As with many jokes, it started with a small jab at the expense of New Jersey.
The gags continued Monday night when “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien ventured into “the biggest scandal in the country that’s now involving a late-night host.” O’Brien was, of course, referring to his continuing comical conflict with the city of Newark, New Jersey, and its mayor, Cory Booker. It all began on September 23, when O’Brien, in his nightly comical spiel, joked that Booker’s plan to improve citizens’ health care in New Jersey’s largest city “would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.” The Internet-savvy mayor, who has more than 800,000 followers on Twitter, fired back on YouTube, stating that O’Brien is no longer welcome at Newark International Airport. “I’m officially putting you on the Newark, NJ, no fly list — try JFK, buddy,” Booker quipped. That video has since amassed more than 119,000 hits on YouTube. The verbal melee didn’t stop there. O’Brien retaliated by sarcastically stating that Newark is “one of America’s greatest cities,” and proceeded to pair its “thriving arts scene” with an image of a graffiti-ridden wall and its “exciting regional cuisine” with a Dunkin Donuts sign. He then banned Booker from an airport in Burbank, California, near Los Angeles. On October 1, Booker, claiming solidarity with all New Jersey’s mayors, retorted by posting another YouTube video outlawing O’Brien from the entire state. “Now listen, you may like Boardwalk and Park Place, but the only way you’re going to get to them is on a Monopoly board,” the mayor jibbed. O’Brien, forced to pull out the big guns, Friday banished the mayor from California entirely. In his latest barb on Monday, O’Brien revealed that the mayor of a neighboring New Jersey city, Elizabeth, had sent him a letter welcoming him “with open arms to Elizabeth.” Mayor Chris Bollwage claims that Newark airport’s Terminal A actually lies within his municipality and he intends to rename it the Conan O’Brien Terminal if and when the talk show host ever decides to visit. O’Brien then launched a “campaign to surround and crush” Newark and the “drunk on power” Mayor Booker by making courteous tongue-in-cheek overtures to other adjacent towns, forming a “geographic toilet seat around the city of Newark.” The charismatic Booker, widely popular in a state often plagued by corrupt politicians, was elected in 2006. He has promoted a sense of urban renewal in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, which has suffered high crime and poverty rates over the past few decades. Booker’s office had no statement available early this week regarding the newest swipe at his city. The humorous altercation illustrates a recent shift in the media landscape. “The Tonight Show,” catering to a traditional broadcast audience, now competes with the Web’s constantly streaming flow of viral videos, which are popular amongst O’Brien’s target audience. What will become of the sparring remains to be seen. While O’Brien did invite Booker to be a guest on “The Tonight Show” and the mayor extended O’Brien an invitation to Newark, such visits could pose a problem, seeing as how each is banned from the other’s state. “I think we have to meet in neutral territory” O’Brien said on Friday’s show. “I think we’re going to meet in Lebanon, Kansas.” That community is often billed as the geographical center of the 48 contiguous states. On Friday, the dispute was widened by Joe Territo, content director for NJ.com, a Web site affiliated with 13 major New Jersey newspapers. Territo declared through an article on the site that O’Brien is barred from using NJ.com because of his anti-Jersey sentiments. “Perhaps O’Brien has never been to NJ.com, and perhaps he has never been interested in visiting NJ.com,” Territo wrote. “Given the nature of forbidden fruit, no doubt he wants to use NJ.com now, and he cannot, for he is banned.” “We’re hitting Conan hard, and where it hurts most: Right smack in the Internet,” he said. On Monday’s show O’Brien wrapped up his latest Newark segment, but not the feud, by declaring, “It’s your move, Mayor Booker.”