What Really Went Down During the Conan vs. Leno Brawl: Juiciest Quotes From 'The War for Late Night'


On how O'Brien felt in the wake of "Team Coco" and his massive online following: The outpouring of support made Conan feel as if he was starring in his own version of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," both because he was allowed to see a "Tonight Show" where he never existed and because the support made him realize he really was "the richest man in town."

On Leno's vision for the 10 p.m. "Jay Leno Show:" "Even though it's ten o'clock," Jay said in outlining his plans for "The Jay Leno Show" of 2009, "we're going to pretend it's 11:30."

Leno, Letterman and O'Brien's Quirks

On Leno's penchant for Payless shoes: He was a creature of habit so ingrained that he was rarely seen offstage in anything but the same denim work shirt, faded jeans, and $14.99 pair of black Payless SafeTStep work shoes. These, Jay explained, he bought "by the crate" because they were "impervious to oil and gas" -- a feature important to him because of all the time he spent working on the fleet of vehicles in his automotive shop in a converted hangar at the Burbank airport.

On Leno's foray into comedy: This was a guy who in fourth grade had been hit on the head with a hammer by a kid who thought anyone with a head that big must surely have a skull made of granite. Bleeding, Leno assured the class he was fine -- though it hurt like hell. He got a big laugh, which made the pain pass more quickly.

On Letterman's anger issues: Letterman directed most of his anger and disgust at himself. In the old days the staff would often hear him in his office battering his stereo equipment with a baseball bat, all of them wondering, "Is he mad at me? Did he not like my joke, or my segment?" But when one of the producers would work up the nerve to walk in and ask him if everything was all right, Dave would say, "I hate myself. I'm the biggest asshole in the world. Look how I messed this up."

On how Letterman worked up the energy to go on stage: After drinking enough cups of strong coffee to stimulate the economy and before going downstairs to perform, Letterman would sit at his desk surrounded by a pile of Hershey bars. Carefully unwrapping each one, Dave would break four or five of them into their separate little squares and then pile them on top of one another into a little chocolate tower. He would proceed to eat all of the squares as he went over the upcoming show with the producers. By the time the sugar rush kicked into his system, he would be backstage and ready to go on the air.

On Letterman's psychological issues: Many of those closest to Dave urged him to seek some help, get counseling of some kind, maybe visit a psychiatrist. But that idea always unsettled him. One member of his inner circle said, "Every time I brought up over the years that he ought to see a shrink, he always had the same reaction: 'I wouldn't be as funny.' There was probably no question that he was right." For the same reason Dave resisted recommendations that some kind of medication might help.

On how O'Brien dealt with his ill-received "Late Night" debut in the 1990s: O'Brien, the man who could fly high on comic inspiration, was also capable of the deepest of lows when he spiraled all the way down. He walked into his office, passed his assistant and closed the inner door behind him. He made his way behind the desk, stood there for a second, then bent, went to his knees, and crawled down under it.

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