Team CoCo rallies before O’Brien’s finale

A local resident also tried to use the event to raise money for Haiti.

Austin Cumblad

What brings together a handful of high school and college students, a Hennepin County human resources staffer and an architectural drafter on a Friday night? An anti-war protest? Flu shots? Avatar? None of the above. The small, yet disparate, group that met in the frigid plaza of the McNamara Alumni Center early Friday evening was holding a makeshift memorial ceremony for Conan OâÄôBrien, who hours later would host his final âÄúTonight ShowâÄù after just seven months in NBCâÄôs iconic role. OâÄôBrienâÄôs messy divorce from NBC prompted rallies from New York to Los Angeles last week, and Peter Langeness, a high school senior from Luck, Wisc., decided to organize his own grassroots effort through Facebook, planning it in conjunction with University of Minnesota sophomore Kelly Jo VanDerit. The event was already scheduled when OâÄôBrien accepted a $45 million severance âÄî nearly $33 million for him and around $12 million for his staff âÄî from NBC, and though the rally was ultimately more of a wake, the huddle of loyal fans still turned out to express their support for OâÄôBrien and disdain for NBC and Jay Leno. âÄúI want him to know that he has a fan base out here,âÄù VanDerit said. âÄúIf NBC canâÄôt see that, weâÄôre trying to show them.âÄù A sign emblazoned with orange letters only slightly brighter than OâÄôBrienâÄôs signature hair dubbed the supporters âÄúTeam Coco.âÄù As temperatures dipped into single digits, they huddled together and called out to passers-by to join their âÄúNo to LenoâÄù chorus. Meanwhile, Minneapolis resident David Skoblik walked around with a red coffee container, hoping to solicit donations to the Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. âÄúWe want to support the Conan OâÄôBrien show and tie that into an effort to raise money for Haiti,âÄù Skoblik said. âÄúItâÄôs a platform to hang out, have fun and joke around and then get some cash for the relief.âÄù OâÄôBrienâÄôs backers have been numerous and vocal since NBC began shuffling its late-night lineup. Late in his final show Friday night, he addressed the fans that supported him so passionately in his final weeks on âÄúThe Tonight Show.âÄù âÄúThis massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming for me,âÄù OâÄôBrien said. âÄúThe rallies, the signs, all this goofy, outrageous creativity on the Internet âĦ You made a sad situation joyous and inspirational. So to all the people watching, I can never ever thank you enough for the kindness to me, IâÄôll think about it for the rest of my life.âÄù Outside McNamara, it seemed clear that his base will follow him to whatever network he lands on next. âÄúI will follow him to any TV show, any station,âÄù Langeness said. Peter Church, a 2002 University of Minnesota graduate, had his own idea of the best fit for OâÄôBrien. âÄúI think heâÄôd fit in better on Comedy Central where youâÄôve got the Daily Show, the Colbert Report,âÄù he said. âÄúHeâÄôs got that kind of intellectual, smart comedy and he also blends with a younger crowd. I donâÄôt feel like network television is as influential as it once was anyway. If not on the networks, now everything is televised online, so you can access him wherever he is. IâÄôll definitely follow his career.âÄù But perhaps Charles Exner, a junior at neighboring Augsburg College, best summed up the sentiment of the evening. âÄúIâÄôd like to see [OâÄôBrien] in the spot they put him in before they violated his contract,âÄù he said, voice raised slightly. âÄúThatâÄôs where IâÄôd like to see him.âÄù