Conan says what we wish we could

Baltimore Sun

Any working stiff watching the temper tantrum Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien threw on national television last week must be feeling something besides a tickle in the ribs.


After just seven months in the job he waited years for, Mr. O'Brien woke up one morning to find that his employers wanted to push him deeper into the night to make room for Jay Leno.

He not only refused to go, he pushed back.

Unlike the rest of the American work force, most of which has found itself badly used by its employers of late, Mr. O'Brien got to rip into the NBC suits in front of a national television audience.

He said he was going to "leave television altogether and work in a classier business with better people, like hard-core porn."

And the jokes just kept coming.

"Welcome to NBC, where our new slogan is, 'Not just screwing up prime-time,'" he pronounced.

Late night hasn't been this much fun since David Letterman confessed to having an affair for which he was being blackmailed, and an incredulous audience giggled nervously while waiting for the punch line

All of this has gotta feel good to anybody who has been downsized, marginalized, dissed or dismissed by a Simon Legree boss or a greedy conglomerate.

Lagging ratings for "The Tonight Show," which was the network's excuse for the move, went up immediately - another irony. Let the help de-pants you, and everybody will tune in.

But it wasn't just a curious TV viewership waiting to see where next this drama would go. I'm guessing it was beaten-down workers cheering for the one guy among them who had the guts to spit on the boss' shoes.

Even Mr. Leno, who looks to be the winner here despite having his new show canceled, poked NBC in the eye with a stick: "I left prime time the way I found it ... a complete disaster."

Isn't it wonderful to see somebody ridicule an employer in front of millions and get promoted in the bargain?

Who better to speak for all of us than a comedian with a microphone, backed by a room full of smart-aleck writers and with a chance to do it again every night of the week?

Mr. O'Brien upped the ante by playing video that suggested that President Barack Obama and a bunch of other world leaders were in his corner, and in another of his skits, NBC was described as a pimp misusing and abusing its stable of "hos."

If you've ever felt like someone who gave their all to a job only to be told that it wasn't enough, you have to be loving this. If you ever got shoved aside for the boss' favorite, this has to salve some of the pain.

When Mr. O'Brien repeated the news that NBC was expected to lose $200 million on the Olympics, and said "Folks, is it just me or is that story hilarious," you could see his vengeful glee. Mr. O'Brien is ripping them, and NBC bosses are writing fresh pages.

Mr. O'Brien is as hot as his hair is red, it shows, and that is of great comfort to anybody who has ever fallen asleep watching "The Tonight Show" and dreading the next day at the office.

This isn't how everybody sees this, of course. To many, it looks like rich men behaving badly, like a couple of comedians acting as if they were out to save the world instead of just entertaining insomniacs.

But at the bottom of the pile is a guy who waited six years for the job of his dreams and was unceremoniously jerked aside, and he's mad as hell.

The difference is, he got to tell the boss off in one of those scenes you've written in your own head, and he got to do it on national television.

And that's what makes this so much fun to watch.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays.

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