Conan versus Leno: Who’s the better speaker and why?

Look, everybody knows what happened. First Leno screwed Letterman out of The Tonight Show in 1993, though Letterman was clearly the better choice. And then in 2009 when Jays The Jay Leno Show bombed, he didn’t want to leave television. So he screws Conan over. Now, I’m not saying it was all Leno, but, in my opinion, Conan O’Brien should be the current host of Tonight Show.

So much of what separates Conan from Jay is the writing. Being a former writer for the Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, Conan understands this. If there’s not a well-written script, the jokes will fall flat.  The difference between the writing styles is this: Jay writes his jokes as stand-up comedy. Conan writes his jokes as a gag. Both are very solid in their styles, but a stand-up comedy style can miss the point, or just be un-funny all together.

If you go back and watch old Johnny Carson episodes, you can see that his style was a lot like Conan’s. More of a physical, slap stick style. And just like Conan, he could deliver a punch line straight-faced before laughing with his audience.

A big difference between Jay and O’Brien are their audience. Jay Leno’s target demographic is the 25 and up range, where Conan’s is the 17 and up range. Conan connects to a younger audience. I think the biggest issue with why Conan failed on the Tonight Show, was because some where along the line, Conan felt that he needed to add some reverence to the show, being that he was gaining Jay’s audience as well as his followers. And, I think that his fan saw right through it. Though he didn’t leave his style behind completely, Conan did definitely water it down some.  Gone were the days of the “vomiting Kermit” and his over-the-top entrances that he began every show with. I my opinion, he should have changed nothing about his show other than the name.

This proves true now that he has in show on TBS. His format has returned to the same as before, and his ratings have come back. But, what really proves Conan the better speaker is this; while Conan was off the air for seven months, he toured the U.S. and Canada. Putting on a show that included him playing music with his house band and doing stand-up. Conan can control a crowd. Just his presence gets people in the laughing mood.

In my opinion, (and probably because I’ve watched Conan since 1992), Conan is the better show man. I tune in nightly to laugh. And Conan always brings the funny…

by James Schilling