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CNN Larry King Live
Interview with Conan O'Brien
Aired August 16, 2005 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CONAN O'BRIEN, TALK SHOW HOST: No! You butcher! You butchered me!
BOB COSTAS, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Conan O'Brien. He stepped into David Letterman's shoes. He is going to fill Jay Leno's shoes, so it's what's it like to be in his shoes. Conan O'Brien for the hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
COSTAS: Hi, everybody. Bob Costas, this week, at least, in Larry King's shoes. I am joined by Conan O'Brien just on the off chance that there is someone who always goes to bed before 12:30 or 11:30 Central Time and they are getting their first look at you.
O'BRIEN: That would be my parents.
COSTAS: Why risk the embarrassment?
O'BRIEN: They still don't know what the hell I'm doing for a living. They're in bed at 10:00.
COSTAS: Let's get this out of the way. What's the inspiration for the hair?
O'BRIEN: Couple of people. Jack Lourde, "Hawaii 5-0." I always noticed hair as a child. Yet, I like the fellows. No, I noticed Jack Lourde hair, big wave. There's some Michael Landon in there, a little bit of Elvis and Bob's Big Boy.
COSTAS: Yeah. Now that I think of it, you've got the long lean body and Bob's Big Boy is a pudgy little guy. But the hair ...
O'BRIEN: Right. The hair. I took different elements from different hairstyles I admired and created this French pastry
COSTAS: Is there a cartoon element in this, Woody Woodpecker, a Walter Lance inspired Woody Woodpecker element here?
O'BRIEN: I think there is. I loved cartoons as a kid. I think I almost became a cartoon character. Anyone who has seen my show in any kind of -- with any kind of regularity probably notices there's a little bit of cartoon element to this guy. There's some Woody Woodpecker in there as well. COSTAS: There is, like you said it yourself, there's a cartoon element, a certain inspired silliness about what you do. Some people speculate, okay, when he moves to 11:30 in 2009 and replaces Jay Leno in this planned transition, he'll have to alter things a little bit, because it will be a different audience. What do you think?
CONAN : It will be completely different hair, I think. First of all, we have time this transition isn't going to happen for -- I think it's four popes from now. I think that's -- it's 2045.
COSTAS: A smoke signal goes up over Burbank on Bob Hope Drive?
O'BRIEN: Exactly. It's a while. I don't know. It's so far in advance that I think the only way these things work is to just be yourself. And for good or ill on the 12:30 show, this is who I am and this is what I think is funny. It's worked very well for me. It's hard for me to imagine -- I know a lot of people in the media have speculated, he's going to have to make a lot of different adjustments here and there. I'm sure there will be certain adjustments. But for the most part, you can't change who you are any more than you can change when you're filling in for Larry King for a week. You're not wearing suspenders.
COSTAS: How do you know I'm not?
O'BRIEN: You're not leaning forward and saying "True or false!" I saw you. I saw you changing. There's a hole in my dressing room that looks into yours
COSTAS: Sort of a Chuck Berry thing you've got going?
O'BRIEN: Little bit. I saw you applying a weird ointment to your arms. We'll talk about that later. We're taking calls now?
COSTAS: That's just in case I have to do what Larry does, always rolls up the sleeves. In case there's a rash of some kind, you want to smooth it out.
O'BRIEN: Larry also leans way forward. Larry is invading your personal space.
COSTAS: And the shoulders.
O'BRIEN: The shoulders are hunched. A large head. I have a large head. I think you can attest to that, seeing it in person
COSTAS: It's an amazing dome, no question.
O'BRIEN: Two of my heads fit into one of Larry King's heads. He's a giant head, leaning forward. I love the man dearly, but it's intimidating to be in the same room with him
COSTAS: There are two people who have shoulders like Larry King. He is one of them and the other is Phil Jackson. We're not talking about people that are necessarily huge, like football players but people who are skinny but somehow their shoulders have an expanse that makes no sense relative to their other body parts.
O'BRIEN: It's Jackson and Larry King, same thing, right angle, shoulders is at a right angle to the neck. Larry wasn't watching. I snuck up behind him and put a carpenter's level on his shoulder. The bubble went right to the middle. That's only Phil Jackson and Larry King, the only two, and Frankenstein.
COSTAS: What are the chances -- Conan doesn't have to worry about being back tomorrow night. What are the chances I actually make a return? I think Nancy Grace is in the bullpen right now. I was to do the only week. This is only Tuesday. You come on, basically deconstruct the host's body, the regular host's body, your chances of having permanent employment ...
O'BRIEN: You're gone and I'm gone. I'll never be invited back on a legitimate Larry King show. That's it.
COSTAS: You've made an interesting point, though, about show business in general. Billy Crystal always says this. A big head is an asset, regardless of the body size of a movie star.
COSTAS: Most movie stars and television stars have outsized heads.
O'BRIEN: Right. Most of them can't stand without some kind of support. It's true. These movie stars have giant heads, tiny little bodies. And I was blessed with a big head. As a child, I was mocked. But once I got into television, this thing -- people watching it right now, if you're at an airport, if you're in a prison, wherever you are, you know, this is scary. And on TV, it works. It just pops
COSTAS: The biggest stars, their heads could go on Mount Rushmore, actual size.
O'BRIEN: That's true. Some of them huge, giant, massive bulbous heads
COSTAS: Tell us what talent agents are looking for.
O'BRIEN: A lot of talent agents, and this is an old -- They walk around with calipers. They walk around in malls and measure people at random. When they get a head that exceeds something like 65 centimeters, then they know I've got a Tom Cruise, I've got a Harrison Ford. I've got a big star here.
COSTAS: Kid, I'm going to make you a star. The calipers said so.
COSTAS: Nobody -- Somebody must have said we're going to make you a star back in '93, but most of the public were skeptical.
O'BRIEN: Right. They were skeptical. COSTAS: When you stepped in after Letterman went from NBC over to CBS and you stepped in, most who stepped in weren't betting much more on six months, even those in your corner.
O'BRIEN: Right. That's true. I think at the time - It's very hard to remember because it's 12 years now, which is hard for people to imagine. People still think that I'm kind of -- talk to me sometimes like I'm the kid. You're that guy that's shown up pretty recently. It's going well for you, but you're the new guy. It's been 12 years. Back then, there was such a heightened environment. The whole Leno taking over "The Tonight Show" and Letterman being upset. People in the media getting a hold of this thing. It became this heightened, insane environment. I think people were getting very emotional about it.
And I remember at the time feeling like, wow, I'm just -- I felt like a cork in a hurricane, just bouncing around. There's a lot of this anger. And of course, following someone like David Letterman on that 12:30 show, that's -- my analogy has always been, you know, Ted Williams retires from the game. What is it? You would know it. 1960, '61.
COSTAS: '60 was his last year.
O'BRIEN: He retires from the game, one of the greatest players ever, last guy to hit 400, raises his cap walks off the field. They say, ladies and gentlemen, replacing Ted Williams, Chip Witley, and I came running out like, hi, everybody. It's going to be fine. Trust me. Who wouldn't be skeptical at that point?
COSTAS: You're Carl Yasztremski, actually.
COSTAS: And he went to the Hall of Fame, too.
O'BRIEN: Yeah. And sold kielbasa. Made a lot of money doing it, too. Sorry, I just threw that out there. People are wondering what's wrong with my television. But yeah, when you follow someone like that, there will be a period of anger, resentment. I would like to hit that guy. There was that period. It lasted about 10 years. And then ...
COSTAS: Just now coming out of it?
O'BRIEN: Exactly. Now I'm entering it again. I'm dipping back in because I talked about Larry King's head size
COSTAS: Segment one has come to a close now on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, during which we have covered bulbous heads and Carl Yasztremski's sidelight career selling kielbasa . More fascinating subject material with Conan O'Brien when we continue right after this.
Missoula, Montana, Hello!
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
O'BRIEN: What about the more serious charge that you asked Monica Lewinsky to lie in her deposition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never, ever asked her to lie under deposition. I asked her to lie dere in dat position.
O'BRIEN: A lot of Democrats are really angry, because you waited until congress went on to a recess to appoint your new U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Pretty sneaky, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell you what. That's not all I did when they were gone. I took a whiz in Ted Kennedy's coffee mug.
O'BRIEN: Oh, for God's sake.
COSTAS: Classic regular bit on Conan O'Brien's show on NBC.
COSTAS: Beyond something like that, you are not overtly political. Some people will say, it's 11:30. For years and years, Carson, now Leno in his own way, Letterman through attitude as well as material. There's something political about it.
O'BRIEN: Right. Well, it's actually interesting. Everyone -- I grew up watching Johnny Carson and the show, there would be politics in the monologue and, occasionally, he would do a sketch where he portrayed Ronald Reagan or someone. But the show itself was more just an entertainment show and silliness on that program.
What I took away is whenever I -- a few years ago I did 50 years of NBC late night special. And it was a great opportunity. I had a chance to look at all the NBC late night hosts, going back to Steve Allen, and going all the way to the present and looking at everybody, Letterman, Leno, Jack Parr. Johnny. And I was looking at a lot of the bits. A lot of Johnny's greatest moments were these accidents that happened. It's him with celebrities. It's the famous Ed Ames tomahawk throw that hit the crotch. There's a lot of silliness, the Aunt Blabby character, the Art Fern character. There's a lot of him having a good time. And then, of course, making political jokes as well. And that's kind of part of the model that I've been working off of. Which is we cover politics. We do politics, but we're also just to show that -- I would say 80 percent of what we do is just supposed to be silly and fun.
And that's worked for us. I think that's also been a "Tonight Show" model for a long time. And so I love through the Clutch Cargo and through other bits, we touch on the politics. And I do monologue where I'll tell political jokes, but it's never been the driving force behind my comedy I think there's a precedent on "The Tonight Show". I don't think it's always been necessarily what "The Tonight Show" has been all about
COSTAS: Just to clear up the Clutch Cargo ...
CONAN: The lips.
COSTAS: ... reference or people from a different generation or those who didn't waste their youths as we did just watching cartoons and whatnot, Clutch Cargo was an otherwise obscure cartoon character.
CONAN: It was a terrible, terrible cartoon that was on in the '60s that the original writing team and I grew up watching where they were so cheap that they didn't animate the mouth. They just had someone's actual lips superimposed over a face and clutch cargo would say things like, hey, kids, let's get out of here. We're in a lot of trouble. And he would slide off and another character would slide in. Stop them. They're getting away.
And so, we thought, let's use that technique. I think Clutch Cargo is a good example of how our show is -- we touch on politics and we talk about those things. It's a percentage of the show, but it's done in a very silly way and in a way I've always wanted my show -- I've always liked comedy that would look funny with the sound off. If you have the sound on, it's better, because you can hear the jokes, but I think there is a lot of our show ...
COSTAS: Antic stuff.
O'BRIEN: It's very visual and silly and kind of has an impressionistic quality to it. That's always been part of what I've loved. And I think people respond to that. I think, you know, obviously during the times we're in right now, people -- there's a lot of serious issues that need to be discussed and I think we touch on those in our show, but also a lot of our show is about let's have a good time. Let's entertain people. Let's be silly.
COSTAS: There's obviously such a thing as smart silly, even subversive silly, the Marx Brothers and whatnot. Silly, but very, very smart. You graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, you wrote for the "Harvard Lampoon," for "Saturday Night Live," for "The Simpsons."
COSTAS: That's an impressive resume. But you told me once your only operating principle is funny man, be funny. Nobody wants to hear you pontificate about the issues of the day.
O'BRIEN: Not really. Exactly. That was always my mantra. Funny man, be funny. Get out there and be as funny as you can and that I don't hold an elected office and I don't take myself that seriously. And I think there are many -- occasionally when there's some terrible crisis in this country, people are so celebrity obsessed occasionally you'll be somewhere and a reporter will say, can you comment on this terrible event or that terrible event? I always think, I'm one of the last people you should be talking to. And that's not my role. And I'm really happy -- I can sense when I've done a funny show and that has always been my focus, is to go out there -- I love it when we come up with something new and something that I think is inventive. We're always looking for the next funny thing we can do on the program. We don't want to rest on our laurels.
But when I look back on our body of work now and I see 12 years of the stuff we've done, so much of it, I think, I'm proud of it. It's inspired silliness. And the people that meant a lot to me growing up, I love the Marx Brothers. I absolutely love W.C. Fields, the Peter Sellers movies. I was never as moved as much in growing up. I respect them and I know there are many people who are moved by them, but political comedy or that kind of satirical comedy was never as much what I was interested in.
I just loved the silliness of "Duck Soup" or, you know, a great W.C. Fields movie or Woody Allen's early work. That's the stuff when I was a kid and I was watching TV -- or Johnny Carson doing Karnak. I would watch TV, see that stuff and say, that's what I want to do.
COSTAS: Last thing before a break, when Johnny Carson passed away and all of the well-deserved appreciations of him, a point that was consistently made was that you could take the temperature of America by watching Johnny Carson's monologue.
COSTAS: And there's no disrespect intended here. I was as big a fan as anybody. If Johnny Carson is 35 years old today and comes along into this environment or into the future when you'll be hosting "The Tonight Show" the world has changed. People are sitting here like this. You've got Jon Stewart over on Comedy Central. You've got a lot of different things happening. Cable can be a little edgier than the broadcast networks can now.
COSTAS: Nobody, as there are no more Walter Cronkites or Brokaws or Peter Jennings, or whatever it may be, the circumstances can't allow for it, neither can anybody, even if they had all the charm and all the talent, assume the position Carson once had.
O'BRIEN: Right. Those are those questions that are impossible. I obviously don't think that anybody can be what Johnny Carson was to Americans. He was the person who did late night comedy in America for a long time. And although other people came and went, for most Americans, he was the only person. And that's changed dramatically.
And I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing. You know, I would love to someday be the one person that all of America turned to, but America is a better place that we now have more people and people have options. So, I think that's terrific in terms of what would a Johnny Carson do today, those are those questions -- you probably see this all the time in sports. People are saying, what if you get in a time machine, have Joe Lewis fight Leon Spinks with a golf club in 1991? My money is on Joe Lewis, those are impossible questions. It would be nice. It would be great if Johnny could come along now. I'd watch.
COSTAS: Conan O'Brien with us the entire hour. Bob Costas filling in for the entire week for LARRY KING LIVE and we're back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Did you like that? Was that fun?
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: That was fun, but I knew you were going to do that. Look, I know you too well. I watch your show all the time. It's one of your old tricks, but I came prepared.
I'm a little girlie man. I'm a virgin. I have never had sex before. I'm a girlie man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This summer, Conan O'Brien and former secretary of labor, Robert Reich are Detective Conan O'Brien and Detective Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. And they're about to cross the line.
O'BRIEN: Okay. Where's the girl, D-Train?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, man, I've got rights.
ROBERT REICH, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: You've got the right to be my bitch.
ANNOUNCER: Experience the action. And even more drama.
REICH: "Late Night with Conan O'Brien's" Conan O'Brien? No. No.
COSTAS: I had never seen that before.
O'BRIEN: That's pretty recent.
COSTAS: Something I always liked about Robert Reich was his willingness or eagerness to poke fun at himself.
O'BRIEN: Eagerness would be the right word. That's a great example of our political comedy. That's what we do. But that was Robert Reich, who had been a guest on the show. We really clicked. He's a fan and called us up and said, look, if you ever want to do something, I would love to did it. And we figured this out. I don't remember who had this idea, but we went out and shot that. That's just a few weeks ago. He was great. I mean, everything we thought of as you can see, he was like, yep okay. I mean, it was three seconds between us saying, so, maybe you could, you know, say you're my bitch and hit him with this plank. And he was like, right, let's go. Let's do it.
People were saying, no, no, he doesn't want to do that. He doesn't want to surrender his dignity. We've ruined him. He's through. That's what we do. He'll never work again
COSTAS: He's not the only one willing to play along. Three years ago, I was scheduled to be on your show and the band Phish was going to be on. And Phish, P-H-I-S-H for the uninitiated, sort of a latter day grateful dead in that they're following traipses around the country and it's almost a of a state of mind rather than just an entertainment experience. There are these Phish heads who hang around waiting for tickets anywhere they are to appear. And they'll camp out on the sidewalks.
CONAN: And they're fanatics, know everything about the band
COSTAS: Everything about them. Just to keep everything of one piece that night on the show, your idea was ...
CONAN: We would have Costasheads, people who follow Bob Costas everywhere, they know everything about him. They're devoted to him, they love as Bob Costas lives. I think it worked out pretty well
COSTAS: Here is that frightening result of that lifestyle choice.
O'BRIEN: Costasheads, what are you up to? What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flashback. We've been to Portland, New York Indianapolis, L.A. now New York again to see Bob Costas go head to head with late night host Conan Christopher O'Brien. Does O'Brien have what it takes to sustain himself through Costas' fiercely entertaining exchanges? The answer lies just ahead in what many are calling the interview of the century. Back to you, Conan.
COSTAS: Ah, what I was about to do was go out and greet my public. I was headed out to the audience to greet those Costasheads who now will not leave me alone. I've had to change my phone number and address multiple times.
O'BRIEN: And we keep giving your number back to them, because I don't want them hanging around, frankly. They're annoying, but wonderful kids.
COSTAS: Does late night have to be -- now, does it have to be comedy? There's a history of guys like Dick Cavitt who could be very funny, but did a different sort of thing. Tom Snyder "Nightline" for that matter, a straight news show.
COSTAS: But it seems like every possibly that's now discussed seems like it's a comedic possibility.
O'BRIEN: Right. My guess -- I don't know for certain. When one of the -- obviously, networks are probably a little more interested in comedy, because they think that it's going to get them a demographic, that it's going to sell more advertising time.
But, again, one of the improvements in television since I was a kid, since we were kids is that there's -- literally TV caters to everybody's specific needs. So, there are shows like this "Charlie Rose Show," which I watch often. There's a lot of shows on late at night that do cater to talk. There are ways to find exactly what you're looking for.
There are people that only care about sports. Late at night, they can tune into ESPN or watch just a show that's built exactly for their needs. Whereas, I think it used to be these shows were trying to get everybody under the tent. I don't know. We're probably moving away from that. Comedy is probably going to be what a network is going to want to do, because they're going to say, look, it gets us this certain demo which allows us to charge the most for our advertising, but I think you're going to see a little bit of everything from now on.
COSTAS: Speaking of advertising, let's take a break, run some commercials here. LARRY KING LIVE, Bob Costas filling in for the week. Conan O'Brien with us for the hour. And we're back after this.
O'BRIEN: Every so often we somehow manage to get big celebrities to sit down and share their inner most secrets with us. I don't know how we do it. It's stuff the tabloids can't even get. Some of it is pretty dark, disturbing stuff. Take a look.
GWYNETH PALTROW, ACTRESS: You never know it by watching my movies, but I haven't taken a shower in seven years. I smell like an old dumpster. Take it or leave it, boys.
HARRISON FORD, ACTOR: It's not easy being a celebrity. Once this little kid, cute little kid, asked me for an autograph. I gave it to him. He said, thanks, Mr. Hanks. I took it away from him, tore it up and told him Tom Hanks was dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Perhaps Raphael was bitten by a suspiciously ripped vampire. We'll get stories (ph) in there pretty fast. Another possibility, maybe he mistook steroid cream for sun block one day at the beach. Now, another possible -- this is perfectly possible theory. Perhaps he had unprotected sex with Mark McGwire. That's always possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTAS: That is just a frightening image right there. Defend yourself.
O'BRIEN: That's an actual photograph.
O'BRIEN: Undoctored. And I don't think that's illegal for me to say that. Oh, wait. I'm being told it is. My apologies to everybody. I'm now being sued. It seems my lawyers are just off camera always, and they're -- you're screwed. So, it's over for me.
COSTAS: You see what's happening -- the people on the set, the camera people, the technicians, they visitors, they now, a since segment one, in which you were hysterical, by the way ...
O'BRIEN: Thank you
COSTAS: ... but where they felt constrained by whatever the protocol of CNN is, to bite their tongues. Now they're letting it rip. You're getting a response.
O'BRIEN: When you see a Hasbro lighted map of the world -- this is true. When you see this -- and by the way, I had this map when I was five. When you see this ...
COSTAS: You put the pen in it?
O'BRIEN: Yes, you put the pen in, and look, it's Kosovo. But when you see this map, people are conditioned to think, you know, this is important. We're talking about important issues. When you put me in front of this map, it gives people a sort of mental whiplash. And I think many people at home are still recovering from it
COSTAS: Are you going to stay in New York when you do "The Tonight Show"? "The Tonight Show" started in New York. The beginning of Carson's run as the host was in New York, but then he went to L.A. for a long time, and Jay's been in Burbank.
O'BRIEN: Right. I would like to announce now we are moving -- we are going to move "The Tonight Show" to Branson, Missouri, and let me tell you why. There's a built-in audience there.
COSTAS: Yes, you can get Bobby Vinton any time you want.
O'BRIEN: Bobby Vinton every night is going to -- and that's I think a better -- that's a good crowd for us. So we get the -- you know, we get the older crowd, the get younger crowd.
COSTAS: Yakov Smirnoff is there on a regular basis.
O'BRIEN: That's true, but he just hasn't got the fare to leave. He doesn't have the -- he can't get out of Branson. So, you know, it's hard for people to believe, but it's so far in the future that we haven't even started to, you know, think about things like that. Obviously, it's one of the best franchises in the history of the medium.
And it's not broken in Los Angeles. It's been -- you know, Johnny moved it there, I think, in '72. He did the first ten years in New York, across the hall from me in studio 6B. And then he moved it to Los Angeles where it's continued to be this incredibly dominant franchise.
So there's part of me that thinks, hey, it's not broke. Don't fix it, you know. But then there's a lot of other considerations too. It's a long time from now. And God only knows, you know. Cleveland -- St. Louis would be a nice place, I think. Little hard to get guests, but you would come on.
COSTAS: Once you run through the roster of the Cardinals, then you're pretty much out of guests.
O'BRIEN: You run through them again, and over time there's a familiarity. You know, I'll get to know everybody so well. Those will be good interviews.
COSTAS: Mayor Bloomberg is begging you to stay in New York. I saw that in the papers is week.
O'BRIEN: Yes, I wonder how Mayor Bloomberg could -- what kind of incentive could he offer me? I'm just curious. Oh, right. Hundreds of millions of dollars and a helicopter made of gold. He's got one. I see him. He doesn't like to make it public because it hurts his man of the people image. He's often hovering over the city in a helicopter made of gold, which crashes often. It's terrible for the aerodynamics, but ...
COSTAS: Just keeping an eye on the populous.
O'BRIEN: Yes he is. Yes, he's -- so I don't know. We'll see.
COSTAS: Here's an irony.
O'BRIEN: So many places to choose from in this world.
O'BRIEN: I want to move it to that greenish blob over there.
COSTAS: I believe that was Africa, though, that you pointed out.
O'BRIEN: Yes, we could go there. We could go anywhere. Beamed up out of Zaire. Yes, I mean, this is, you know, TV's -- the global village is getting more and more compact, smaller and smaller, so why not?
COSTAS: What was I going to ask you? I've been a sort (ph) of vacuum.
O'BRIEN: What's happened to you? You were the best -- for years, you were the best in the business. I'm chatting with you for a few minutes and I just saw all the life leave your eyes. COSTAS: That's right. That's exactly right.
O'BRIEN: You have -- think of all the heavy-hitters you've talked to and you've always kept your cool like a fighter pilot. And right now, I just saw your face become lifeless. You became slack- jawed, the color drained. Look at that. I've never seen Bob Costas like this before. Only I can do that. You'll be fine. You'll be fine.
COSTAS: I hope so. I hope so.
O'BRIEN: You're not wearing pants, that's incredible. I thought that was Larry's trick. Larry likes to not wear pants and then lean in really far. You're like, Larry, oh Larry.
COSTAS: That should makeup for segment one.
O'BRIEN: That's my -- that's what I'm constantly doing in show business is trying to recover from segment one
COSTAS: Here's an irony. You stepped in for Letterman ...
COSTAS: ... as we mentioned earlier.
COSTAS: He came on the show -- very gracious act, several months into your run when you were struggling a little bit.
COSTAS: It was kind of a turning point.
COSTAS: He sort of gave you his blessing.
COSTAS: And the two of you hit it off.
O'BRIEN: Yes. He was very very nice to do that
COSTAS: And other than Carson, you could make the case this is the guy who had the greatest influence, not just on late night, but on a whole generation of comedy. In some sense, they all took a cue from him.
O'BRIEN: Sure, me -- you know, very influential to me as well. So, again, who knows? Who knows what the TV landscape is going to look like? As I said, this transition is -- it's going to be a while. I mean, we'll all have -- humans will have evolved quite a bit by the time I take over. We'll all have gills and third eyes and bodies made of silicone. COSTAS: It will be like in the year 2000.
O'BRIEN: Nice. So many Larry King viewers don't know what the hell you're talking about.
COSTAS: God, I hope ...
O'BRIEN: Is that the bit we've been doing ...
COSTAS: We need something to illustrate it.
O'BRIEN: ... where we prophetize the future? But it's been nice. It's been good for us. We have people hold flashlights under their faces and we've had -- you included, we've had many big stars come in and do that with us. It's one of our -- one of my favorite bits.
COSTAS: And what I've love is you've continued, even though it's 2005, it's still -- 2000 represents in some symbolic sense, the future.
O'BRIEN: When I started doing that bit we were doing it as a stage show in 1988 in Chicago and called it "The Year 2000," because it just seemed like the distant future. And now it's 2005. We're still doing it. And still calling it "The Year 2000," because we're too cheap to change the graphic. It would cost us 40 cents to call it "The Year 2005."
COSTAS: When we were kids, the comic books always presented some sort of proposed evolutionary graph.
COSTAS: And by the year, let's say, 2400, the idea was that since technology had removed any need for us to exert ourselves, that the dominant male would be someone with a gigantic head, which would hold his oversized brain ...
COSTAS: ... on a very puny, almost stick-like body.
O'BRIEN: And you can't -- my body is completely atrophied. I am the man of the future. You know what angers me? When I was a kid -- you probably got these too. Many of you probably got these. We got these brochures sent to the house that were trying to get us to invest in -- get our fathers to invest in the flying car. Do you remember the flying car?
O'BRIEN: All through the '60s and the '70s, people were saying that, you know, ten years from now, 15 years from now, like the Jetsons, you're going get in your car and it's going to fly you to work. The flying car was not ...
COSTAS: Think of the air traffic problems.
O'BRIEN: Well, I know. Well, no one was actually thinking it through, that you'll have the same problems up there that you have down here, but the flying car never materialized
O'BRIEN: The only thing we got was cup holders. Cup holders is the single advance from the '60s to the present. Cup holders. That was the vision of the future that turned out to be reality. I'm very sad.
COSTAS: And we don't really have yet in our homes the TV phone like George Jetson did.
O'BRIEN: You know what? No one wants the TV phone, because I don't know about you, but I'm naked when I answer the phone.
COSTAS: If you're dressed do you get naked before answering the phone.
O'BRIEN: I'm naked and wearing a kaiser's helmet. I have a weird personal life. But no one wants to be seen when they're on the phone. It's one of the great -- it is going to completely destroy the obscene phone call, you know, the video phone. No one really wants it.
COSTAS: Yeah, because the whole fantasy is blown that way.
O'BRIEN: Yeah, exactly.
COSTAS: Let me rephrase that.
O'BRIEN: I know. This is a dirty show.
COSTAS: Let me just get to the commercial. That's what the producer is begging for. That's what the audience, actually, is begging for. Back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: The Beach Boys will finally change their names to the Beach Men, but only because Michael Jackson keeps asking to meet them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the year 2000...
LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: I, Larry King, will call Conan O'Brien and ask him to appear on my show as man of the year. O'Brien will arrive at the designated time, only to find an empty studio. I will be sitting at home, laughing my ass off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the year 2000... O'BRIEN: Larry King, ladies and gentlemen! You nailed it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Now, if you all train your binocular, we're going to fool some people.
I'm a bird! I'm a bird!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTAS: Those people look not so much amused as stricken by what they were seeing.
O'BRIEN: Yeah. Yeah. That's the effect I have on people. I went into Central Park and I joined up with a legitimate bird watching outfit. They take it very seriously, and they were very nice. And I went with them. And we had a lot of fun. And at one point, I just wanted to see how many birders I could fool, and I had this terrible I think a falcon puppet. And I climbed a tree. We actually were fooling -- some birders were saying, I think that's a -- but I think when I started saying, "I'm a bird, I'm a bird," people started to catch on.
COSTAS: It could have been a parrot.
COSTAS: A macaw.
O'BRIEN: A macaw, if you will. A very self-conscious macaw.
COSTAS: Macaws don't get enough credit.
O'BRIEN: No, they don't.
COSTAS: You know, parrots kind of dominate the whole discussion.
O'BRIEN: Where the hell are you taking this?
COSTAS: I have no idea. But...
O'BRIEN: What's happening here?
COSTAS: There are other talking birds, is my point.
O'BRIEN: I love it, you're so professional with everyone else, and then whenever I'm here, you take this opportunity to say, let's talk about the macaw, shall we? It doesn't get the credit it deserves.
(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: You get to go down these weird cul-de-sacs.
COSTAS: How good a standup comic are you? That's different than what you do on your show. You do a monologue...
O'BRIEN: Right. Right.
COSTAS: ... and you do that effectively, but...
O'BRIEN: Right, right.
COSTAS: ... it's a quick monologue, and you sit down. Leno, for example...
COSTAS: ... was and is a great stand-up comic.
O'BRIEN: Oh, yeah. One of the -- yeah. And you know, the thing is, I never -- I never was a stand-up comedian, per se. I did some here and there, but it was never really what interested me. Most everything I did was improvisational stuff. I worked with different -- million of different little improv troupes, and did some work out in Los Angeles at the Groundlings through their like farm system, and then the stage shows that I did in Chicago, and then we moved it to Los Angeles, was all sketch comedy. That was always what I was interested in.
So, God only knows. I think America has been spared a terrible ordeal.
COSTAS: Have you seen "The Aristocrats"?
O'BRIEN: No, I have not seen it yet.
COSTAS: I saw it this weekend. Saw it this weekend in St. Louis. Not for everybody, but I enjoyed it a lot.
O'BRIEN: Yeah. Yeah.
COSTAS: Explain the premise for, again, for the uninitiated.
O'BRIEN: The premise is, it's an old joke, I guess, vaudevillian joke, that comedians -- I actually wasn't that familiar with the joke myself, which shows you what I know. But it's an old joke that they tell, which I can't really paraphrase here. But basically, it's a pretty dirty joke. And then it's -- I guess they get hundreds of comics to do their own interpretation of it.
COSTAS: Right. It's all in a different technique. This is perhaps the raunchiest joke, depending upon how you embellish it, the raunchiest joke anyone has ever heard.
Jerry Seinfeld has always said, you know, does not work blue. He doesn't pass any judgment on those who do, but he doesn't do it. O'BRIEN: You look at these -- you know, you look at people like Bill Cosby, who is probably the greatest -- you know, one of the greatest comedians that ever lived. And I grew up listening to his records. And it's all stuff that you can listen to with your kids, but it's as funny as anything you've ever heard. There is no -- and so, I agree that there is a difficulty of the dive is, you know, that you should get extra points for being able to be really funny, but to do it in a clean way.
But again, everybody is working from their own experience. And comedy is such a personal thing that there are people that work blue that are hysterical.
COSTAS: Our remaining moment with Conan O'Brien when we continue from New York right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: This bit is beloved. Our writers, it's their favorite thing. It's a little thing we call "If They Made It."
Of course, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They are such gorgeous people. What would happen if they had a child? I bet it would be beautiful. Let's take a look right now. Just curios.
Lindsay Lohan, Colin Farrell, let's find out what would happen. I'm just curious. It's only right that we -- God!
Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds. What would their intense, raging offspring look like? I'm just curious. Let's take a look right now, and -- wow!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. O'BRIEN: Hi. I'm Conan O'Brien, and here we are with Kate O'Brien, the softball star. Hey Kate, how are you doing?
K. O'BRIEN: Pretty good. Pretty good.
C. O'BRIEN: All right, Kate, I understand you were on the softball team your freshman year in high school.
K. O'BRIEN: Yes, I was. I was out there in the outfield, left, center, you know, the whole bit.
C. O'BRIEN: What do you consider your specialty in the field?
K. O'BRIEN: Just about everything.
C. O'BRIEN: I hear you're pretty good.
K. O'BRIEN: Oh, a lot of people have heard that, yes. C. O'BRIEN: They heard it mostly from you I hear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTAS: How old were you there, 13?
O'BRIEN: That was actually two years ago.
COSTAS: Yes, because you pretty much look the same.
O'BRIEN: Yes. I had some steroids. What is that? Yes. I would probably be -- I don't know. I'm 12, maybe, somewhere around there. Yes. I was always -- it's funny, because people -- something my dad is always saying that when people are born, that's who they are and then they become a little more so or a little less so, but they're essentially who they are.
And you look at those old tapes of me and that's what I was interested in doing, was interviewing people and being a bit of a wise-ass. And you can see it there, you know, when I'm 12 years old. You would have seen the same stuff probably happening when I was six, and when I'm 95 if I'm still around and I'm a brain in a jar, I'll be giving somebody a hard time. But ...
COSTAS: Were you the funny guy in class? Remarks in the back of the room?
O'BRIEN: No. That's the funny thing I've always noticed is that people always say, are you the class clown? And I maintain that most of the people that you enjoy today, most of the comedians you might like, I think the vast majority of them were not the class clown. I think the class clown often ends up either dead or in jail.
You know, the class clown, the guy who's standing up on a chair, who's setting the clock back, who's throwing things out the window, that guy, I think, tends to get himself into trouble in his early 20s and it all ends badly in a shoot out in a motel.
And I think there's a lot of people -- and I noticed when I first got in the business and had the great opportunity to be in the room with Steve Martin and I was a very, very young comedy writer. And he walked into the room and I was stupid at the time. I expected this wild and crazy guy to come into the room and he's very quiet and thoughtful and contemplative and deadly serious. You could probably say the same about -- I mean, it's true of most of the funny people I've met.
And they probably were that way in their classrooms. And I was quiet and my friends -- my good, good friends knew that I was funny and thought, oh, he might be a -- you know, he's going to end up in comedy someday, but you really had to get to know me to know that.
And I think a lot of people in comedy are shy and a lot of performers are shy. You know, they're overcoming something to be performers. They're overcoming something to be out in front of people. And maybe that's what makes them good at it. The people who just -- when they're five years old want to stand on a desk and demand all the attention, as I said, I don't know if they're the ones that end up being really funny or fun to watch.
COSTAS: Just a few moments remain with Conan O'Brien. We'll get to it right after this break. $
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Well, here's the latest. Yesterday, President Bush had breakfast with his Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts. The two of them got together and had breakfast, yes. Afterwards, Bush said he's never seen a better qualified candidate, while Roberts said he has never seen a grown man eat Count Chocula. It turns the milk -- you know, it turns the milk chocolate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Throw your best apple, Perler (ph). If that was any lower, I'd have to dig to Hades itself to find the apple. That was no strike. What is that demonry (ph)? (INAUDIBLE). Everyone flee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTAS: Reaching the end of our hour with Conan O'Brien, grew up in the Boston area, lifelong Red Sox fan. They win it after 86 years last year. Now they're in first place again. Is this hard to get used to? And is it taking some of the mystique away, in a weird way?
O'BRIEN: Well, you know, there was that theory that people used to talk about, gee, if the Red Sox ever do win the World Series, we'll have lost something, that sweet bitterness that -- well, nonsense, you know. Everybody is happy. There's not one person in Boston or the Northeast who is a Red Sox fan who is thinking, I just -- I wish they hadn't won it, because then we would have that magical pain.
You know, what's funny is I was -- we had Mark Wahlberg on the other day on the show and we were talking about it in a commercial break. And he and I -- he echoed something that I'd been feeling, which -- I might get a lot of Red Sox fans angry. I'm good. I saw it happen.
And I grew up thinking I may never live to see this happen and I saw it happen. So I would love it if the Red Sox won the World Series this year and won the World Series next year. That would be fantastic. I would love to see them become this juggernaut
COSTAS: You want them to become the Yankees and torment the Yankees?
O'BRIEN: If they became -- yes, exactly. That would be fantastic. At the same time, I'm not a greedy person. I saw this happen in a magical way. You cannot not have scripted a better World Series victory for the Red Sox than what happened last year. All of the drama, and the chilling bloody foot, the whole thing. I'm good. I don't need to have this again any time soon
COSTAS: That portion of your life is complete?
COSTAS: As is this program. Didn't this hour just fly by?
O'BRIEN: No, not for the viewer. We're getting a lot of calls.
COSTAS: That's a problem.
O'BRIEN: It did seem very long, but for the two of us ...
COSTAS: For the two of us it's over. And waiting to bail us out is Aaron Brown who is next with "NEWSNIGHT." I'm back tomorrow night for Larry King, and from New York, for now, good night.
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