Brow Beat

Conan O’Brien Is the Master of Recurring Segments

Conan O'Brien in a split screen with his show's director Billie Bollotino.
Conan checks in with director Billie Bollotino in a new segment he’s calling “Checkin’ in With Billie.”

It’s not exactly a secret that I’m a sucker for dumb conceptual jokes, and the dumber the better. So when Conan O’Brian introduced his new segment “Checkin’ in With Billie” last month, it was (a) catnip to me and (b) believe it or not, and I have no one but myself to blame if you don’t, a moment when I thought, “Wow, this dumb conceptual joke is so dumb and so completely committed to its dumb concept that although I absolutely love it, I can’t quite see inflicting it on the good people of Slate dot com.” Unfortunately for everyone, since then I’ve found an angle. So here’s the original “Checkin’ in With Billie.”

And here’s a new edition of “Checkin’ in With Billie,” which made me think, “Wow, this dumb conceptual joke is so dumb, and so completely committed to its dumb concept that not only am I going to put it up on Slate, I’m probably going to also post the first “Checkin’ in With Billie” segment for context, then write an unilluminating paragraph about recurring characters in sketch comedy, so it seems like I’m not just snickering about ‘Checkin’ in With Billie’ even though that’s obviously what I’m doing. ”

Recurring characters are usually the scourge of sketch television shows because they’re an easy place to be lazy: audiences liked the “I wanna dip my balls in it” guy last time, so why keep looking for a better joke when you can just have that guy meet Donald Trump? What Conan is up to here is something different, more difficult, and much, much funnier: extending and elaborating the original dumb concept into something even dumber, intricately dumber, fractally dumber. It’s actually the second time Conan’s managed to repeat a concept without making it boring just this week: He also brought back “Curb Stumpers,” the show’s goof on Kimmel’s man-on-the-street segments, with a slightly different payoff than the original:

Pure comedy has been more or less abandoned by late night for the duration of the current emergency—which is fine, and probably necessary!—so it’d be refreshing to see a show still interested in humor for its own sake even if it was terrible. But doing recurring segments without making them boring is an unprecedented breakthrough in television comedy. Thanks for reading my new column, which I’m calling “Pretending I Have Interesting Things to Say About Comedy as an Excuse to Make Other People Watch Things That I Think Are Funny on YouTube, and When You Think About It, Isn’t That the Dumbest Conceptual Joke of Them All?” Now back to you!