teamcoco.com at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT, or you can keep reading to see what the former host of Late Night and The Tonight Show has to say about launching his new show.The countdown to Coco is almost over: One week from today, Conan O’Brien unveils his new late-night talk show on TBS, mysteriously titled… Conan. To get a taste of what’s to come, you can check out “Show Zero” on
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you feeling as you prepare for your return to TV? Nervous? Nauseated? Tingling sensation?
CONAN O’BRIEN: Highly medicated. I’m on something that they use to euthanize racehorses when they break a leg. I walk around with an IV bag full of this stuff, so it’s going to be a different Conan that people see. It’s going to be a Conan that really has trouble moving, and shows very few facial expressions.
What can fans expect from the TBS version of a Conan talk show?
This is the show that someone does after they’ve survived a serious car accident. There’s a little bit of — and I think in a good way — a “let’s just go for it” kind of feel. I’ve been doing one show or another for about 17 years, and then you have this razor’s edge nine months that I’ve had recently and you think about things a little differently. So, there’s more of a feeling of “Screw it, I’m not going to second-guess anything” and “If it makes me laugh, I’m just going to go for it.” And that, I think, is going to serve me well for about 3 months.
Can you tease some surprises that will happen on the first show?
I’m hoping for it to be a very loose, silly reintroduction to Conan O’Brien — it’s me dropping by again. I want there to be some really special moments, especially near the top of the first show. We are going to unveil a major new technology that is going to turn the economy around the way Silicon Valley did in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. There’ll be some major medical breakthroughs in the first 40 minutes, which are quickly forgotten and in no way benefit mankind.
Will you be doing anything with Jack White, who’s one of the guests?
We’re going to have a special moment with him at the end of the show. We’re hoping to make it something a little unusual, maybe something that’s a little reminiscent of the tour. [O’Brien embarked on the 32-city stage show, titled “The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on TV Tour,” a few months after leaving The Tonight Show.] I want to take some of that tour mojo into part of the first show, and short of having women take their tops off, this is the closest we were going to get to that.
There’s a poll on your website that asks fans to choose the first guest on your first show. Can you say whom you’re rooting for—or would that corrupt the process?
There are so many choices and there’s a lot of activity on the web. And it’s going to [put] an incredible amount of pressure on the person who wins to make an appearance…. I have a lot of things to ask the Pope, just as a kid who was raised Catholic. So I’m rooting for the Pope, but then again, I don’t want to fracture the audience. I know there are many faiths watching.
What’s one thing you guarantee about the new show?
You’ll see me sink to a new low. In a good way.
You mentioned the difficulty of the last nine months. Have the wounds healed, or do you still wake up in the middle of the night, screaming, “Leno!!!!”?
Some of it’s going to be with me the rest of my life, but for the most part I’ve been shocked at how many interesting, fun, cool, creative opportunities have come out of it all. So I prefer to look at it that way.
What lessons did you learn from that experience?
I don’t know. I do think that I went with my instinct 10 months ago, and that was the right way to go. There have got to be ways in which this has altered me a little bit, but my basic goal in television is going to be the same, which is to make people laugh and slightly irritate them at the same time.
And what did you take away from the tour?
It was really fun. I was telling people that it had a little bit of a Make A Wish feel to it. As we were doing the tour, I thought, “Am I dying and no one’s got the guts to tell me?” He hasn’t got long, everybody. He’s always wanted to play rockabilly guitar in front of huge stadium audiences. Let’s let him have this. That’s what it felt like a little bit. I got to be REO Speedwagon circa 1978 for a very short time. Okay, that’s not a good example. But it was nice after all these years of doing submarine duty on a television show where you’re in a concrete pen. Whenever we would take our show out on the road, you’d be connected to how excited the people are, and that’s a jolt of just pure energy. I think that’s what was great: I got to put my hands on a lot of the fans, and I mean that in the creepiest way possible.
NBC provided you with a lot of fodder for The Tonight Show. Will TBS offer enough stuff to poke fun at?
Oh my god, yes. Their primetime lineup is reruns. And I’m taking them to court over the claim that everything is “very funny,” using several of my shows as evidence.
How many of the characters and bits from the NBC years can you bring with you? What will we see on the new show?
You could see me get arrested on the air. We’re not sure yet exactly which characters in the past can and can’t show up. We don’t know what’s going to happen with all that, so it could end with like the end of Let it Be when the constables come on the roof. Because that’s who that other network will send over: late ’60s constables. They’ll have sticks and we’ll all run around in fast motion, and “Yakety Sax” will play.
So you’re still working out what you can and can’t use?
It’s kind of uncharted territory, so we’re going to play it by ear. Honestly, people tend to think that show business is painstakingly thought out and it really isn’t. And there are some places where we haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do. What I’m committed to doing is if something’s really funny I want to do it, or if it’s right for us, I want to do it. And I am very much committed to us coming up with new stuff, and using this as an opportunity to reinvent some of this. I’m also curious to see what friends from the past reappear. And what we call them. And how they’re disguised.