What: The latest iteration of the longest-running prank on late-night TV.
Who: Paul Rudd and Conan O’Brien.
Why we care: Talk about committing to a bit!
Way back in 2005, Paul Rudd went on Conan O’Brien’s talk show to promote The 40-Year Old Virgin. Yes, that was a very long time ago. It was so long ago that Conan’s show was still called Late Night with Conan O’Brien and it was still on NBC, where Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were still SNL cast members and The Apprentice host Donald Trump was hot off a recent Access Hollywood appearance. Anyway, Rudd’s drop-in on Conan was notable because when it was time to run a clip promoting The 40-Year Old Virgin, Rudd instead played a scene from 1988’s shoddily made, McDonald’s-sponsored E.T. knockoff, Mac and Me.
We see a boy in a wheelchair roaring down a hillside, and then what is clearly a dummy falling into a river far below. Had viewers been fully engaged with the movie leading up to this point, even then the scene would still be very silly. Without any context whatsoever, it is sublime, like transcendent outsider art that is ripping off Spielberg.
It was a stellar prank. The best part about it is that Rudd continued performing the prank during every single subsequent appearance in the years that followed. Here’s a highlight reel of the shockingly non-aging actor’s Conan visits.
By the time we get to Rudd’s appearance on the show this week to promote Netflix’s Black Mirror-ish Living With Yourself, he’s been pulling this same bait and switch for a decade and a half. It has now become one of late night’s most enduring bits. Even though savvy viewers know exactly what’s coming, seeing that dumb little alien face after hearing Rudd set up a scene from whatever he is promoting never fails to delight.
Watch this most recent appearance below, and may this bit keep going another 15 years.