Conan Writer Talks…Peter Bogdonavich’s Movie of the Week

Former stand-up comic Jonathan Groff is the head writer of the best live-action comedy show on TV, Late Night With Conan O’Brien. He has been with the show over two years, and he’s in charge of a team of 12 writers (with two women), including Andy Richter and Conan O’Brien …

Mr. Groff said the writers collaborate at times, but “the really inspired ideas come out of one person sitting down and working through it.” Lots of jokes live and die in the writers room, he added. “Sometimes we’ll warm up, cracking the rudest or most obvious joke. It’s kind of like batting practice: You swing at big wide pitches to begin with and, hopefully, you can hit at the better pitches later.” …

On average, the writers work from 10:30 A.M. till 11:30 P.M., writing, producing and editing four or five comedy bits. “Because of Conan’s background and Robert Smigel, who was the original head writer, it was created as a sketch show that’s also a talk show,” said Mr. Groff, “so the sketches can be fully developed things. And people notice it. We’ve tried to be distinctive and we try to be ambitious … It’s a knowing show that couldn’t exist without irony, but, and this sounds highfalutin, it’s post-ironic in a way … We try to commit to stuff; we try to avoid the joke that there is no joke.” [WNBC, 4, 12:35 A.M.]

-By Deirdre Dolan

Among the five best films ever made is Jean Renoir’s 1939 tragic-romantic comedy, The Rules of the Game [Friday, Nov. 21, Bravo, 64, 3:30 P.M.; Saturday, Nov. 22, 11 A.M.] , which in its original French release was so despised by press and public that some of the opening-night audience pulled out seats and threw them at the screen; the picture was then heavily recut, yet still barely seen. Renoir fled in fury and heartbreak to the United States, where he was resident the rest of his life. The film lay forgotten until the 50’s, when it was discovered by the French New Wave filmmakers and critics, and subsequently restored by them in 1959 to its original uncut version. Since then, The Rules of the Game has become an acknowledged work of genius, taste, visionary perception, tragic size; it is as airy and heavy, as filled with light and shadows, as the shimmering Mozart music that opens the movie. An extraordinarily prescient look at upper-middle-class society on the brink of World War II, it contains probably the single greatest line in pictures (rough translation): “There’s only one terrible thing in life, which is that everyone has their own good reasons.” And the line is thrown away in long shot by Renoir, the director himself playing an artist-the saintly, benevolent, conciliatory artist-who nevertheless sets in motion the series of events that culminate in death. The essentially casual, underplayed, lightly paced manner, with even some dark physical comedy, belies the profoundly serious nature of the piece, vivified by an indelible sequence of astonishingly savage bird and rabbit slaughter. Yet all this is a reflection not only of the approaching catastrophe of 1939-1945, but also of the brutality of class relations during a weekend party at the mansion of a wealthy and adulterous young couple, surrounded by sycophants and lovers. That this still amazingly relevant masterwork was so violently misunderstood in its own day only proves that the U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on shortsightedness.

-By Peter Bogdanovich