Conan: It Still Hurts

Conan on his set Wednesday with producer Jeff Ross (left).

Conan O’Brien sat forlornly in a director’s chair on his modest talk show set.

It’d been months since the turmoil that yanked him from “The Tonight Show,” two months since he premiered his resulting on cable.

And while he seems at last at ease and having fun in the relative shadowland of basic cable, after an initial bout of self-pity, he was back into the Hurt Locker of his treatment at the hands of NBC when a group of reporters showed up at his set Wednesday for a visit.

It looked as if he might tear up when he spoke of what still gnaws at him most over the very public battle for late night.

“I was with that company for a long time and had a lot of amazing experiences with them and felt
 like, you know, a part of that family,” O’Brien began. “And I think it’s still very hard for me sometimes.”

He spoke of mourning the severing of a limb – “when they take off a limb, and you still feel like you have that limb. There are times where I sort of mourn the loss.”

And he kept going about it. ‘That company meant a lot to me. And there’s a whole body of work I did that I feel a little detached from, you know — 17 years of work… and  someone else has it now, and I no longer see those people.

“Yeah, there’s some of them I never need to see again, but still, it’s very strange for me to feel like I’ve left that world and will not go to that world again.”

On “a human level,” he says, “it feels strange to me, and I’m, you know, sort of, somewhat sad. As the greatest things have worked out for me, I think that’s something I regret.”

Though he was happy to receive a call from David Letterman over the holidays wishing him well, O’Brien doesn’t forsee a time he’ll ever talk with Jay Leno again.

“We all know the story and we all know what happened,” he says. “Life is short. I’ve got kids and a family. I’ve got a life to live. And I’m really happy here. So I don’t think about it too much.”

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Isn’t this great that you got to have a year off?’  And I don’t remember a year where I’ve worked harder than the last year because this all had to come together very quickly.”

First came a live tour that in many ways informed his eventual show which land on TBS. “Things happened very fast.”

Being the victim meant he received a great outpouring of support from the public. Around the time of his last day of the “Tonight” show, he recalls, “I walked into a restaurant and everybody in the restaurant applauded. And I thought: Well, that’s nice. This is weird. And, also, this isn’t a living. I don’t see how to do this as a job, walk around and get applauded in restaurants.”

But then he went home and after what he called “an initial sort of high,” he had to sit and future a lot of stuff out.

“And one of the first things I did was I thought,” he says, was that “these shows have been the organizing principle of my life for such a long time that I thought I’ve got to call my assistant and get to work.”

So he called her and they met up at a Marie Callender’s pie restaurant.

“I’m not kidding,” he says. “I hosted the last ‘Tonight Show’ on a
Friday, and on Monday, I’m in a Marie Callender’s pie restaurant, and my assistant has a laptop, and we are sitting there. And there’s two other customers in the place, you know, stabbing at a pie at 11 o’clock in the morning, and this was now my new headquarters.

“And I pass this Marie Callender’s a lot, and I think about that shocking — I mean, it was just the juxtaposition of these insane images of “Tonight Show,” iconic Marie Callender’s restaurant meeting, office. This is where I work now. And that kind of summed up the madness, I think, a little bit of that time.”

“Conan” runs Monday-Thursday at 11 p.m. on TBS.

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