Joan Rivers on Conan O'Brien: 'He's Not That Funny and Would Have Ended Up a Tonight Show Failure'


Before the Jay Leno Show premiered in September, Joan Rivers used a few public appearances to slam Johnny Carson's successor's move into primetime: "I think it's brilliant that Leno is at 10 p.m. because America can get bored more easily and go to sleep earlier." But when it came to ConanGate last week and NBC's mishandling of the Tonight Show, the comedienne, who has her own complicated history with late night, was conspicuously quiet. Until Vanity Fair caught up with her at Sundance.

In Park City to promote her documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Rivers sat down with Vanity Fair West Coast editor Krista Smith and offered her own analysis of ConanGate:

"Luckiest thing that ever happened to [Conan]. He's not that funny. The numbers were going down. The [Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien] would have ended up a failure and let go and they would have put Jimmy Fallon in his place. What happened was, he is now the guy that was hurt, he is the good guy that did not want to ruin the integrity of the Tonight Show, he's walked away with $40 million, not tragic, and every other station now wants him for late night. It's such a win for this guy!"

Instead of lobbing another below-the-belt insult at Leno, Rivers assessed the obstacles in Leno's future:

"[The ConanGate situation] is very negative for him. I think people got a good look at him and realized that he ain't funny. What's funny at 11:30 when you're tired and want to go to sleep -- you don't want to be annoyed in a way. You can fall asleep to Jay Leno and it doesn't matter because you didn't miss anything. It's comfort TV. At 10:00, you were like, 'Wait, this guy isn't funny! What am I doing? Who is this guy?' I think that was negative and also, all the rumors that he's not being liked very much came up. It all surfaced. He ain't this wonderful, warm, sweet, lovable guy. He has a very small Christmas card list."

Joan Rivers, famously got her first big break when Johnny Carson invited her on the Tonight Show. She guest-hosted through the early 80s and then burned her Tonight Show bridge by leaving to headline the short-lived Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.

· VIDEO: Joan Rivers Thinks Conan Lucked Out and Leno Isn't Funny [Vanity Fair]


  • Sean Blair says:

    As I heard some one say recently, the number of Jay Leno fans are lowering constantly... by natural causes. Conan is for the young, Miss Rivers, for those of us who can actually stay up and watch until 12:30.

    • bob says:

      Completely untrue. I'm 20 as are my 50 some friends and none of us find this moron funny. Age has nothing to do with it. According to a study they did people who like conan have low IQs. So its all about your intellect. If you're smart like most of the world you hate conan.

  • Jorell says:

    I completely agree with her, except for the part where she said Conan isn't that funny. But Conan will be fine and Jay Leno sucks always and forever.

  • Christine B. says:

    I find it funny that Joan River's has a comment on this. I'm sorry, but she's not funny either. She's a shrill, shrewish old woman, and it seems like she's been that way since I've been a kid. And really, I'm absolutely a Conan O'Brien fan, but even before this Tonight Show debacle I never cared for Leno's humor. I always felt he was condescending and snarky in his comments/jokes, whereas Conan, even if he was "making fun" of someone did so with an air of "it's all in good fun" and he didn't really mean it. Plus he was self-deprecating, and it wasn't like the big bully picking on someone, more like the funny kid from high school making quips but fully accepting his own limitations and flaws. And I'm sick of the talk about Conan's bad ratings. He never had a chance. They gave Leno what was, ostensibly, Tonight Show Lite in the Prime Time slot, making Tthe Tonight Show itself redundant. But since Leno's ratings for his new show were pitiful and people either changed channels or just turned their tvs off, the late news and then The Tonight Show had a far smaller audience. On the otherhand, Leno had 5 nights a week of Prime Time shows (including the hit series, Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, and Medium, just to name a few, in the 10 pm slot) that gave a great lead in and compelled people to stay with NBC until The Tonight Show. Lets see how Conan would have done with a proper lead in and no Leno hanging on for dear life to being The Tonight Show host. Lets also not forget that Conan didn't request the promotion, he was offered it 5 years ago by NBC execs. If they loved Leno that much they should have stayed put, and maybe Conan would have stayed with The Late Show a little longer. Jay Leno can try to spin it all he wants, but lets see how well he'd have done and how his ratings would have been when 16 or so years ago, instead of leaving, the hugely popular Johnny Carson got a show at 10pm 5 nights a week that was essentially the same as the Tonight Show, just earlier. I bet he'd have flopped and cried about the unfairness of it. I will never watch another NBC show again, and that's hard to say since I adore The Office and I'm a fan of Law & Order SVU, but you know what? NBC got rid of so many shows I cared about, and the loss of Conan is just too aggravating for words. So sorry for posting so much but I'm sick of it being spun that Conan's ratings were so bad when he never had a fair shot. It'd be like if you took two kids in high school about to take the SATs and gave one kid the normal amount of time to take the test, and another kid half the time to take the test. Is it any wonder that the kid with more time did better? He had an advantage that his peer did not. Same with Conan and Jay. I think Jay should have done the amiable and commendable thing and fully retired when his ratings started to drop off, and leave Conan the time to get his feet wet hosting The Tonight Show. Of course when there's a change of hosts there's going to be an adjustment period, and 7 months was hardly fair. So Leno and Rivers can take their humorless selves and go entertain their humorless fans, and the very charming, very endearing, very funny Conan O'Brien can wait the requisite 7 months and pop up on Fox (fingers crossed). Team CoCo all the way 🙂

  • Old No.7 says:

    You managed to stretch out that argument further than the skin on Joan's face.

  • You know who's not funny...Joan Rivers

  • Peter says:

    Looks like Joan won't be a guest on the Tonight Sow or Conan's new show for forseeable future.

  • val says:

    Leno is a class act with some great one line jokes but Conan was never funny just loud. He inherited Osamabama's deadbeats who now follow him like he's Jim Jones reincarnated. But the truth is, where were these followers when Conan's ratings were the worst of all? They didn't watch his lousy shows either. Leno was number one and he will be again. Letterman loves to bash Jay because he lost the Tonight Show to him and not cause it was Leno's 'fault', it was cause Dave is not funny either. WE LOVE JAY LENO SO GET USED TO IT, HE'LL BE NUMBER ONE AGAIN !!!

  • Citizen says:

    Joan Rivers sounds like an angry Tomcat.
    Every time she talks my stomach churns.

  • Anonymously says:

    Conan O'Brien is an odd-looking duck, that's for sure. He might have been popular back in Vaudeville days with his shoulder shrugging and spinning in circles "comedy," but I personally couldn't stand to look at him. Not funny to me, but then I am one of the age group that "is expected to die" as Dr. G. put it the other night. I am glad Jay Leno is back.

  • Ted B. says:

    I don't think any of them are that funny. Did you see that bitter old Joan Rivers on Celebrity Apprentice......good grief!!! Even when Obama is contradicting himself every time he opens his mouth, and Biden is sticking his foot in his mouth, Letterman can only come up with Sarah Palin jokes. Maybe some Letterman adultery jokes would make sense. Jay is fair....he makes fun of everyone. Conan is likable, but does not have the gravitas to carry the show. Jimmy Fallon is a disaster (like MSNBC).

  • amoody08 says:

    Joan Rivers has a new documentary coming out, its supposed to be like an inside look at her life and showbiz in general, it looks really interesting to me. Does anybody know where its playing?

  • bob says:

    I find it sad that there are so many retarded people in the world. A study was conducted and it was found that the only people who find conan remotely funny are people with an IQ of 100 or less. I guess his retarded stunts and lame jokes are needed to entertain these morons.

  • whatever says:

    Conan was funny before the big money. Now he is just full of himself. The selfdepricating humor does not work anymore when you get handed 40 million to go away. Conan needs to retire his act.

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