other stand-up comics and now this travel series for Max – which resembles joke specials he made for cable channel TBS at the time.

And as the late-night TV genre crumbles amid declining viewership and the decline of traditional media, O'Brien's renaissance also provides a model for the future – where fertile comedic minds and talented performers can spread their work across a much larger canvas. to spread.

Learning a Lesson from 'Hot Ones'

O'Brien recently impressed with his brilliantly maniacal performance on the interview-while-eating-hot-wings show Hotdrooling over hot sauces while claiming, while being checked by a fake doctor, that “I'm fine! I'm damn fine!”

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This is where O'Brien shines – it's called his “this strange phantom cross between smart and stupid” – and it's completely, freakishly, super stupid on display in every episode of Conan O'Brien has to go.

The conceit of the show is quite simple. O'Brien goes abroad to visit ordinary people in Norway, Argentina, Thailand and Ireland who once zoomed in to talk to him on the podcast Conan O'Brien needs a fan. Sometimes the visits seem like a surprise – he catches an aspiring Norwegian rapper in shorts and Crocs after showing up on his doorstep – and others seem a bit more planned, including his visit to a radio show with about four listeners in Buenos Aires.

Each episode begins with a solemn monologue that sounds as if it were being spoken by cinema's most eccentric voice, German filmmaker and actor Werner Herzog (he is uncredited in the show and when asked, a publicist at Max shared a quote from O'Brien : “I can neither confirm nor deny the voice in question.”)

“Herzog”’s torturous accent makes every line sound absurdly hilarious, describing O’Brien as “the defiler…with dull, small eyes…the eyes of a crudely painted doll…he searches in distant lands , uninvited, fueled by a bottomless hunger for recognition and the occasional selfie.”

That's smart. And oh so stupid.

A funny mirror version of a travel show

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O'Brien performs with a fan on stage in Norway

Conaco/Max


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O'Brien performs with a fan on stage in Norway

Conaco/Max

O'Brien's fans Conan without limits special offers on TBS already knows what his style is when he tackles a travel show, throwing himself into outrageous reactions and situations while having his quirky brand of improvised conversations with hapless bystanders.

In the Max series Conan O'Brien has to go, including O'Brien offering screechy vocals onstage during a Norwegian emo/rap band performance. Or asking provocative questions to a relationship therapist/sex expert. Or getting beaten up during a 'fight' with a 10-year-old boy in a bar.

It's all an excuse for O'Brien to give free rein to his energetic humor, his taste for silly absurdity and his skill at making fun of sympathetic – if often confused – strangers. Whether you like this special depends on how you feel about O'Brien's style, which can feel a bit like the best clown in the world doing everything he can to make you smile.

(Renting a family in Norway so they can say goodbye as he boards a SeaCraft? Check. Have local artists paint a mural of O'Brien, a soccer star and the Pope on the side of a building in Argentina? Check again at sometime. )

But what amazes more broadly is how O'Brien has parlayed his sensibility into a brand of comedy to drive work across many different platforms. And at 60, with more than 30 years as a comedy star, he's freed from the shackles of any genre to star wherever he wants – whether it's an episode of Hot or a streaming service that sometimes seems like a clash between Real detective And 90 Day Fiancé.

He left late night TV when late night left him

I'm old enough to start reporting on TV not long after O'Brien took his first step out of the shadows of life as a comedy writer – he worked on Saturday evening live And The Simpsonsto succeed David Letterman in 1993 as host of NBC's show Late at night (now hosted by Seth Meyers). At the time, NBC gave O'Brien years to figure out the show, honing his smart-serious comedy in a way that would inspire then-teen fans like Seth Rogen and Bill Hader.

O'Brien left NBC afterward a disastrous deal where the network tried to make him host of its revered late night program The tonight show and also keeping its former host Jay Leno on the network. He moved to a late night show on TBS in 2010, but even then there was a sense that his creativity was a bit limited by the format.

By the time he left his TBS show Conan It seemed like O'Brien was already caught in a trend that would hamper other late night shows — as young viewers consumed his content online and cable ratings fell.

Now with a podcast and digital media company worth many millions and growing status as a TV comedy legend, still willing to do almost anything for a laugh, O'Brien proves that there is a successful life beyond the late night hours.

Especially if you have a knack for fooling around without leaving any doubt, you're also the smartest person in the room.

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