Conan O’Brien makes my face hurt
I caught Conan O’Brien’s “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour on Saturday night in L.A., just 400 yards from where he used do his show every day before NBC gave him the big heave-ho. It only took a few hours for my face to stop hurting from all the laughing.
By now everyone’s seen the video of the “Superman” duet with Jim Carrey (who I’ve never been a big fan of, and who for some reason seems to have stolen Jackson Browne’s hair), which was great, but by far not the high point of the show. In fact, it might be hard to choose just one high point out of so many:
- The intro video, showing a morose O’Brien lying among pizza boxes, putting peanut butter on his toes so the dog will play with him, sporting a giant beard and horrible hair extensions just barely this side of “Cast Away”, and listening to his young daughter tell her mother that “daddy smells like pee.”
- Conan’s recitation of the eight stages of grief for late-night talk show hosts who’ve lost their shows (including denial, anger, blaming yourself, blaming everyone else, and buying everything Amazon says you’d also like)
- O’Brien’s wardrobe change from his customary suit to a version of the lavender leather suit that Eddie Murphy wore in “Raw” (it’s worse than you could possibly imagine).
- Conan’s thoroughly decent musical talent, especially on the blues song recounting his relatively happy childhood and stable upbringing in an upper-middle class family in Brookline, Mass.
- Andy Richter — particularly with his fake horse.
- The introduction of the Self-Pleasuring Panda.
- The video message from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (yes, that was me texting “More Smigel!!” on the Verizon giant screen)
- Conan brought a bunch of his celebrity pals on stage to help play “Chuck Norris, Rural Policeman Handle” (the “Walker, Texas Ranger Lever” is NBC intellectual property), including Jonah Hill, Jack McBrayer, Aziz Ansari, and Jon Hamm. The bit remains brilliant, and I repeat: Jon Hamm.
In fact, before I go any further, here’s a list of the bold-faced names I saw in the audience: Jon Hamm, Jennifer Westfeldt, Katy Perry, , David Spade, Kevin Pollak, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari and the wonderful Jack McBrayer.
A cynic might wonder if, by brining so many elements of his well-established crew, O’Brien might be showing himself as something of a one-trick pony. Is the TBS show going to bring something new to the table, or is it just a change of venue?
A not-so-much-cynic might also wonder where the ladies were in this scenario. Besides Conan’s two back-up singer/dancers, the Coquettes (and the little girl in the opening video) there wasn’t a woman to be found anywhere in this production. Of course, O’Brien can do what he wants, but after the Letterman fiasco, the microscope that ended up focusing on late-night writers’ rooms turned up less-than-flattering truths about what some people think are the demographics of funny. With his resurrection on TBS, O’Brien could be looking at a real opportunity to change things and — gasp! — put some women on stage. But from the looks of this traveling circus, that’s not likely to happen.
And an O’Brien fan who thinks he had a rough go and suffered an unfortunate short-end-of-the-stick combined with a big-boot-up-the-caboose would come away impressed with Conan’s aplomb, and his willingness to make fun of himself and his situation with a lot of grace. It makes my head spin to think of how big a pity party this could’ve become. The guy is, of course, a comedian. If he can’t make you laugh at him in the aftermath of a hideously uncomfortable situation, then he’s not worth your 60 bucks, much less your nightly ratings.
O’Brien’s great gift, even as the rest of us commenced with our hand-wringing and Jay Leno began his “we both got screwed” campaign, has been not taking himself too seriously. Even when everything came crashing down in January, he had the sense to have some perspective, at least publicly. Walking away with more than 30 million reasons to keep that perspective doesn’t hurt either.
Now that I’ve seen what he’s legally prohibited from doing on television, I can’t wait for O’Brien to get back on the air.