Conan O'Brien, Ready For His 11:35 Close-Up
Conan O'Brien may be one of America's best-known funny guys, but he takes his new role seriously.
"I'm not just the host of 'The Tonight Show'; I'm also the caretaker," said the redheaded personality, who's staying in late night but moving up an hour to succeed Jay Leno as host of "The Tonight Show" starting Monday.
O'Brien knows talk-show turf after more than 15 years of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," broadcast from New York. In his new Los Angeles gig, he will be surrounded by familiar faces: Andy Richter returns as announcer and comedic cohort; drummer Max Weinberg and his band have also made the trip west; and Jeff Ross remains as executive producer. O'Brien talked recently about his new gig in one of the most visible and historic jobs in television.
Has it felt to you like five years since this was first announced?
It does! It may even feel longer. I'm a tear-off-the-Band-Aid kind of person, not the peel-it-off-slowly kind. In a perfect world, the best way for me to do this would be for them to wake me up at 3 in the morning and say, "You're hosting this four hours from now."
Do you envision changing your style much for the earlier hour?
I can't change my core sense of humor, and I'm not going to change my personality. At this point, to paraphrase Popeye, I am who I am. I'm very mindful of the fact that "The Tonight Show" doesn't belong to me, but I'm here for what I hope is a long time, and my job is to do the show my way.
How have you spent the weeks leading up to your "Tonight Show" debut?
I've been sleeping until 4 in the afternoon. They desperately try to talk to me about "The Tonight Show," and I say, "Later. We'll get to it later."
The Monday after I went off "Late Night" . . . that's when my 30-city affiliate tour started, and we also had to get my entire staff out to L.A.
What's your take on following Jay Leno, Johnny Carson, Jack Paar and Steve Allen in the line of "Tonight Show" hosts?
It's a lot of responsibility . . . we want it to look elegant. Also, I'm not the 30-year-old Conan O'Brien who took over "Late Night." I was a very young 30 . . . so I was very energetic and willing to try anything. I don't regret any of that, but I'm 16 years older now, and I have a wife and two kids. There's also interest in exploring different kinds of comedy, finding new bits we haven't done before. I really want this show to be funny every night.
"The Tonight Show," Weekdays at 11:35 p.m. , NBC