logo PRE-ORDER NOW

May 25, 2010

Work Out

I started exercising again after a long layoff, which made me think I should do some other things again that I haven’t being doing – like writing blog posts. As I’ve said before the reason I haven’t been blogging is because I’m trying to get my stupid book finished, and I don’t want to post what I’ve been writing in my book on the internet for free, although here are a couple lines from today’s work:

Thank God the drive home is uneventful, except that the radio station I am listening to plays “Melt With You,” by Modern English, which I have not heard in a while. Irrelevant but noteworthy. But I feel fine. No symptoms, no aftereffects, nothing. While driving I have some time to think about possible causes:

• There was something weird in my Chinese food. Most likely drugs or that poisonous blowfish they eat in Asia which kills people. Possibly what I thought was chicken was actually blowfish. For the purposes of my theory, I will ignore the fact that they only eat that stuff in Japan, not China.

• Mini-stroke. Perhaps I have a leaky brain vein. If that’s the case, I could die at any minute. And if I could die at any minute, I should probably go ahead and buy that Xbox I’ve been thinking about getting.

• A one-time synaptic misfire. I don’t know whether this sort of thing happens or not, but maybe it was just one of those inexplicable cognitive events that happens after brain trauma. Like when people wake up from a coma and they can speak Flemish. I don’t recall having any brain trauma but maybe as a result of the brain trauma, I am also suffering from amnesia.

• It was psychosomatic. Possible, but unlikely. If I am going to have some sort of psychological breakdown, I expect it to be the kind where I run around screaming because I think I am on fire. Anything less would be a letdown.

That was a freebie. You can read the rest of it in my book, which WILL NEVER BE DONE. I don’t know why writing this second book is so hard, except that I’m writing true tales from my life, which for some reason are far more difficult for me to write than made-up shit. Maybe because I have to figure out a way to make my life seem more interesting than it actually is.

Today, for example, all I’ve done is get my daughter ready for school, go to the gym, and try to think of funny to write for Twitter. And get a mani/pedi (not true). And wave to the mailman, who did not wave back (true).

I’m not sure what the mailman’s problem is but he really needs to straighten out his attitude, especially now when people are so mad at the government. I don’t think this is a situation where he’s going to shoot anybody or anything. I just think maybe he’s having a bad day. Or else he didn’t see when I waved to him. Which is more likely because I was inside at the time, and he was outside in his mail truck. Even so, would it have killed him to toss a little wave in my direction on the off-chance that I was standing naked in my bathroom looking out the window after checking to see if my single workout had made any difference in my body?

Anyway, back to work. Stupid book.

May 06, 2010

From Yesterday's McSweeney's

Please, Can We Not
Go To the Party?

BY MICHAEL IAN BLACK

- - - -

Please can we not go to the party? The reason I ask is because I am not feeling very well. There's something wrong with my head. Or my stomach. Or my arm. It's kind of an all over body ache, the sort of thing that probably would not show up on any sort of medical exam, but which I am confident is quite contagious. To be safe, I think we should probably just stay home.

I know you are excited to go to the party. You enjoy getting dressed up and drinking good wine and making conversation with all of our friends, many of whom we have not seen for a long time. They are great people one and all. They are without exception terrific, and I am proud to consider them my friends. At the same time, I do not need to see any of them ever again.

I find that a lot of socializing is simply a way of communicating that we like each other. When we stand around the party sloshing our wine around and catching up with each other, essentially we are just saying "I like you" over and over again. All social conversation can be reduced in this way. You say, "I like you." I respond, "I like you, too." Then, after that person is out of earshot, we talk to other people about how much we dislike the first person.

Think about how good staying home will be for the environment.

Another problem with going to the party tonight is that you and I both know the only thing to eat will be olives. At every party we attend the hostess sets out a small dish of puckered olives. I don't want any more olives. I know I don't have to eat them, but they give me something to do with my hands while I am standing around saying "I like you" over and over again. But then I do not know where to put the olive pits. Sometimes the hostess puts out little bowls for the pits, but usually the bowls are nowhere near where I am standing and I feel stupid excusing myself to dispose of my olive pits so instead I just end up putting them into my pocket. A couple olive pits in my pocket is fine but soon they grow into a mound, with the result being that my thighs end up looking bumpy. No matter how much time and effort I put into my appearance, all of that work goes right out the window with the addition of bumpy thighs.

Maybe there will be some hummus there too, but hummus has always struck me as more of an experiment in texture than an actual food. I might end up going hungry, which will no doubt make my sickly condition worse. I know you do not think I am actually sick, even though I have been issuing subtle coughing noises for the last several hours in the hopes that you will ask me if I am feeling well enough to go to the party, a question to which I can respond, "I hope so," which I am hoping will lead to you saying, "If you're feeling sick, we shouldn't go," followed by me saying, "Maybe you're right. Darn it, I was really looking forward to that party," and then you saying, "Let's just stay home," and me reluctantly going, "So be it, woman. So be it." But no matter how subtly I cough, you do not say any of those things, leading me to believe you do not actually think I am sick at all.

Please, can we not go to the party?

If we stay I promise to clean the bathroom. And fix that thing I told you I would fix three years ago. And maybe I will even get off the computer, although I am not making any promises about that.

Let us stay home and sit by the fire and I will rub your back and play Spanish lullabies on the guitar. I will make the oatmeal raisin cookies that you like and feed them to you while rubbing your feet. The combination of feet and cookies may not sound so appealing right now, but when accompanied by Spanish lullabies it is wonderful. And if we stay home tonight, I promise the next time there is a party I will go without complaint. I will be the perfect date, charming and vivacious and fun. Unless I am not feeling well, in which case I may stay home.

April 19, 2010

"My Custom Van" Is Now A Play: Elle Talks To Its Creator (Not Me)

Joe Jung on My Custom Van

 Street-chic 

Joe Jung, artistic director of New York’s Project: Theater, says bluntly, “Women are fascinated by men” by way of offering a reason for us to come see his adaptation of My Custom Van and 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face, the 2008 book of dude-centric essays by comic actor Michael Ian Black (Stella, The State, Wet Hot American Summer). The show, currently running through April 24 at the Upper West Side’s Drilling Company Theatre, digs down deep into the thirtysomething-guy mind, where ’80s nostalgia mixes with latent fantasies about building robots and throwing the ultimate taco party. “Women see men acting like boys every day,” Jung says. “I think [the play] is a very honest look at the strange world of modern men.” Jung talked to ELLE.com about adapting Black’s book for the stage and the modern-day-cool factor of Dungeons and Dragons.—Rachel Rosenblit

CF0416CustomVan-B

ELLE: Why did you decide to adapt My Custom Van?

Joe Jung: A friend came to my house to hang out and brought a copy of the book. We read it out loud and were just hysterically laughing. Afterward, we just looked at each other and were like, “Why don’t we do this for a show?” I just turned 32. I got married last year. I work at Citigroup doing International Franchise Management. But at night, I get to dress up in a silk robe and hang out with my friends and do this show.

ELLE: How would you describe the 30-year-old man of today?

JJ: We’re done with school and there are pressures—you’re expected to buckle down and grow up. There are a lot of people who do that and are miserable and don’t have an outlet. Look at the video game industry! Guys in their 30s are advancing to this weird level of sophistication in their video games and demanding that [the games] grow with them. It’s still this idea that it’s fun to shoot things and play football online and pretend that you’re in a rock band. Some guys go back to the frat reunion and get stuck hanging out with a bunch of 18-year-olds, telling stories about how awesome the frat was. You still want to dwell on how awesome things were.

ELLE: There’s a lot of rehashing the glory days in this show, and a ton of early ’90s nostalgia. Did it feel personal for you, having been a teenager then?

JJ: Well, I was a big nerd and not very popular, and a lot of what you see in the show is my own neurosis about how I grew up. Our cast has a lot of talks about that—none of us were really that cool. I spent a lot of time in my basement, playing with Legos and Transformers and creating weird fantasy worlds. I’m in that weird stage of looking at everything through the filter of the early ’90s. I’ll listen to music and subconsciously—or partly consciously—think, Man, Pearl Jam’s Ten is such a better album! We tried to find some of that childish nostalgia that all of us 30-year-old guys in the show have. In the ’80s I was definitely not cool. I liked building robots out of Legos and reading Dungeons and Dragons books.

ELLE: But don’t you think that stuff has become sort of subversively cool? Like part of a hipster subculture?

JJ: Yeah—it’s very hip to do that now. There are coffee houses that have Dungeons and Dragons nights. People my age are like, Let’s do this out in the open! Let’s do this in the coffee shop! We’re old enough and successful enough in our jobs to have the confidence to do that.

ELLE: You also have the confidence to rock a pretty ridiculous-looking fake mustache in the play. What did your wife say?

JJ: Oh, she’s been laughing from the start. She asked me to put it on at home a couple times to remind her what I would look like if she’d let me grow a mustache.

ELLE: She won’t?

JJ: Absolutely not. But I’ll always have the fake.

For more information on My Custom Van, visit http://www.projecttheater.org/calendar.html

March 27, 2010

Some Strategies for Making New Friends Once You Are 100

One of the downfalls of living to a hundred and beyond is that the older you get, the less people you know. That’s because all your friends die. Your family dies. Their kids die. Everybody dies, and soon your closest friend becomes Drew Carrey or whoever is hosting “The Price is Right.” Now, I am not disparaging Drew Carrey because I have met him and he seems like a very nice man, but he is not going to be the guy to come over and help you scrape your bunions. You will most likely have to pay a health care provider for that service and even then that person will probably not scrape with any real sense of love.

Another pitfall is that when you finally succumb to your old age, there will be nobody left to attend your funeral. Most likely not even Drew Carrey will come because he lives in Hollywood and because although he is your best friend, he does not know that you ever existed. A bummer? You bet. Because, like many of you, I plan on living well into my hundreds, I have started thinking about strategies for making new friends once I reach the centenarian mark.

One of the big knocks against extremely old people is that they get kind of dumb. They can’t hear and a lot of the time they don’t know what you’re talking about. For example, if I tell any 100+ year old about kicking my kid’s ass on the new Super Mario Bros for Wii, they will most likely have no idea what I’m talking about. So my first strategy is to stay current on everything. Everything. When I am a hundred, I will not only be conversant, but fluent, in the areas of pop culture, science, metallurgy, Asian cooking, tree pruning, pornographic anime, gourds, etc. In this way, I will hope to establish myself as something of a guru. People will come to me and ask my opinion of the future equivalent of Lady Gaga and I will offer highly informed and crankily funny opinions. Which leads me to my second strategy: become a crank.

Everybody likes cranky old people. (See: Andy Rooney) Cranky middle-aged people are annoying. Nobody likes the guy screaming at you to find somebody else to throw up. But cranky old people are adorable. I don’t know why this is, but it’s true. The older you get, the crankier you socially be. Even racism is acceptable when you get to be a certain age. Therefore I plan on saying horrible things on a nearly constant basis. I will curse and belittle and denigrate everybody who crosses my path. Instead of calling me a hateful bastard, they will call me “feisty,” and they will attribute my long life to said feistiness. Bullshit. The thing that will keep me is modern science and ground-up rhino horn.

Third, be visible. The older you get, the more feeble you become. The more feeble you become, the less mobility you have. Therefore, you’ve got to figure out a way to remain visible. Scooters are a great option. But so are riding mowers. A few years ago David Lynch directed a movie called “The Straight Story” about an older, cranky man who drove his rider mower across Iowa to visit his brother. I plan on employing this same strategy to visit the grocery store, local tavern, library, and for general getting around. The difference? I will wear a cape and a Batman cowl. Because in addition to feistiness, people appreciate eccentricity in their old people.

Another tip: tell every lady you come across beautiful she looks, and then hand her a carnation. Carnations are cheap and don’t have the same cheesy connotation as roses. A woman receiving a carnation from a hundred year old man in a Batman cape and cowl is less apt to think “perv” and more likely to think “sexy.” This keeps the libido active, which can only be a good thing.

Finally, lie about your age. Add fifteen to twenty years to your actual age. Therefore once you reach a hundred, start telling folks (always refer to other people as “folks”) that you are a hundred and fifteen. Nobody will believe you but it will add an element of mystery. Soon people will be hunting for your birth records, the local paper might do a story and the reanimated corpse of Willard Scott might even give you a shout-out on “The Today Show.”

Living to a hundred is great, but you’ve got to make it work for you. Maybe you can think of your strategies for enjoying these “golden years.” If you do, pass them along. If enough of us live long enough we can all hang out together and have ourselves a good laugh when one of our members dies.

 

 

March 22, 2010

What I've Been Doing

Joshua Malina talks 'Backwash,' his surreal celeb-filled summer web series

backwashImage Credit: Sony Pictures Television / Jordin Althaus What do Jon Hamm, John Stamos, Sarah Silverman, John Cho, Allison Janney, Hank Azaria, Fred Willard, Michael Vartan, Dulé Hill, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jeffrey Ross, Ken Marino and David Wain have in common? They all cameo as themselves in Backwash, a 13-episode web series written by and starring Joshua Malina (Sports Night, The West Wing) debuting on Sony’s Crackle.com this summer. The series, directed by Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle’s Danny Leiner, follows three eccentric losers (pictured, from left to right, Malina, Michael Ian Black, and Michael Panes) who hit the road in an ice cream truck pursued by the police after one of them inadvertently robs $100,000 from a local bank. With production wrapped as of last week, Malina phoned PopWatch to answer a few of our burning questions:

Question No. 1: How exactly does one inadvertently rob a bank? To fully understand, we need to back up. The plot grew out of characters Malina and Panes created for themselves years ago. Malina toyed with them on-and-off for various mediums (film, stage, TV), but it wasn’t until he sent a rewrite of a pilot script to old friend Marino that he was given the idea to take them to the Internet. Marino (The State) got the humor — and that it wasn’t something you’d sell to NBC. Malina’s and Panes’ characters have what Malina describes as “a very weird, almost Beckett-like master/slave relationship.” Perhaps you’ve seen Malina’s self-portrait twitpic of himself preparing for “the big Jacuzzi scene” while wearing a fanny pack? His character always wears a fanny pack. “I treat Michael Panes’ character a little bit like a trained seal, giving him positive reinforcement with treats that I carry in my fanny pack when he does a good thing,” he explains. Right. Now, we can answer the question.

“For various reasons that will be revealed, I’m very focused on getting a free toaster from a bank promotion that is going on,” Malina says. “[Panes] plays kind of a hypochondriacal, agoraphobic, OCD, terribly neurotic character that doesn’t even like to leave the house, so, of course, I insist that he goes to the bank to get our free toaster. I send him off with a salami and a sock, à la the movie Alive, where they go off with meat in a sock, and his salami is mistaken to be a shotgun in the bank, and basically, they’re like, ‘Just take the money!’ and he doesn’t even know what’s going on. Very quickly, these two guys implicate a third friend of theirs, and then all three of them end up on the run with a lot of money…. I know. Every time I describe it to someone, I go, ‘Can you believe Sony paid to have us make this?’”

Question No. 2: How are the celebs playing themselves? In addition to animated sequences, miniatures, and the anarchic spirit of the things he grew up on (Abbott and Costello and the Marx Brothers), Malina also wanted to incorporate old friends and actors with whom he’s always desired to work. “The conceit of the entire thing is that a long-lost novella by William Makepeace Thackeray has been unearthed in London and a Masterpiece Theatre-type production has been made based on it,” Malina says. Therefore, each episode begins with a person of note introducing a new chapter in the story. ”So it’s, ‘Good evening. I’m Jon Hamm. Welcome to Backwash this evening.’ It’s all taken very, very seriously, and then the material is completely lunatic.” Hamm, sporting a thick professorial beard, opens and closes the entire series. Most of the celebs serve in this host capacity, including Malina’s Big Shots costar Vartan, who had to be talked into performing his introduction, “Good evening. I’m handsomeness’ Michael Vartan.” (“I had to take him aside and say, ‘Michael, you’re handsome. Accept it. Nobody will hold it against you. It’s fine for you to admit that even you know that you’re handsome. The whole world knows. Now say it,’” Malina recalls.) Others, like Stamos, have internal cameos. He appears as himself in an ’80s flashback that reveals our lead characters used to have jobs in advertising, “which went disastrously badly, as demonstrated by the commercial, which we show,” Malina says. “It was John Stamos for adult diapers. He is rather game coming in as himself: ‘I’m John Stamos. You may know me as Blackie from General Hospital or from my darkly comic turn as Uncle Jesse on Full House.’”

Other recognizable faces will include Steven Weber and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who do a musical theater number representing the fantasy of what Michael Ian Black’s character — an extremely odd, free-spirited ice cream truck driver who’s in a battle with Malina for Panes’ soul — would like to do with his money. “He’s long wanted to produce a musical he wrote [Sticky Wicket — the Nougat Musical!]. Now he has the money to do it with his dream cast, which is of course Steven Weber and Jamie-Lynn Sigler,” Malina says. How did they work that out? “I was like, ‘Steven Weber would be brilliant. Let me call Steven Weber.’ I shot him an email, within an hour, he was like, ‘Yeah, sure. I can’t do it Saturday. My kid has baseball tryouts. But how ’bout Sunday?’ ‘Okay, great.’ And then Lindsey Kraft, who plays our female lead, said, ‘I went to high school with Jamie-Lynn Sigler, incredible voice.’ We’re like, ‘Ohmygod, they’d be brilliant together.’” (The music, by the way, doesn’t stop there: The State’s Joe Lo Truglio and Little Children’s Noah Emmerich play the cops chasing the trio. Emmerich’s is a musical theater-obsessed officer who, after a car wreck and brain trauma, thinks he’s in a musical. “He’s played a lot of cops in his career, but not a lot of crazy singing cops,” Malina says proudly.”)

Question No. 3: Are those sequined pants the worst thing we’ll see Michael Ian Black wear? I realized in writing this I should probably have years of therapy ahead of me because I really put my friends through the ringer, including multiple, multiple absurd outfits for Michael Ian Black,” Malina says. “I share a hot tub with Michael Black at one point, and as we were shooting it, I said, ‘I’m living the fantasy today.’”

For more on Backwash, follow Joshua Malina on Twitter. He’ll also be blogging about the making of the series on Crackle.

February 13, 2010

Baltimore

Well it’s a freezing Saturday night in Baltimore. Michael Showalter and I are doing a show at the Otto Bar, a rock venue we’ve played several times before. As you may have heard, the Baltimore/DC area has received many feet of snow over the last week. The snow is piled up in huge treacherous mountains along every street, making driving slow and walking almost impossible. Did that stop me from taking my daily run? It did. Do I ever take a daily run? I do not.

Baltimore is one of those cities that looks perfectly reasonable if you stay within certain small radii. In our case, that means about three blocks in every direction from our hotel. Within that three blocks one can buy all manner of fudge, ice cream, and coffee concoctions. Just past it is a big store called “Scratch and Dent,” which sells anything the proprietors can find that has either been scratched or dented. I wonder if they sometimes buy new merchandise and then beat the shit out of it before putting it out on their shelves. After the “Scratch and Dent” block things seem to go steadily downhill. But I turned around and walked back to the hotel because it was cold and because I was scared.

Having driven through Baltimore before, I know there are areas of the city that are like post-Katrina New Orleans, only without having been through a flood: block after block or ruined, abandoned and derelict buildings. At least New Orleans has an excuse. I don’t know what happened here. Something awful. The most likely explanation is a recent zombie invasion but I feel like I would have heard about that.

Last night we were in Philadelphia, which is a much better town than Baltimore but still no Shangri-La (unless you count the cheese steaks which are actually better than the kind you find in Shangri-La, which tend to be made out of healthy but bland rainbows). I like Philadelphia. It’s quaint and historic, which is usually a good combination. I hope to be quaint and historic myself one day, like Ben Franklin, himself a Philadelphia resident before he went off to Paris to diddle French ladies.

How is it that other world cities manage to age gracefully while American cities get wrinkly, saggy boobs pretty much as soon as they hit puberty?  Rome, Paris, London, Tokyo. All old cities who have problems but still seem to retain their charm. They are Sophia Laurens compared to our Lindsay Lohans. Maybe our cities are just going through an awkward stage and will re-emerge after they have a little work done.

In the meantime, I’m not giving up on you, Baltimore. We can turn this thing around. Maybe not this century, but soon. But while we’re waiting could you please turn up the heat?

February 03, 2010

Some Quick Thoughts About “Avatar” Written Ten Minutes Before Bed

So my wife and I finally went to see “Avatar” this morning. Yes, I saw it in 3D, and no I don’t feel like my experience was greatly enhanced by the technology. Actually for the first half hour of what seemed like many many half hours, the 3D kind of gave me a headache. Too much depth perception gives me the spins. One thing I don’t need at any movie theater: the spins

I have to admit that my expectations for this film were low for the simple reason that James Cameron makes shitty movies. His only great film is “Terminator.” Everything after that has been mildly okay to outright shitty – I’m looking at you, “Titanic.” It seems to me he’s a guy who has never heard a single thing that’s ever come out of anybody’s mouth. If he had, he wouldn’t write such crappy dialogue.

Of course a James Cameron movie isn’t about dialogue or storytelling. It’s about technology. His films are basically Sony concept stores splashed across thousands of movie screens. And while I appreciate that he spent twelve years developing the technology that would allow him to make ultra-realistic blue tree people, he might have been better served working on the story, which to my jaundiced eye was just a New Agey cowboys and Indians shoot-em-up.

And for all the hullabaloo about the visuals, I couldn’t get that excited about them. The problem may be James Cameron himself. Ever since Robert Patrick turned into liquid metal in “T2,” my attitude about moviemaking has been “Ok, now we can do anything, so tell me a good story.” Visual effects should serve a story, not be the story. Plus, the Blue People, or Blue Ewoks or whatever they were, didn’t look that great. I never believed they existed: their movements were too herky-jerky and I always felt distracted whenever they cut back to the real people, who looked like, well, real people.

The whole thing was like “True Lies” meets “The Lion King.” All in all, it sucked. Not as bad as “Titanic,” which might be the most successful worst movie ever made, but it’s not that far behind. Life need not be a technological wonderland. It’s far more interesting and entertaining when it’s just life. The film may be rated PG-13, but that shouldn’t mean that it operates on the intellectual level of a thirteen year old. Nature is good. People are bad. The military is bad. Scientists are good. Technology is a tool best wielded by those who understand its awesome power for good. People like movie directors.

 

February 01, 2010

The Making of My New Children's Book "The Purple Kangaroo."

January 23, 2010

Norma Rae: The Sequel

 A lot of commenters got upset with me over my last post, in which I made the case that Conan O’Brien has become the nation’s most unlikely poster boy for the disillusioned and dispossessed, a modern day Norma Rae. At the end of the post, I took people to task for going to rallies in support of Conan, and suggested that if they want to expend their political energies on something, there are probably better causes. People made the valid point, albeit usually amended with the word “douchebag,” that just because they support Conan doesn’t mean they don’t also do worthwhile things with their time, like donate kidneys or adopt other people.

Fair enough, and they’re right. Of course the two things aren’t mutually exclusive, and I could have chosen my words more carefully. But I was attempting to express a general frustration I’ve had with the situation that I couldn’t quite articulate; after many people made the point that the rallies were meant to be satirical, though, I kind of clarified for myself the reason I’ve been feeling so frustrated.

For satire to be effective it has to be parodying something. In the case of these rallies, ultimately what they were protesting was futility. Of course they didn’t expect the rallies to change NBC’s mind, didn’t expect them to result in Conan retaining “The Tonight Show” because most people feel like protest never changes anything. Instead the end result was exactly what they expected: absurdity. It was silly street theater for the sake of silliness, which as somebody who has spent his whole career making stupid shit, I am all in favor of. But to me it spoke to something much deeper and much sadder. Consciously or not, to me what these rallies were really about was the very real powerlessness many people feel about creating change in anything. Consequently, I think what I feel frustrated about is cynicism masquerading as activism.

My argument isn’t with Conan. I said in my last post I think he’s great. Nor is it with the sincere appreciation his fans have for him. My problem is with hopelessness, of which there seems to be an abundance of lately, and which manifested itself as a rallying cry for a late night talk show host. What’s frustrating is that Conan came to represent this hopelessness when he’s somebody who is as far from hopeless as could be imagined.

Many of you said I was over-thinking this. I probably am. But it’s because I’ve been trying to figure out why people are so up in arms about something so trivial as “The Tonight Show.” Thirty years ago people could rally behind a fictional figure like Norma Rae because she represented a situation in which millions of people found themselves. Who does Conan really represent besides Conan? To me he’s an odd hero, a strangely poignant cultural figure at a time when the culture is so profoundly fucked up.

And yes, I’ll shut up now.

 

 

Norma Rae

When did Conan O’Brien become Norma Rae? For those of you who don’t remember this 1978 film, Norma Rae stars Sally Field as a beleaguered factory worker who risks her job and everything she’s worked for in order to correct injustices in the workplace. She is everywoman, standing up to The Man to do what’s right. Not just for her, but for the millions just like her all over the country. Those oppressed masses just trying to put food on the table, the ones without health care, the ones struggling to make ends meet. The ones who just want a fair shake. Somebody had to have the courage to take on the Big Baddies running the show. In 1978, that somebody was Norma Rae. In 2010, it’s Conan O’Brien?

How did a Harvard-educated, multi-millionaire late night talk show host magically transmogrify into a guy who got laid off at the local car plant? The overreaction to Conan’s departure has been kind of astounding; as a nation, are we really that concerned about who hosts “The Tonight Show,” a television program that stopped being culturally relevant around 1986?

And let’s not forget, it’s not as if Conan was cancelled. He quit. He walked away from “The Tonight Show” because he rightly or wrongly felt that moving the show half an hour later would destroy the show’s integrity. Okay, fine. But let’s not act as if he’s leading a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter. It’s not that big a deal.

Yes Americans believe in fair play. Fair play means making a deal and sticking to it. Conan got “The Tonight Show,” and therefore he should keep it. I agree with that. But Americans also believe in capitalism, and when fair play bumps up against capitalism, capitalism usually wins. It did this time.

To my mind, there are two reasons why Leno has come across looking as bad as he has throughout the last few weeks. The first is that he seems like an opportunistic pig for agreeing to move back to 11:30. He should have packed up his funny headlines and gone home. The other reason is that Conan has been much funnier about the whole thing. His letter to the Times was funny, his monologue jokes have been funnier, and whereas Leno has come across as needy and desperate, O’Brien’s departure seems, if not exactly classy, then at least in classy’s neighborhood. Of course it’s easy to be classy-ish when you and your staff are walking away with forty million dollars.

I think the deeper reason people are so inflamed by this petty war is that Conan in his own way has come to represent the aggrieved, the injured, the wrongly terminated. I think there is a sense in this country that giant corporations are ruining everything, even late night talk shows. Something so insignificant takes on greater importance because I think on some level, “The Tonight Show” actually has become a very flawed stand-in for all the jobs lost to corporate greed, arrogance, and stupidity. We see Conan as a victim because we feel as though, like us, he wasn’t given a fair shot. If a guy like that, a guy who has everything, can be downsized and demoted, what hope do the rest of us have?

Moreover Leno is installed back in his abdicated throne. It feels like a coup, a particularly unfunny coup. And above him, all the top brass still have their jobs. Just like all the top brass in every other failed or bailed-out corporation. It feels unfair. And it makes people mad.

Sure it’s a shame it didn’t work out for Conan, the most creative talk show host since David Letterman, and I think it’s great he took a principled stand against NBC, but is this really the stuff of rallies? Is this really where we want to spend our political capital? If you have the energy to protest Conan O’Brien’s departure in Burbank, shouldn’t you maybe think about spending some time chanting outside General Motors or Goldman Sachs? Or Congress? This is the cause you want to get involved with? Instead of holding up placards with the Masturbating Bear on them, maybe donate a pint of blood. It’ll be a lot more helpful to somebody.

Conan is an unlikely hero of the working man but at this point, when heroes are far more likely to be squashed than celebrated like Norma Rae, as sad as it sounds, he might actually be the closest thing we’ve got.