Lessons Guys Can Learn From Conan’s Early Years


These days, Conan O’Brien is a comedy god with legions of fans, so it’s no wonder that he’s hosting the 2014 MTV Movie Awards on Sunday at 9/8c. However, he didn’t always have such an adoring public. Back when he first stepped out from behind the curtain to replace David Letterman on “Late Night,” media critics heaped tons of scorn and bewilderment on the new host. Obviously, Conan won the staring contest with the ugly face of soul-crushing adversity — and here’s what we can all learn from him…

Be Yourself When Others Say You Shouldn’t

One of the biggest criticisms of Conan’s first show was his general demeanor. One critic had the audacity to call him “one of the whitest white men ever.” People thought such an unknown name couldn’t take over a huge block of late night programming, and were initially angry that he didn’t act exactly like Letterman. But copying Letterman’s style wouldn’t have won Conan the fans that Letterman took with him to CBS. Conan refused to cave to the pressure of pretending to be someone he wasn’t, and — over time — earned his own adorning fan base, bringing a whole new generation of viewers to late night TV.

Years later, under public pressure to change his persona as the incoming “Tonight Show” host, one of Conan’s final “Late Night” moments was a heartfelt speech assuring his fans, “I can’t. This is who I am for better or worse.” Yeah, we’d definitely say for better.

Learn To Laugh At Your Own Mistakes

Sometimes criticism is overwhelming, it feels like it’s got you backed into a corner that you couldn’t find your way out of with a flamethrower. Well, as the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Conan did just after his show’s premiere earned him an unrelenting wave of backlash. Rather than shout critics down or ignore them, he made the brilliant move of writing a scathing review of his own show and publishing it in the New York Times. It gave him a chance to have some fun with a stressful situation, and even win over a lot of the haters.

Keep Trying New Things Until Something Sticks

Conan crammed his “Late Night” broadcast with all sorts of weird characters, throwing whatever they had at the wall. Not all of those ideas stuck — like the Gaseous Weiner, the Guy Who’s Protected from Three-Inch Bees and Mick Ferguson, the Guy Who’s Awfully Proud of His Bulletproof Legs — but Conan eventually stumbled up across something that became a certified phenomenon in the form a rubber Yugoslavian Mountain Hound puppet called Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.

Don’t Compare Yourself To Your Heroes

From the moment the freckle-faced ginger got the “Late Night” job, everyone kept saying that he had to be as good as Letterman, which is why Conan mocked those expectations in his opening sketch:

Even though Conan considered Letterman a hero, he knew he couldn’t live in Letterman’s long shadow. That meant being himself, as we mentioned above, but it also meant not comparing himself, just giving it his personal best. It’s apples and oranges. All you can do is live up to your own high standards and do work you’re proud of. That attitude frees you up to create on your own terms, which is the only way to become someone else’s hero.

Photo Credit: NBC via Mental Floss

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Danny Gallagher (@thisisdannyg) is a great freelance writer from Texas…for me to poop on.