Conan O’Brien got the short end of the stick back in January when NBC decided to pull the biggest “Indian Give” of all time, effectively forcing him out of his spot as host of The Tonight Show and giving it back to Jay Leno after the former Tonight Show host took a dive in primetime. This sucked for the fans that have been following O’Brien’s work in late night through the years, but a recently-announced new show on TBS in November and a nationwide, 32-city live tour soothed some of their pain. Recently, I had the chance to see one of the shows on Conan’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour, and I’m happy to report that Conan seems to be doing better than ever. My review after the jump.
It’s hard not to be excited when writing about this show, because I’d been looking forward to it for the past few months like a kid waiting for Christmas to roll around. And in this case, the kid hadn’t had a good Christmas since NBC slithered down his chimney and replaced his PS3 with an Atari 2600. In short, I was pumped: Conan’s long been a hero of mine, and the chance to offer some in-person support to my favorite former Tonight Show host was all the motivation I needed to drop an absurd amount of money on a pair of tickets to his May 13th performance in Dallas.
Prior to the show, I had the added bonus of getting to sit down with Aaron Bleyaert, the guy that’s been blogging Conan’s tour over on TeamCoco.com. This guy spends every day traveling the country with Conan O’Brien and provides some of the best Coco-related content on the web: Obviously, this was a helluva bonus on top of what was already an awesome event.
Conan’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour. Billed as a night of “music, comedy, hugging, and the occasional awkward silence,” that’s precisely what we got– with the added thrill of being in the same room with a very happy looking, very excitable Conan O’Brien. The emphasis wasn’t as strongly on the music as I’d expected from the clips that have popped up online (though it certainly was with the evening’s “Special Guest,” guitarist Jimmy Vaughan), which was actually a mark in the “Plus” column for this audience member: I was there to see Conan perform comedy, and in that regard I was not disappointed. So, let’s go through it: What was the show like? Who showed up? What is Conan doing on this tour? Keep on reading for the answers, folks.
The overall theme of the show seemed to be: Conan’s OK. Throughout the evening, Conan referred to the “Late Night Wars” that erupted earlier this year only vaguely, and then only as a “fracas” (he used the word many times). It seemed as though he was a little more restrained when it came to NBC jokes than he’d been in some earlier tour footage I’d seen. That could just be my imagination, but it definitely seemed to me that a few jabs had been dropped from the show’s script. Perhaps that’s because everyone’s been making such a big deal about his recent Jay Leno impression at a non-televised interview at the Google headquarters? Hey, ABC News: quit drawing attention to that crap. You trying to get Conan’s contract revoked?
Things started off with an extended bit (which was pre-taped) detailing what Conan had been doing before deciding to hit the road with the Legally Prohibited Tour. What we saw was not pretty: Conan, laying in a broken shambles on his living room floor, surrounded by beer bottles and pizza boxes and apparently about 100 pounds heavier. After getting “The Call to Action,” we see him begin a workout regimen to prepare himself for life on the road. In this case, said regimen included a whey protein smoothie blended with Doritos and Strawberry Crush soda and extended trampoline-jumping sessions. After stripping off his fatsuit while on a treadmill, Conan was ready to be back on a stage. It was an awesome opening to what turned out to be an awesome– if not consistently so– show.
Yes, the show wasn’t non-stop in its brilliance. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t have been happier with the experience and certainly felt that I got my money’s worth, but during the moments where Conan wasn’t the focal point of the show, things definitely seemed to slow down a bit. I can’t speak for everyone else on this, but it seemed to me that people were just as fidgety as I was whenever Conan left the stage. After all, people haven’t been doling out large sums of money to attend this show because of the “Special Guests” that have become a part of each production; they’re there to see their former, favorite Tonight Show host. For instance, an extended set by guitarist Jimmy Vaughan didn’t get the reaction that was obviously expected. The people around me (and me) were ready for Conan to be the center of attention once Vaughan had finished his first song. By the time he wrapped up his third, you could feel the surrounding crowd getting antsy.
Luckily, Conan was front-and-center for about 75% of the evening. There were many little surprises throughout the show, like a giant, inflatable bat (which Conan claimed was the actual bat from Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell Tour) that rose up behind the band and a taped sequence from Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog (which I don’t think anyone was expecting after NBC retained the rights to Conan’s “intellectual property”; perhaps Triumph remains the property of Robert Smigel, who voices the foul-mouthed puppet). Andy Richter was in attendance, and– during one of Conan’s multiple costume changes– he offered up a segment called “What I’ve Learned” from the confines of a combination cowboy/horse costume that was another highlight. The Walker: Texas Ranger Lever also made it to the stage late in the show, and Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki showed up to pull it (and, yes, Coco fans: we got the “Walker told me I have AIDS” scene during this bit). The whole thing was packed full of unexpected little moments like these.
I don’t know if Conan was telling the truth or not, but he made a point to tell the Dallas crowd that they were possibly the “best crowd so far” on the tour. I can see how that might be possible: people went absolutely nuts when he came out onstage, and the energy level maintained itself throughout the night. It was obvious when looking at the swarm of people in line outside the McFarlin Auditorium prior to the show– or as the crowd came to their feet, time and time again throughout the show– that Conan is still one of our most beloved celebrities. During the encore, he rushed out into the audience, guitar strapped to his chest, and stood not two feet from where I was sitting. The crowd went ballistic at that point, taking pictures of him and laying their hands on him like he’d heal their every malady. Seeing the power Conan had as a live performer was an awesome thing to behold.
Due to the ticket prices on the show– not to mention the speed with which they sold out– many people have been unable to attend. After the show I called up a few friends to chat about what I’d seen, and the most common question I got was: “Was it worth it?” By way of an answer, I’ll instead confess the following: Upon seeing Conan rush out onstage and taking part in the overwhelming standing ovation he instantly received, I almost got a little choked up; here’s a guy who had one of his biggest dreams taken away from him by some shortsighted D-bags in a very public way, and here he was basking in the love of his fans. Despite everything that’s happened, the man has found a way to keep doing what both he and we love. It was a moment that made the pricey tickets worth every penny, something I’m not likely to ever forget. What more could you ask of a live show?