Saturday, March 29, 2008

Toronto, 2004: Mel Brooks Meets Conan O'Brien--The Bootleg (Tape) Transcript

A lot of late-night TV fans might have wondered why their favourite celebrity hasn’t appeared on their favourite program. Some personalities are reclusive, and some just spurn the box for its tendency to undermine fluffy things like the Renaissance, the Categorical Imperative, mind-body dualism, etc. Most of the time we’re talking about celebrities with esoteric appeal--writers, directors, actors, and comedians who have their cult followings, Pulitzers, Nobels, etc. (J.D. Salinger isn’t going on Letterman, and we’re not going to see Rudy Wiebe on Leno any time soon.)

But what about big names who aren’t working on new projects? Virtually the only reason people appear on talk shows is to plug a product. (Otherwise black holes of entertainment like Tori Spelling could focus on crafting, and the world would be a better place.) When celebrities aren’t producing, there’s no incentive to invite them on the show. (What? No more Amanda Bynes interviews out there? Well, tell her to get to work. We need to know what Chad Michael Murray's like...when the camera's aren't rolling!) That’s why, for example, you don’t see a guy like Mel Brooks doing the late-night circuit. The Producers came back, but Brooks isn’t the kind of guy who’s interesting in dishing out bullshit to a studio audience. So he’s kept to himself, doing a strange variety of sit-downs over the past twenty years (he really seems to like Regis Philbin.) You get the feeling that he’d probably do a Jew-hosted program, but Jews aren’t yet Catholic enough to host anything that airs past ten-thirty—so that options out.

Something you won’t see is Brooks on Conan. But the two have met and spoken. A few years ago there was a bootleg tape, circulating around Ryerson University’s journalism school, on which Brooks and O’Brien engaged in a three-minute-ish conversation. It was recorded in 2004 when O’Brien came to Toronto on his post-SARS ticket. Brooks was in town to discuss The Producers musical, which was then in production as part of the Mirvish group’s theater-season package. (For non-Torontonians, the Mirvish theater group is an annual subscription series that produces ten-ish shows per year. It was started by “Honest” Ed Mirvish’s cash, and is now run by his son David.) A student journalist (Ryerson’s famous for being Canada’s top journalism school) was tabbed to cover a reception/dinner for O’Brien at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Brooks showed up with David Mirvish to chat and work the room.

The student--the guy's name was Barry--had his tape deck rolling, and this is what he got. (Don’t ask me to post the tape, because I don’t have it. Barry was an asshole who wouldn’t make copies. He was the kind of guy who walked around with earbuds, listening to fusion jazz, long before the IPod was born. I just have my shorthand notes.):

Conan: Hello.
Brooks: Hello. How are you? It’s…you.
Conan: Conan O’Brien.
Brooks: Right! The name just blended in with the rest—it’s so usual. I was thinking, “Tim…” How are you, Tim?
Conan: I’m fine, Chip.
Brooks: What’s that on your lip? There’s something on your lip.
Conan: Where?
Brooks: Here. Hold still. I got it.
Conan: Thank you.
Brooks: (To Mirvish, re: Conan) He’s never had me on his show.
Mirvish: Yeah?
Conan: We tried.
Brooks: I was busy. I told him I do Sunday mornings. That’s it. He can’t do Sundays.
Conan: What about Friday nights?
Brooks: (To Mirvish) David? David, the goy’s laughing at us. What are you eating? Gefilte fish?
Conan: It’s salmon.
Brooks: You know what that is? Gefilte fish?
Conan: I have no idea.
Brooks: Ask me on your show and I’ll have a whole discussion about it. It’s mostly newspaper.
Conan: We really asked. I think we tried to get you on last year? Yeah, last year. I don’t know.
Brooks: I’m sorry. This is David Mirvish. He’s producing The Producers. Producing The Producers.
Mirvish: (To Conan) I love your show. How are you liking Toronto?
Conan: It’s a beautiful city. Yeah, I really like it. If they pay me again I’ll come back.
Brooks: You’re getting money for this?
Conan: I’m just kidding.
Brooks: What are you doing up here? You’re off?
Conan: No, we’re doing the show here. All this week. Yeah.
Brooks: I didn’t know. I watch Letterman. David, why didn’t you tell me?
Conan: We’re on after Letterman.
Brooks: After Letterman? Are you crazy? Who can stay up that late?
Conan: Not many people.
Mirvish: (To Brooks) That’s Larry Tanenbaum.
Brooks: I’ll go over in a minute.
Conan: Don’t let me keep you.
Brooks: No, no. He’s going for the linen contract. Leave him alone. Did you have any of this fish on a stick? Salmon. It’s delicious. You should have some.
Conan: I did. I was just eating it a second ago. It was very good. Listen, are you interested in doing the show? Really? We’ll get you on. Whenever.
Brooks: What do you want me on the show for?
Conan: I’d love to have you. Are you kidding?
Brooks: No. Come on.
Mirvish: You’d be great.
Brooks: What am I gonna do? Tell stories? Do you have Jews on your show?
Conan: What? My band leader’s Jewish. Max Weinberg, yeah. Of course we do. My writers are Jewish. I’m Jewish.
Brooks: On your priest’s side?
Conan: That’s right. (Laughing.) On my priest’s side. We just had (inaudible) on.
Brooks: He’s not Jewish. What are you talking about?
Conan: What do you mean he’s not Jewish? He’s Jewish. I checked. Union rules.
Brooks: I’ll think about it.
Conan: Well, think about it. And call me.
Brooks: They’ve got me running around like crazy. This is a great city for a pastrami sandwich. Have you ever been to Shopsy’s? Yitz’s? You gotta go. Try it.
Conan: I’ve never been. I will, I’ll try it.
Brooks: None of this lean shit, ok?
Conan: Lean…The sandwich?
Brooks: Yeah. You’re a young man.
Conan: I’m not so young.
Brooks: You’ll be ok.
Conan: (Laughing) What does that mean?
Brooks: God, my back’s killing me from this hotel they’ve got me sleeping in. How do you sleep? I’m on my side with a pillow between my legs. Down there. This mattress is like a trampoline. It’s no good for me. You should see the bed I’ve got at home.
Conan: Really. W hat kind of bed is it?
Brooks: It’s a bed. Jesus, what kind of question is that? We stand it against the wall and lean on it. No, I’m kidding. It’s like a board. I love it. I wake up three times a night to take a piss, but it’s ultra-absorbent.
Conan: That’s disgusting. That’s truly disgusting.
Brooks: I’m gonna use that on the show.
Conan: We’re at the Royal York. I haven’t had any problems.
Brooks: I’m somewhere else. What do I need a bathtub for?
Conan: The bath is nice.
Brooks: I don’t take baths.
Mirvish: I’m going to go over. It was nice to meet you.
Conan: Yes, nice to meet you.
Brooks: I’m going to go with him.
Conan: Remember, anytime you want to be on.
Brooks: I’ll be around. Don’t go anywhere.

Hardly earth-shattering stuff, but it has its moments.

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