Column: A Li’l of This & That

Conan, Cowell and a few other stray thoughts
Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

It’s been a wild and crazy month and my mind is darting in a million directions, like some of those frenetic commercials you see on TV. So this column, ladies and gentlemen, will be one I call “A Li’l of This, A Li’l of That” – a little Conan, a little Idol, and a few other random thoughts thrown in between.

One of the country’s best-loved columnists was Herb Caen, a San Francisco columnist for 60 years. He called his column “three-dot journalism” because it was mostly a collection of pithy items broken up by ellipses.

I know I’m no Herb Caen. (And I’d be dead if I were.)

But I’m giving it a whirl. And because I’m not taking up any costly newsprint, I may just keep going and going.

• • •

I tried to care about the Leno-O’Brien time slot saga. I really did. It was getting so much attention, I knew it had to be a very big deal.

But, as a morning person, I haven’t seen The Tonight Show in years. I wouldn’t know where or when to find David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, or that funny Irishman. And whatever happened to Steve Co.?

I watch Leno once in a while because for now he’s on at a reasonable hour. But the way the show starts, with all those people walking up to him to shake his hand as if he’s God, is embarrassing. Then he puts his hands in his pocket, where you know he’s tucked some hand sanitizer.

The first time I ever watched The Tonight Show starring Conan O’Brien was his last show. I suddenly love him. He’s fantastic. And he ended his show saying: “All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.”

I hate cynicism, too! I once wrote a column about how much I hate it.

Then I found out we have the same birthday. Conan, I hardly knew ye. Come back!

• • •

Actually, who needs to watch any of these shows? The best of their jokes are summed up on this website every day.


“I’ve been advised that until this whole thing is sorted out, NBC lawyers have asked me to refer to this program as The Sometime At Night Show with Some White Guy.” – Conan O’Brien

“Well, this is pretty sleazy. According to Edwards’ former aide, a guy named Andrew Young, he says in an upcoming interview that Edwards asked him to steal a diaper from the baby to do a DNA test. Apparently, the test shows that both the diaper and John Edwards were full of crap.” – Jay Leno

• • •

Another day, another Hollywood awards extravaganza.

But I’m actually looking forward to the Grammys Sunday night on CBS, because I typically hear one or two new bands or singers. And rumor has it Lady Gaga will perform a duet with Elton John. Anyone not gaga over the lady? Unless Taylor or Beyonce have their way, she should win Record of the Year for “Poker Face” and Album of the Year for “the Fame,” which includes songs you absolutely cannot get out of your head all day long.

In the mood for a fabulous fashion show set to one very catchy tune? Click here.

But the real reason I watch the Grammys is because I keep hoping for another moment like this one, when Bob Dylan met the Soy Bomber.

• • •

Yes, yes. I watch The Bachelor. And I say this knowing full well that The Ann Arbor Chronicle reader is way, way above that sort of low-brow nonsense.

So you probably don’t even need this Spoiler Alert, where I am about to announce that “Reality Steve” says Jake chooses …

Drum roll, please. Look away if you don’t want to know …

Vienna. The one all the other girls hate. Runners up are Tenley and Gia, says Steve.

All together now: All those women to choose from and he picks Vienna?!

• • •

Best movie rental of the month: (500) Days of Summer. The simplest of stories. But totally adorable, and here’s a link to one of my favorite scenes – when Tom leaves Summer’s place and all is right with the world. Remember those first pangs of new love? Watch and smile.

• • •

News anchor Carmen Harlan, a 1975 University of Michigan graduate, should sell face cream. I saw her up close in person about 28 years ago and I saw her recently up close on an HDTV. No change.

• • •

I love any technology that makes my life easier or more interesting. But TV? Eh. I want one simple remote control that flips among only the few channels that I want. Why can I not get this? And why do we have to keep paying so much for cable TV when there are still all those commercials?

• • •

Who should replace Simon Cowell on American Idol next year, you ask?

Mark Steyn, the controversial, conservative, (comedic, cunning?) Canadian critic who – like Cowell – speaks in a British accent and isn’t afraid of offending anyone. But he’s funnier. Steyn once worked as a DJ and a musical theater critic, so he has some music in his background.

You heard it here first. If they don’t pick him, they should have.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer.


  1. January 31, 2010 at 12:37 pm | permalink

    I lived in California for 15 years and I was a huge Herb Caen fan. I remember he used to unmercifully pick on Chico CA for some reason. One of his all time great jokes was that the Safeway (our Kroger) in Chico used to carry Velveeta in the gourmet section of the deli. He also noted once after asking the checkout clerk in the 7-11 if they carried “U.S. News & World Report” and her answer was, “No Sir! We don’t carry either one of those magazines!” Guess you had to be there!


  2. By ROB
    January 31, 2010 at 7:49 pm | permalink

    Wow! You must go to bed really early! Night person here. I have watched all the late-night comedians many times, and the only one I find consistently and genuinely FUNNY – is Craig Ferguson (after Letterman on CBS). More belly laughs from him than all the rest put together. Not surprised Conan failed, though – never found him very funny.

  3. By Haliburton
    February 1, 2010 at 10:42 pm | permalink

    Well, it is nice to see a young lady who is aware of Herb Caen. During my youth in the 1940’s through the 1960’s, there was no better reporter or columnist at the Chronicle. A marvelously entertaining chap. I used to see him all over town, on the cable cars, the streets, and in the terrific restaurants. Herb was a wonderful observer of a San Francisco that no longers exists, and will never return (Bagdad by the Bay). It is, of couse, impossible to remove the sheer physical beauty of the city. But what made it great for such a small city (750,000), is long gone. On a a rather brighter note. I well remember the delight of spending the summers of my youth in the lake country of the Irish Hills just west of Ann Arbour. Good luck with the new coach. You are going to need it! Go Bucks!

  4. By kyle
    February 2, 2010 at 8:14 am | permalink

    Awesome idea for Steyn as Cowell sub. He’s über articulate and usually riotously funny. If only that could happen. Sigh.

  5. By TdotTim
    February 3, 2010 at 2:38 am | permalink

    I’m not sure if I should be impressed that you appreciate the brilliance that is Mark Steyn, or utterly horrified that you think he should strive to replace some nobody critic with a bad haircut on Not So Tiny Talent Time…or whatever that awful show is called.

  6. By kyle
    February 3, 2010 at 10:35 am | permalink

    @TdotTim: I don’t think Steyn is as sniffy about pop-culture as you.

  7. By TdotTim
    February 3, 2010 at 6:01 pm | permalink

    @ Kyle: If your idea of pop culture is televised karaoke, then consider me “sniffy”, whatever that means. And I don’t know how much Steyn you’ve read, but post 9/11 he has penned some of the most important work of this era. Simon Cowell has done…what exactly?

    Simon Cowell is to Mark Steyn as David Hasselhoff is to Sir Alec Guiness.

  8. February 3, 2010 at 6:11 pm | permalink

    Although I must admit, if Sir Alec Guiness were driving around fighting crime in a talking car I might actually watch :)

  9. By jo mathis
    February 4, 2010 at 3:19 pm | permalink

    I discovered Herb Caen about 20 years ago when I was visiting my brother in San Francisco. I remember the moment: I was sitting in a window seat overlooking a gorgeous view. Breeze blowing. Loving the city. And I opened the paper to that wonderful column and thought: Why don’t I live here?

    TDOTTIM, I’m sure Kyle and I both agree that Mark Steyn brings much more to the table than Simon Cowell. All the more reason he should replace him.

  10. By Zena Zumeta
    February 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm | permalink

    Thanks, Jo, for continuing your wonderful column writing! We readers are truly grateful. And the added gift of links is just delicious!