“This is my dream job,” Conan O’Brien says while in conversation with presidential biographer Edmund Morris. He didn’t say it when he brought Morris onto Conan, his late-night talk show on TBS. He says it on Serious Jibber-Jabber, an altogether different operation. On Conan, he talked to Morris for seven minutes; on Serious Jibber-Jabber, they talk for 47 minutes. Officially described as a web series wherein “Conan O’Brien has lengthy, uninterrupted conversations with interesting people on topics which fascinate him,” the show casts the icon of Gen-X irreverence not as a purveyor of intelligent silliness, but as a conversationalist in the mold of Charlie Rose. In any case, he does it practically on the set of Charlie Rose: a table, chairs, a background of purest black, and no further distractions. (If you’re going to borrow, they say, borrow from the best.) O’Brien’s followers may not know he has a fervent interest in presidential history, but after watching his interview with the man who wrote three volumes on Theodore Roosevelt and one on Ronald Reagan, they’ll certainly have found out.
Though the show’s title contains the word Serious and O’Brien speaks with genuine curiosity throughout, it also contains the words Jibber-Jabber, and I doubt he has it in him not to crack jokes. This is welcome, and a reason why I’d like to see him direct all of Team Coco’s considerable resources to these interviews from now on. He even gets into the subject of presidential senses of humor — evidently presidents aren’t allowed to have them anymore — which he picks up again in the show’s second interview, with comedy writer and filmmaker Judd Apatow. Though we get a warning that O’Brien will only tape more of these conversations “whenever time and fate allow,” I personally await the next one with bated breath. Somehow, the man who gave the world the Horny Manatee, the Coked-Up Werewolf, and the immortal Masturbating Bear realized the most important thing about viewers like you and me: we’d much rather watch two people discuss enthusiastically and at length subjects that interest them rather than swiftly mangle subjects they guess might interest us.
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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.