Net Worth: Whether in person or on the web, Conan delivers

Steve Kroft, left, interviews Conan O'Brien on "60 Minutes."

Steve Kroft, left, interviews Conan O'Brien on "60 Minutes."

Friday, May 14, 2010


Jon Niccum/Special to the Journal-World

Jon Niccum, left, and Conan O'Brien "ink a big business deal" in Beverly Hills, Ca., circa 1998.

Jay Leno is the black hole of comedy.

Not only does he lack an ability to deliver the funny, he actually erases the funny from others. Such is his role in ousting Conan O’Brien from “The Tonight Show” to save his own floundering prime-time catastrophe — an event now frequently cited as the “worst decision in network TV history.”

But the scheming, unfunny Jay’s meddling in the world of late-night entertainment has led to one development that likely would never have happened: Conan is performing live in Kansas City this weekend. He’s embarking on his first-ever concert outing, titled The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. Here he promises “a night of music, comedy, hugging and the occasional awkward silence.”

I admit it will not represent my first exposure to Conan in the flesh.

Back in 1998 when I was working for a rival publication, I often was sent to the coasts for various film-related interviews. One weekend I was stationed at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, well-known as being a place where you can’t help but trip over a movie star. As I was heading poolside to work on an article, Conan walked through the entrance to the lobby. He seemed to be meandering around, so as he walked by I blurted, “Hey, Conan.”

The talk show host stopped, came over and began talking to me as if we were old friends.

“Man, can you believe how many celebrities are here? I should just set up my desk and do the show from the lobby. I’d probably get better guests,” he quipped.

We talked awhile about nothing in particular, and I remember being struck by how non-Hollywood and approachable he seemed. I asked if I could take a photo with him, and he said, “Sure. Let’s shake hands like we just inked a big business deal.”

So in the absence of nightly Conan appearances, I’ve taken to enjoying some of his best bits on YouTube. The "Dinner with Jordan" and "Old Time Baseball" pieces are always worth watching. But one of the latest standouts is contributed by the site Funny Or Die called “Conan O’Brien’s ‘60 Minutes’ Inner Monologue.”

The video speculates what Conan was really thinking throughout his recent “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft.

During the sitdown with Kroft, the reporter comments, “Jay Leno thinks you got screwed. Jay Leno thinks he got screwed.”

Conan says, “How did he get screwed?” and bursts out into laughter. But the caption below reads, “That’s the funniest thing Leno’s ever said.”

Later, Kroft asks, “Has Jay reached out to you? No calls?”

Conan simply says, “No,” while his inner monologue asserts, “Rapists don’t usually call their victims.”

So far there are no online videos showcasing Jay’s inner monologue. But if there was one, it would likely be a loop of the same repeated phrases: “Money. Fame. Will you love me more if I make another O.J. joke?”

— Entertainment editor Jon Niccum explores facets of pop culture that have established a unique niche on the Internet in Net Worth. He can be reached at 832-7178.