And here's the quote I want to focus on:
All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism -- it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen.
I felt this was a sort of attack on a pocket of his supportive audience that, like me, watched Conan for so many years because we were cynical. Letterman, Leno, they were late night for people who didn't care if their late night laughs had any substance to them. They had big guests and made stupid jokes. Actually, a lot of their material was cynical in a way that made fun of the everyday person, going out on the street to interview people and pull one over on them. Jay's derisive chuckle putting on a show of schadenfreud for an audience who instead of going to bed after the credits roll, might actually watch the following infomercials, credit cards in hand. Conan himself wasn't cynical on the surface, always bubbly and goofy in his demeanor, but his approach to late night has always been a reprieve from the Wal-Mart and Target of late night hosts.
Now to rewind a bit. Let's say Conan hasn't misrepresented himself all these years, maybe I've been wrong in thinking that this is a guy who doesn't mind making fun of television and the stupid horrible things on it (not to mention the stupid horrible things happening in the real world). So let's say Conan doesn't have a cynical cell in his body. It would make perfect sense, what does he have to be cynical about? Since graduating from Harvard he went from Saturday Night Live to the Simpsons to hosting his own show, garnering success wherever he went. I know he's brilliant and I know he had to work hard, but he's also been extremely lucky. Look at his two former writing partners, the equally brilliant Robert Smigel and Bob Odenkirk. Sure neither of them are starving, but they've been met with constant struggles and failures since their original glory days. Odenkirk, whose Mr. Show basically defined modern sketch comedy, couldn't even get a pilot sold to HBO even with his original partner in tow (David Cross) and even with the success Mr. Show had on the very same channel. So in a way, it would make sense that Conan isn't a cynical person. Amazing things do happen. To some people. They happened to Conan, what about the rest of us? Forgive my cynicism, but we probably won't lead such amazing lives.
Now I understand that cynicism can't lead our every thought without driving us to depression and despair, and I understand that even if our lives don't work out like Conan (i.e. doing what we love and being paid handsomely for it) we can make the best of it. This is a solid, positive message, but it also pays to see the clouds not just for the silver linings. The world will always be polarized into optimists and pessimists, and the cynics will always be needed. In a world without cynicism we wouldn't be able to progress, we would simply be content all the time. We would not have had Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, George Carlin, Woody Allen, Leonard Cohen, Kurt Cobain, Black Sabbath, punk rock, all these great creative minds and movements whose drive was to push against and to tear down the veil around us all. It does lead somewhere, in those rare glorious instances, cynicism can lead us to the truth. And what's more positive than that?