That I am in on "the joke" -and I am in on the joke- deserves a little explanation in the its own right, because up until a few years ago there was nothing terribly funny about Chuck Norris at all. As a punch line, Norris was created from the ground up by late night talk show host Conan O'Brien, a man so daft and clever that he was able to mine comedic gold out of things that really should not have been funny at all. After his NBC took him off the air this past Friday it is for the first time in 17 years, hard to know what's funny anymore.
O'Brien won fans over by being the underdog who shouldn't have been on TV in the first place. In the early years, as a relative unknown, it was hard for him to book big guests. In those days, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Clinton for example, would have never even considered stopping by The Late Show for an interview. But that didn't stop Conan and his staff. They concocted a classic bit that involved a still photograph of these celebrities with a cut out mouth. An actor would then stand behind the photograph, thus allowing for a raucous, irreverent interview.
It was awesome.
The interviews with still-photographs evolved into another funny bit called "Secrets", in which second tier celebrities like William Shatner and Mr. T revealed things about themselves under a bright light in a smoke filled room. It was all very tongue and cheek, and amazingly funny. It was in this forum that Conan O'Brien single-handedly rescued a shriveled, cancer-surviving Mr. T. from simply being the answer to a 80's pop-culture trivia question and gave him god-like status in the geek comedy world.
If the formula had worked for Mr. T, could Conan O'Brien strike gold once more with another icon of the 80's, Chuck Norris? The challenge would be great, because with the exception of his role in Enter the Dragon opposite Bruce Lee, Norris had always been a second rate action hero. With all respect to his accomplishments as an all-American karate master, as a movie and television star Norris was always a little milquetoast and boring. As his legacy is now analyzed many believe he had just one signature move: The Roundhouse kick. Beyond that, he is probably more famous for hawking the Total Gym and for having an awesome beard.
All of the pieces are there for comedy aren't they? It should be obvious. But make no mistake, it was Conan O'Brien who put the puzzle together, and he didn't even have to work that hard to make the discovery: On any given night he would simply run a random clip from a Chuck Norris movie and the crowd would go wild. Later, he began running clips from Walker Texas Ranger with the same result. No context was even needed.
And thus, thanks to Conan O'Brien, the comedic legend of Chuck Norris grew.
This is the first week in 17 years that Conan O'Brien has not been on the air to entertain us, but this much I know: it is because of him that a book of factoids about Chuck Norris and Mr. T even exists.
Here are a few of my favorites from Ian Spector's book:
- Rather than take showers, Chuck Norris rides a nine foot grizzly bear through a car wash.
- Mr. T once got into a fight with a ninja. He killed the ninja, but only after the ninja had cut off two of his fingers. Those fingers grew up to be Gary Coleman and Webster.
- Chuck Norris accidentally created Optimus Prime while trying to come up with a prototype for the Total Gym.
- Mr. T's full name is Dr. Mr. T because he has a PhD in being the greatest man alive.
- There are only four horsemen of the apocalypse because Mr. T is going to walk.
- The McRib sandwich only comes back when Chuck Norris is in the mood for one.
Oh wait. We can't...