Full disclosure: I am an unabashed Conan O'Brien fan. It's difficult to overstate how large he and his old Late Night show loomed during my adolescence. At the zenith of my fandom, I rarely missed an episode. I attending tapings in New York, including the 5th Anniversary show. He had a country house near where I grew up in Connecticut. He was sometimes seen on weekends. My friends were under strict orders to call me IMMEDIATELY if they spotted him and tell me EVERYTHING. Once, my father, in a misguided attempt do something nice for me, wrote Conan a letter inviting him to our house for dinner. (Conan declined, but, class act that he is, replied to my dad saying he'd be happy to chat with me on the phone sometime. I, being absolutely mortified about the entire situation, never took him up on that offer.) Point is: Conan and I have a history—even though he is completely unaware of it—so it wasn't really a question of whether or not I was going to like his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour, it was merely a question of how much I was going to like it. And I liked it a lot, with one caveat: the audience was . . . weird.
The tour is part comedy show/part rock show/part witty therapy session, and it works surprisingly well, mostly due to the fact that Conan is a pretty convincing rock star. Yes, I'm serious. He's an able guitarist and singer and the beard goes a long way toward making him look like a suitably rugged and weary road dog, who has, you know, "seen a thing or two." He's not, of course. He's a nice Irish Catholic boy from Brookline, Massachusetts and he mined the discrepancy between his real and assumed identities in a version of Elvis Presley's "Pork Salad." For Elvis, the song described growing up dirt-poor in the rural South. For Conan, it described growing up upper-middle class in a Boston streetcar suburb with a lawyer mom and microbiologist dad.
Conan and his band (essentially the Max Weinberg 7 minus Max Weinberg but plus two backup singers), also breezed through chestnuts by Willie Nelson ("On the Road Again") and Gloria Gaynor/Cake ("I Will Survive"). Both these songs were reworked for comedic effect. For example, "On the Road Again" became "My Own Show Again." "I Will Survive" became about his breakup with NBC. My favorite moment was the end though, when Conan and the band encored with The Band's "The Weight," something he's been doing sporadically throughout the tour as a thank you to fans for their support during this year of professional upheaval. There were no clever lyric changes, no visual gags. It was just Conan, playing it straight, and doing a damn fine job of it.
Music comprised about half the show, the rest was filled with familiar faces (Andy! The Masturbating Bear!) and new gimmicks (The giant inflatable bat from Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell Tour was a stage prop. I can't really explain. You kinda had to be there). There was also a stand-up set by former Tonight Show writer Deon Cole and a taped segment with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog where the foul-mouthed puppet made fun of D.C. (Like shooting fish in a barrel, really.)
And this was my only complaint about the show. The D.C. crowd was weird. They seemed simultaneously listless and restless. People kept yelling things out, surely hoping to catch Conan's ear and eye and dazzle him with their witty rejoinder. Although one guy who yelled "F— Jay Leno" earned some hearty applause and laughter from the crowd and band, the yells were mostly distracting and obnoxious. And, apparently, Conan and crew noticed. Poor form, D.C.
Next time, Conan should come to Baltimore.