Conan O’Brien…Kind of a Dick?

File:Conan O'Brien - Simpsons (cropped).jpg

I don’t want to think ill of Conan O’Brien, since it takes away valuable hate energy better spent thinking ill of Jimmy Fallon.  True, the man is a Harvard Lampoon alumnus, which automatically makes him a little suspect in my eyes (especially since I’m also a Harvard Lampoon alumnus and didn’t wind up with my own talk show or a multi-million dollar writing career, thus proving some kind of evil conspiracy or another).  But nevertheless, O’Brien is genuinely funny, and I’d like to think of the goofy redhead as one of the good guys…

and yet…just as John “Two Americas” Edwards’ infamous (though seemingly minor) $400 haircut got my spidey sense tingling long before the man revealed himself to be a ticking time bomb of jaw-dropping douchiness, the following entry in O’Brien’s recent “Must List” for Entertainment Weekly, while seemingly inconsequential, still kinda stuck in my craw.  After praising Val Kilmer’s performance in Tombstone (fair enough), the works of John Updike (blecch…but, okay, fine…) and two items that would provoke derisive eye-rolling in lists compiled by, say, Kevin Costner or Dane Cook (i.e., Perfect Pushup and a late ‘50s Gretsch 6120, “the orange rockabilly guitar made famous by Eddie Cochran,” dontcha know), O’Brien says this about HBO’s The Wire on DVD:  “I’ve never seen this TV show, but a lot of white people who make more than 60 grand a year tell me I have to put it on this list. Again, I have not watched one minute of this program, but I have it on good authority that season 4 rocks!”

Well, yes…season four of The Wire does, indeed, rock.  But the point is, O’Brien’s seemingly snide put-down of the show as something that rich white people like is annoying for a few reasons.

  1. He hasn’t seen the show — he’s very clear on the point  — so apparently he’s mocking it blindly, which is fine…I spend half my life blindly mocking, say, Michael Bay films that I never intend to see.  But that’s because I did see Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, and thus I have at least some basis for assuming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a facile headache machine…and so I mock.  On the other hand, while I’m sure there are plenty of pretentious, overeducated cinema snobs out there who drone on about the genius of, say, Wong Kar-wai, I can’t really take a swipe at the guy (or his fans), since I’ve never seen his films and don’t really have any ammunition (or reason for) an attack,  (especially given that his work is generally well-regarded by critics and movie fans), which brings me to…
  2. T.V. critics, a cranky, disputatious bunch, are fairly unanimous in their praise of The Wire as one of the best shows in the history of the medium…which means that, okay, sure, maybe it’s become something of a sacred cow, i.e., a natural target for comedians and contrarians who distrust anything that’s too universally praised.  Heck, I went after The Dark Knight at the height of its popularity, and just recently my friend John Mitchell jabbed at the generally well-received Star Trek reboot — but taking shots at a blockbuster film or super-hyped TV series is different than zapping a well-made yet commercially unsuccessful, relatively unseen work of serious social commentary (in the same way it’s a little cooler to make fun of the head cheerleader than the friendless, brilliant violin prodigy).  And finally…
  3. …so the hipster white millionaire is on record about the show he (and many others) never saw, damning it with faint praise as something upper middle class white people (i.e., dorky crackers far below his own income bracket) enjoy, like A Prairie Home Companion, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and, uh…John Updike?  Well, firstly, that’ll come as a surprise to all the non-white, non-rich viewers who love the show.  Secondly, the mostly non-white cast of The Wire would probably be surprised to learn about all the rich white people Conan knows who love the show, considering it was nominated for exactly zero acting Emmys (and only two measly writing nods) during the course of its five seasons…a breathtaking display of fairly blatant Hollywood racism, considering William Shatner — Shatner! — has received not one but two Emmys for his work as a dramatic actor.

Sure, I’m overreacting, and sure, I think I get O’Brien’s point:  there are plenty of white people (myself included) who consider themselves cool, color-blind and up-to-speed on social issues just from watching a pay-cable TV show, and I suppose there’s something inherently risible about that.  But, nevertheless, The Wire provided exposure for a lot of underutilized minority actors while shining a light on underreported issues affecting lots and lots of people making far less than sixty grand a year, and for a rich white guy to call attention to the show merely to snark it (thus potentially dissuading viewers from checking it out) all so he can score a few points off other white people seems pretty Entertainment Weakly to me.  (Andrew Osborne)

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6 Responses to “Conan O’Brien…Kind of a Dick?”


  1. 1 jenbenn June 1, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    interesting = tho imho i have to say it comes off as a bit defensive -and it comes off even more as your geekfanboy love of the wire.
    i think conan’s joke is – hey white people who dont have a real clue re the life of black suffering/issues/drugs etc think its “super good” entertainment = which is pain = which is humor. i think he is mocking them -not the minority actors.
    i recognize this geekfanboy response,
    as one i too have made – on numerous occasions albeit for different shows. i.e. telling jody off cuz he glibly and fashionably made a cutting remark re star trek – [vs starwars = his fanboy preference] without having seen nary 3 episodes of anything past the spock/kirk late 60s show. my defense walls come up= but until that person sees the show- it is to no avail. [ps im finally watching LOST and loving it].
    im not a hug conan fan, i like him but i dont tivo him…
    and when i read the entertainment weekly short- i thought to myself – he had his team write up some trendy random responses. points for “entertainment weakly”. xxjenx

  2. 2 T. Troy Stewart June 2, 2009 at 9:40 am

    To be honest, it was a funny comment.

    Conan’s not even the first to make that comment about the show. I could have sworn that I saw it as the topic of a THINGS THAT WHITE PEOPLE LIKE post.

    I, too, thought THE WIRE was a great show for the first two seasons. Once it left the docks after Season 2, it never was as good. Don’t get me started on the Urban Anti “Heroism” of Omar or the “antics” of Snoop Pearson.

    I spent part of my childhood in Maywood, Illinois, outside of Chicago. It wasn’t as hardcore as B’more but it wasn’t Cleaverville, either. There was your bad element, sure but the vast majority wasn’t out looking for trouble, they were out there working 9 to 5 or even later, striving to obtain the American Dream, just like everyone else. Yet you rarely, if ever, see that majority of Black America represented on the big nor small screen. I long to see the day where all of Black America is represented in Hollywood. I’m always the dreamer, looking to find an reality in which I can relate to.

    I am always saying that there are plenty of black actors out there who are very talented, yet they have to wait in line behind the rappers and singers before they can get a chance to do anything and 9 times out of 10, it winds up being something on the level of “street thug”, “gangsta”, “drug dealer” or anything between that and assistant crack whore.

    I think that it’s very sad and very, very telling that if it wasn’t for this show, a good chunk of the cast wouldn’t be where they are today in Hollywood because they would have never got a chance in the first place.

    It’s Hollywood Shuffle/Dancing In September in never-ending cycle mode and the only way that you can break the cycle is to transend race and become an Hollywood “icon” and even then, as the case of those black actors/actresses who’ve acheived the ultimate Hollywood prize, an Acadamy Award, each of those roles involved using the sterotypical template in some way.

    Sorry to ramble…

  3. 3 Loope June 29, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    It was just a joke. Calm down my friend. Maybe he likes The Wire but he wanted to be funny. It is Conans style of humour usually.

  4. 4 Conan O'Brien January 29, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Leave my show alone you weak minded ape. You feeble mongrel.

  5. 5 screengrabx January 29, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Admittedly, we’re feeling a bit more sympathetic to Co-Co in light of recent events…yet, I still find it interesting that there’s a snarky backlash about people who love The Wire that never existed for people who loved The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, etc. etc. etc.


  1. 1 Five Things I Learned Watching Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop « Screengrab In Exile Trackback on June 24, 2011 at 11:34 am

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