Before singing Free Bird with Beck, Ben Harper, ZZ Top and Wil Ferrel Conan said something pretty profound. For one, he thanked all his fans for turning an otherwise sad moment in his life into a joyous and inspirational one while choking back tears. But in a sobering moment, he pleaded to his young viewers and shared some words of wisdom:
“All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality. 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, I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”
If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. Not too bad as far as advice goes and not too surprising from a guy who, at a low point in his career, still has a sense of awe and appreciation for how he got there.
It reminds me of his commencement speech to the Harvard class of 2000:
I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of The Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet, every failure was freeing, and today I’m as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good.
So, that’s what I wish for all of you: the bad as well as the good. Fall down, make a mess, break something occasionally. And remember that the story is never over. If it’s all right, I’d like to read a little something from just this year: “Somehow, Conan O’Brien has transformed himself into the brightest star in the Late Night firmament. His comedy is the gold standard and Conan himself is not only the quickest and most inventive wit of his generation, but quite possible the greatest host ever.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Class of 2000, I wrote that this morning, as proof that, when all else fails, there’s always delusion.
I’ll go now, to make bigger mistakes and to embarrass this fine institution even more. But let me leave you with one last thought: If you can laugh at yourself loud and hard every time you fall, people will think you’re drunk.
Right now Conan is falling down and leaving the cocoon of NBC. It will suck for a while, and it’s been quite a mess. But I won’t be surprised when he rises again and carves out another little place in our lives where he can do what he does best: make us laugh. Good luck, Conan!