“This is the first time in my twenty-year television career that anyone has paid to see me… Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’ve paid to make me go away…”
We all know the story behind Conan O’Brien’s beard of sorrow, est. 2010 — the result of his falling out with NBC over refusing to move “The Tonight Show” past midnight to make way for the flagging Jay Leno. While he reached a $45 million settlement with the network, Conan was momentarily unemployed. He also became more popular than ever.
Millions of viewers rallied for Conan on Facebook and Twitter. Protesters lined up outside NBC buildings with picket signs. Two Asian guys staged a Conan vs. Jay brawl in the streets. The Shepard Fairey-esque “I’m With Coco” sign was circulated endlessly through cyberspace in support of the redheaded late-night talk show host who had suddenly become a beloved underdog (barring, of course, the $45 million).
In the summer between the early 2010 “Tonight Show” conflict and his November 2010 start on TBS’s “Conan,” during which time he was legally forbidden from hosting a television program, O’Brien embarked on the 30-city Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour. Flanked by his sidekick Andy Richter, Conan traveled coast to coast, reaching such venues as Radio City Music Hall, Bonnaroo and the Hult Center of the Performing Arts in Eugene, Oregon (his inaugural show).