We had quite a couple of weeks: Prince William, the likely-future king of Britain and its Commonwealth, married Catherine Middleton; Osama Bin Laden was caught, shot, and buried at sea; Canadians voted into power a majority Conservative government; and the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadians were both eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs disappointing all the women in my life. Yet I have nothing to say… no wisdom to impart or original viewpoints to unveil… on any of these subjects. So today, I’ve decided that… I can explain… Conan O’Brien’s beard.
Conan O’Brien is the old host of The Tonight Show. This ginger man, who is on occasion affectionately known as Coco, grew his wiry, red face-cover during the 2007 writer’s strike as a sign of solidarity with the Writer’s Guild. He shaved it soon after the strike ended, but let it grow out during off season. Then the Leno/O’Brien drama happened and Conan lost his show and the spotlight on January 22, 2010. As a way to sort of reclaim his identity, he re-grew the beard and started his comedic The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.
During a 60 Minutes appearance, he joked, “Okay. So I lost The Tonight Show, but I’ll show them — I’ll stop shaving.”
Conan had the beard for nearly 15 months. Even after being picked up to host his own show called Conan on TBS, he kept the beard and it became one of his staples. That is, until Will Farrell got involved. Farrell, in partnership with the show, started to send in video clips in which he angrily describes the beard as a “big red mistake.” He threatened to rectify this mistake by coming onto the show and shaving off. While it was all a big marketing ploy, it became quite an amusing beard versus Farrell rivalry.
On the May 2, 2011 show, Conan pre-empted the Farrell shaving by describing his children’s reaction to their father’s forthcoming shaved appearance. He told them, “The man from Elf is coming to take daddy’s beard.” Their reactions were divided.
Conan’s son simply replied, “Things come, things go.”
His daughter, on the other hand, began to cry and hugged him tightly. “Your beard is part of you. If you take away part of you, you won’t be you anymore,” she explained through her tears. (I can relate. My father, who has had a beard for nearly my entire life, shaved his one summer when I was a toddler. I cried for hours because there was a strange man in our house.)
After a commercial break, Will Farrell arrived with particularly short hair himself. He told Conan that he wanted to attack his face, and sported a razor blade which he stared at longingly for the majority of the interview.
“There is nothing going on in this country other than the fervour… to shave that beard,” he exclaimed at one point in the interview.
After another commercial, they rolled out a platform with what appeared to be a barber’s salon, complete with 1970’s Playboys and combs in blue water. Farrell pulled out his shaver named Excali-beard, which he said “ran on pure righteousness.” The shaving itself was incredibly awkward and looked quite painful. Afterwards, Farrell observed, “I made a terrible mistake.”
Personally, I grew a full goatee by the time I was 16 years old and had a full beard by 17. And that beard has stayed on my face (other than two brief stints of bald-facedness so the girls I was dating could see what I looked like without it) more or less ever since. My beard, like Coco’s daughter said, has become a part of who I am. It has been grown to cover flaws, to express individuality and a sense of identity, and (at least partially) out of not wanting to shave my entire face every morning.
As for Conan’s beard, I think he looked better with it. But each beards has its symbolic value and Conan’s beard’s value was in the number of viewers he could get while I comedian shaved it off.