Inching towards mediocrity.


Night of the talk show hosts. (Now with 72% more “Jaywalking!”)

As promised, today we’re going to continue to wade into the Late Night Wars saga by ranking the hosts of each current show from best to worst. (Well, everyone except Carson Daly. He’d just skew the results).

Conan O’Brien. (Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, TBD.)

Ah, the red-headed warlock of NBC. What a swell fella he is.

Coco.

When Conan’s first episode of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” aired in 1993, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was just a young pup at the time, and for whatever reason, I chose this as my first foray into the world of late night talk shows. To be fair, Conan’s first few years were…well, lacking for want of a better word. O’Brien, who up until that point had been primarily a writer on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons” admitted that he’d had about “40 seconds of screen-time” over the course of his entire career, which made his early onscreen jitters completely understandable – and somewhat endearing.

Would you watch THIS GUY? I would.

Regardless, the Orange One soon began to establish himself as a worthy successor to David Letterman (who had been the previous host of “Late Night”) by becoming more irreverent and bizarre in his sketches, characters and interview style. Increasingly more ridiculous characters began appearing – from the PimpBot 5000 (a robot with the personality of a 1070’s blaxpoitation pimp) to the ever popular Masturbating Bear (which is exactly what it sounds like) – giving Conan’s show a wholly unique and surreal quality. Recurring sketches such as “Muppet Faces of Death” and his frequent visions of the future (“In the Year 2000”) only added to the madness.

In the year 2000, Jay Leno will once again rise up to ruin the lives of those around him.

I wasn’t initially a fan of Conan’s move to “The Tonight Show.” From what I understood about Jay Leno’s old stomping grounds, it just didn’t seem suited to Coco’s usual brand of comedy. It seemed to safe, to average, to Hollywood, words that didn’t seem to describe Conan at all. I was pleasantly surprised then when Conan’s version of “Tonight” ended up being very similar to “Late Night.” The characters were there, Conan’s self-deprecating humor was there, Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg Seven were there, and even his old sidekick Andy Richter had returned (after a disastrous run of sitcoms).

Andy Richter - the last, and perhaps greatest, of the Late Night Sidekicks.

I’m curious to see what will become of Conan O’Brien now. I’m sure he’ll be fine – he’s to talented and to funny and to popular to stay off the air for long. Somebody’s bound to pick him up – and I genuinely hope they do. A world without Conan O’Brien would be a very unfunny world indeed.

Here’s a classic Conan sketch – my favorite, and his – where he enjoys some Old Timey Baseball.

Craig Ferguson. (The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.)

I’ve always been a huge fan of Craig Ferguson – though mainly just from his starring role as the diabolical Nigel Wick on “The Drew Carey Show.”

A stone-cold sober Scotsman? What an age we live in!

After realizing that people responded better to the ad-libbed bits in his nightly monologue, Ferguson did away with the written jokes and just decided to improvise the whole thing – making Craig’s monologue one of the most unpredictable and unique in late night. But it doesn’t end there – his bizarre impressions, his off-the-cuff interviews and his over-reliance on puppets also add to the late night mayhem. Add to that some very poignant episodes eulogizing his parents as well as his own level-headed opinions on controversial issues that range from Britney Spears to alcoholism to the NBC late night debacle, and you have a truly original late night host who seldom takes the easy way out and leaves you laughing along the way.

One of Craig's more memorable puppet friends, Wavy Ranchero. And no, I don't know why he's called that.

Kudos to Craig for keeping his after hour’s time slot fresh and memorable.

Jimmy Kimmel. (Jimmy Kimmel, Live!)

Jimmy Kimmel seems to have inherited the role of late night bad-boy in this particular lineup – though from who, I’m not sure.

My god he's beautiful.

Never afraid to speak his mind, or push the envelope – or push the envelope while speaking his mind. A prime example of this was his recent dressing down of Jay Leno on Leno’s “Ten at Ten,” a segment of his “Jay Leno Show” where he asks celebrities pointless questions.

Proof positive that Kimmel is ready, willing, and able to say what needs to be said, without fearing any reprisals or backlash. It’s a simple quality, but one that is sorely missing from most people – but especially celebrities.

Kimmel manages to do so with a mischievous grin and just the right amount of charm (that’s charm not smarm, Jay) to let him (usually) get away with whatever he’s saying. It’s a fine line, for sure, but Kimmel has become something of an expert in walking it.

David Letterman. (The Late Show with David Letterman.)

Ten years ago, Letterman would probably rank much higher. But the dude is old, and it’s really beginning to show.

He's been on the air for how long?!?

Not to say that Dave isn’t still funny. He’s as remarkably acerbic and biting now as he was in the ’80s. He’s just gotten a helluva lot more bitter, and I’m not sure that his finger is still pressed as firmly on the pulse of comedy as it was, say, fifteen years ago. Letterman used to be famous for his original brand of comedy and the unpredictable nature of his show. In his heyday, celebrities were actually nervous about appearing on his show – fearful of how the interviews would go, and aware of his past verbal sparring matches with stars such as Cher, Madonna and Shirley MacLaine.

Dave may have lost most of his charm over the years, but he still remains an unpredictable interviewer. He’s never been one to mince words or play nice, though without the boyish charm of Jimmy Kimmel, it does tend to come off as a bit to jaded. Still, as with Kimmel, it’s nice to see a guy whose job it is to basically kiss celebrities asses do, well, pretty much the exact opposite of that.

Now if only he could get rid of Paul Schaeffer.

THIS is why you don't do drugs, kids.

Jimmy Fallon. (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.)

I’ll be honest here. I don’t really watch “Late Night” since Fallon took over. I think I may have seen two or three episodes, and they were all pretty awkward at best.

I'm pretty sure he borrowed that suit from his dad.

Regardless, I’ve always had something of a soft spot for Jimmy. A lot of people grew tired of his stint on “Saturday Night Live” – his constant laughing and ruining sketches were a big part of that – but I found him to be a talented impressionist and some of his sketches were just weird enough to make him endearing.

Talkin' bout crazy gold medallions - "The Barry Gibb Talk Show," one of Fallon's more memorable sketches. With Justin Timberlake.

Time will tell if Jimmy will become a more confident and create his own identity as a talk show host. Everyone seems to start out a little rough (right, Consey?), so I have faith that Fallon will eventually find his own voice.

Jay “Big Jaw” Leno. (Who fucking cares anymore?)

And then there’s this guy.

His chin is as big as his heart.

The sad thing is, I used to stick up for Jay Leno. Sure, his jokes were tired and cliche-riddled, and his image was to squeaky clean and accommodating for my particular tastes, but he was strangely charismatic, and he did seem like a genuinely good guy.

Now I’m not so sure.

Regardless of his recent transgressions, and seemingly willingness to aid NBC and their Conan O’Brien coup (it would have been pretty damn classy if Jay had just stepped aside for Conan) this isn’t a personal attack on Jay. Sure, I hate him now, but the simple fact is this: his show was always the least entertaining one on late night. Jay was always a company man, content with playing it safe and keeping his show in line with what was expected of him. Not necessarily a bad thing, but when we’re talking about a show that’s main purpose is to suck up to rich celebrities, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of edge to you. Or at least be funny.

Even HE looks disgusted with himself.

Jay’s show seemed like a throwback, but not in a good way. His jokes were stale, his comedy bits were mediocre at best, and everything was just way to predictable. Which of course, people liked. Inexplicably (to me, anyways) Jay was always on top of the ratings. Say what you will about the guy, but he knew his audience – and how to cater them.

And now he’s returning, with a vengeance it seems. His brand of low-key, boring comedy will once again be tuning it at 11:35. And I’ll be tuning out.

Simpler times.

Oh, and “Jaywalking” was never funny. I don’t care who you are.

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