Watching 'Conan O'Brien Must Go,' It's an Honour Just to Be Along for the Ride

Created by Conan O'Brien

Starring Conan O'Brien

Image courtesy of Crave 

BY Rachel HoPublished Apr 17, 2024


As the Jimmys, a Seth, a Stephen and a John continue to lead the charge on the overcrowded late night circuit, it's safe to say the talk show market has felt a little stagnant for a while now. Prior to his good-bye to late night in 2021, Conan O'Brien stood as the bridge between the old and the new. He carried forward the legacies of Johnny Carson, David Letterman and the men before them, while injecting his own contemporary brand of silly to become the unofficial Gen X-Millennial comedy representative.

Perhaps the greatest oddity from the self-professed Luddite is his vast digital imprint, which has been quietly growing in the background for a decade plus. Beginning in 2012, O'Brien premiered a YouTube-exclusive series called Serious Jibber-Jabber where he conducted hour-long interviews with guests that went beyond the Hollywood A and B lists, showing a more cerebral side. Since then his entire catalogue has been uploaded online, including old favourites like "Conan Plays Old-Timey Baseball." More recently, he entered the podcast space in 2018 with Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend, a show whose popularity only continues to increase in its fifth season.

Like many of O'Brien's outings, his latest digital endeavour, a travelogue entitled Conan O'Brien Must Go, derives from an idea that began on his original show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, specifically in a four-episode visit to Toronto in 2004 as the city recovered from the SARS outbreak. O'Brien invited an all-Canadian-plus-Adam-Sandler line-up of guests, including Jim Carey, Mike Myers and Michael J. Fox, and produced segments where he trained with the Toronto Maple Leafs and manned the Canadian-U.S. border dressed as a Mountie.

These travel remotes became regular features on Late Night and then carried over to his TBS show, Conan, as an ongoing series called Conan Without Borders. O'Brien travelled from Cuba to South Korea to Armenia meeting with fans and strangers, visiting local sites and participating in activities as simple as language lessons to reading the weather report on the national news. The segments were compiled into proper episodes and streamed on Netflix for a short period of time before O'Brien signed his current deal with HBO/Warner Bros. Discovery.

Combining his podcast and his love for the travel segments, all four Conan O'Brien Must Go episodes begin with a voiceover narration by Werner Herzog and a clip from an episode of Conan O'Brien Needs a Fan where O'Brien, his assistant Sona Movsesian and podcast producer Matt Gourley speak to fans from all around the globe. O'Brien then sets sail to the fan's country (Norway, Thailand, Argentina and Ireland in this season) and surprises them in their homes.

O'Brien's focus on fans and locals continues a Team Coco tradition whereby his most endearing clips and segments involve his staff and the normal people who happen to cross his path. Herzog and a wild Bono are the only recognizable famous people involved in the show, which no doubt speaks to O'Brien's preferences, and also his sheer understanding of what has made his name and comedy styling so evergreen.

Each episode brings with it a particular kind of humour that only O'Brien seems to be able to genuinely deliver. In Norway, O'Brien records the bridge of a track for a rap duo based out of Bergen and performs the song in a small underground club to a crowd of, at most, 50 people. Under the blazing heat and humidity of Thailand, the comedian goes head to head with a Muay Thai master, and in the most Conan of Conan clips, he takes his learning of Argentina's kiss-on-the-cheek greeting to bystanders enjoying an afternoon meal.

Beyond the goofiness, though, each episode holds a heartfelt sincerity that almost betrays O'Brien's attempts at buffoonery with the season finale episode in Ireland highlighting this best. Often used as a punchline in his comedy, O'Brien's Irish roots run deep. He's visited the old country twice before on Late Night and Conan, and this time around he embraces the Irish language as well as learns about the O'Brien ancestors who immigrated to America. It's clear O'Brien is touched by some of the discoveries made and places visited, and that sentimentality is quickly offset by a bronze Conan statue he had made to match the Barack and Michelle Obama statues displayed at a rest stop in Moneygall. Just as he did with the Cuba and Haiti episodes of Conan Without Borders, O'Brien is thoughtful when required and will always find the joke to everyone's amusement and delight.

Conan O'Brien Must Go deftly encapsulates everything that has made the red-haired comedian a living television and comedy icon: self-inflicted condemnation and tomfoolery with a pure appreciation for his fans, and a healthy dose of desperation for attention. O'Brien has never been afraid to be the butt of a joke (seemingly preferring that position) and has never been afraid to look outright absurd. In the same breath, this is the Harvard grad who wrote classic SNL sketches and arguably one of the best Simpsons episodes of all-time, "Marge vs. the Monorail." In many ways, O'Brien is the living, comedic embodiment of both Pinky and the Brain, and Conan O'Brien Must Go demonstrates this perfectly.

There's a degree of satisfaction that comes with this era of Conan. O'Brien revered the history of late night television and intently studied those who sat behind the famed desks, so to see him excel in forging his own path adjacent to the format, especially in light of his unceremonious dismissal from The Tonight Show in 2010, feels appropriate and richly deserved.

For 30 years, we've watched O'Brien deliver food in NYC, solve his employees' urinal concerns, moisturize the hands of fallen soldiers in an American Civil War reenactment, use Jon Hamm for the office Secret Santa, tour the headquarters of IBM and Taco Bell, and survey his staff to see who should be furloughed amidst a government shutdown. Now, we as fans get to travel the globe with him for hopefully many more seasons and listen to him talk of gerbils with Sona and Matt, his celebrity guests and fans, for hours on end. Team Coco for life.


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