When Conan O'Brien returned to television in November, he reminded his audience that he's about 42 times funnier than Jay Leno. However, his audience--a bunch of "Coco"-shouting, fake-beard-wearing, shrieking sycophants who laugh at anything--isn't. They whoop and scream like feral teenagers when someone dances or mentions boobs.
Comedians should be applauded for comedy, not for rubbing their nipples. And, despite O'Brien's comic acumen, he's susceptible to encouraging the latter. He panders to anyone wearing a shirt with his picture on it and then resorts to the aforementioned torso-touches in an apparent effort to delay the next "joke."
Television became smarter and funnier with the elimination of obvious laugh tracks: consider Arrested Development, The Office, 30 Rock, Modern Family. And while the Conan audience is live, they sound exactly like someone is pushing a big red button that reads "laughter."
Talk-show audiences, which are often comprised of random tourists looking for cheap diversions, reduce the medium's potential and corrode routines like Conan's "The Masturbating Bear" by giggling about its prurient nature instead of its nonsensical innovation. They never really get it.
If O'Brien would rid himself of the burdensome studio audience, he would be forced to produce consistently imaginative comedy--stuff like the Pimpbot 5000 of yore.