Conan O’Brien Must Go Reveals Conan’s Natural Habitat Is Everywhere

Conan O'Brien continues to flourish outside the musty late-night talk show format with Conan O'Brien Must Go.

Conan O'Brien lands a kick in Conan O'Brien Must Go.
Photo: Conaco | Max

Late-night talk shows were like home when I was a teenager. Social anxieties could disappear, bullies were non-existent, and the humorous, non-consequential words of the hosts would calm me down after a stressful day at school. The comedians who took over TV after 11:35 PM welcomed me into a universe I belonged to, a complete contrast from the social outcasting I felt in the classroom walls. I could live vicariously through their jokes and joyful scenarios in which the audience cheered and clapped, and nobody’s confidence was shattered by a lousy joke. 

Along with Craig Ferguson, Conan O’Brien was a nightly weekday highlight. Conan’s spastic impressions and self-deprecating pokes were a warm fire in front of the TV, a silly distraction for me and so many of his viewers who loved to gather around his aura every night on NBC and then TBS at the dawn of the decade. Unfortunately, NBC’s decision to screw Conan over in favor of a reunion with Jay Leno forced him into a time slot and a channel with less accessibility. He sometimes got lost in the shuffle while the old guard like Jay Leno and David Letterman still got more viewers on broadcast television. 

That’s okay, though. Conan has never seemed to care too much about what people think of him or about fitting in with the status quo. He left late-night TV a few years back and has remained his uninhibited self on the podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. The smart people at Max realized that Conan’s talents are in need of a TV screen instead of just the audio medium and have adapted the best parts of O’Brien’s skits and tricks with the new travel-inspired series Conan O’Brien Must Go

Conan has always loved to travel. South Korea, Mexico, Cuba, and Finland are just a sampling of the locations O’Brien has visited in the last couple of decades, many of which were in his previous travel series, Conan Without Borders. Using the same template from those specials, Conan O’Brien Must Go features much of the same unhinged humor and authentic banter, making Conan a more absorbing comedian than just about anyone else in TV lore. 

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Talk shows are typically about celebrities promoting their newest movie or album. The host brings on the superstar, they placate their every whim, maybe do a little game, and then move on to the next actor. Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert are the kings of late-night currently, but their shows are often formulaic and generic. It sometimes comes off phony or forced when Fallon laughs too hard at something a guest says, or Colbert dilutes his riled-up political satire from his famous Comedy Central days. 

Conan O’Brien Must Go forces the series’ jokes and comedic writing to do the heavy lifting because there are no movies to promote or studio audiences to walk up the steps to. Conan starts each episode with a flashback to a fan interaction on his podcast before promptly paying them a visit on their home turf. The thesis of each hour allows O’Brien to schmuck it up with a rando for five to ten minutes during the introduction before exploring the foreign culture of the fan in a way only he is capable of. He ties each episode around the fan creatively, making the proceedings down-to-earth, hilarious, and addicting. 

The first episode in Norway revolves around Conan’s interactions with a struggling rapper. He invades the man’s home, teases him about how he lives like he’s still in a college dorm, and then flawlessly inserts himself into the man’s musical world. Conan asks for the mic to ramp up his musical chops, leading to a scene that will surely make anyone grin ear-to-ear. This type of soft-scripted brilliance allows O’Brien and the rest of the on-screen talent to bounce off one another with genuine enjoyment. When something should zig one way, Conan zags. Everyone else just has to grab a hold of the roller coaster ride.

Viewers can tell how much Conan and the rest of the crew love ribbing the locals. There’s clearly an outline for how a scene is supposed to unfold, but Conan’s improvisation propels the skits in a new direction. Hearing the camera people chuckle or belt out a gargantuan laugh in the middle of a long monologue or conversation humanizes the series. Conan’s non-stop energy and keen listening skills give him more options for his comedy. It’s hard to picture many other hosts absorbing themselves into a European country’s environment without the comedy coming off as cheeky. O’Brien never forces a bit to a point of no return. 

Seeing Conan so happy to be back in a high-level comedic atmosphere with a bigger budget and more belief from the executives upstairs points to how much he has left in the tank. Streaming is a good home for O’Brien. Creative liberties are unshackled, and rigidity gets thrown out the window. His versatility makes him the preeminent host of the past, present, and future. No matter where the curveball comes careening in from, Conan will always hit a home run!

All four episodes of Conan O’Brien Must Go are available to stream on Max now.

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