Conan O'Brien Wants You to Know That Nothing Matters and You're Going to Die
"Eventually, all our graves go unattended."
Photo by Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images
Late night's flaming orange beacon of light-turned-intrepid podcaster Conan O'Brien sat down for a chat with Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times recently to talk about his revamped TBS show. It was a fantastic interview, which isn't all that surprising considering O'Brien has repeatedly proven himself to be one of the sharpest and most lucid conversationalists in the business. But in between some lively chatter about his creative process and personal life, O'Brien took a brief break to offer us readers an important reminder about our own lives—namely, that they are insignificant and mean absolutely nothing to the cold and indifferent universe.
It all started casually enough, with a question from Itzkoff about how O'Brien wants to "go out," before O'Brien veered into an existential pit of despair fast enough to make Jean-Paul Sartre's googly-eyes spin.
"At this point in my career, I could go out with a grand, 21-gun salute, and climb into a rocket and the entire Supreme Court walks out and they jointly press a button, I’m shot up into the air and there’s an explosion and it’s orange and it spells, 'Good night and God love,'" O'Brien said. "In this culture? Two years later, it’s going to be, 'Who’s Conan?' This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended."
He just keeps getting darker from there:
You’re right, that does sound grim.
Sorry. Calvin Coolidge was a pretty popular president. I’ve been to his grave in Vermont. It has the presidential seal on it. Nobody was there. And by the way, I’m the only late-night host that has been to Calvin Coolidge’s grave. I think’s that what separates me from the other hosts.
I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.”
Somehow, though, this bleak thought-spiral apparently doesn't get O'Brien down. As he put it, it actually gives him a sense of relief. "It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me," he said. "I was walking on air after that."
So there you have it, folks. All apologies to Silent Cal and the genius of Clark Gable, but Conan is right. All your great hopes and dreams and successes and failures add up to nothing. Everyone you know and love will eventually be forgotten and rot silently in the ground where they will, if they're lucky, help feed the roots of a tree that will rot and die itself, and on and on until the sun someday explodes and swallows the Earth in a fiery, violent, wholly meaningless end.
At least we have Conan's new show to watch in the meantime!
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