For a guy who never put on a stage show before, Conan O’Brien had no problem filling 90+ minutes last night at the Hult Center in Eugene, Oregon. It helped that he stuck pretty close to his old TV show formula, but the act certainly benefited from being live and in person.
The first of many surprises came when a videotaped portion caught us up on Conan’s doings since his premature ousting at NBC. Conan will now be known as Beardy O’Brien, since the long mountain man beard he sported in the video was merely trimmed but not shorn completely for the show. I admit feeling a thrill in my very bones at seeing another bearded redhead succeed. Conan labeled himself an “Irish Hasidim.”
After that first video piece, Conan took the stage with his perverted little friend Andy Richter, joining the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on TV Band” and two lady back-up singers he christened the “Cocettes.”
My wife Isis and I had no idea what to expect when we made the journey down from Portland, but we were certainly entertained. Conan obviously loves what he does, and as he said in the show, he’s got no other skills. (A funny bit was when he described walking into the unemployment office and asking them to match his previous salary.) A born entertainer, Conan put together a musical comedy revue worthy of his Irish Yiddish ancestors.
There was a veritable Thanksgiving feast of guests: the Portland-based band Spoon played “I Summon You” from their Gimme Fiction album, Jack McBrayer (Kenneth the page on 30 Rock) said nary a word but pulled the (renamed for legal reasons) Rural Sheriff Handle, Triumph, the (renamed for legal reasons) Self-Pleasuring Panda, and the setpiece of the show, the inflatable bat from Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell Tour:
The show itself was like a slightly wilder version of Conan’s old TV show(s), a conceit Conan acknowledged when he expressed his habit of “throwing to commercials.” He said it was a habit so ingrained that he wanted to do it for local products in Eugene. Andy then proceeded to endorse two products: Jungle Juice (a frat party staple of liquor and whatever is lying around the house) and Burrito Boy “Mexican style” food.
There were many mentions of Conan’s state of mind throughout the show, especially in one of the first sketches in which Conan outlined the 5 (plus 3) stages of grieving a lost TV show. The more personal nature of this tour was a highlight of one of the songs Conan played, in which he talked about his parents, and about “growing up upper-middle-class in an upper-class suburb of Boston.”
I never realized how much Conan liked playing music. He played at least three (or three and a half, depending on how you count them) songs throughout the show, including his riff on the country staple “On the Road Again”:
It was funny that, although there was a giant screen behind Conan, I tried my best to focus on the real guy on the stage. Even though I couldn’t see him as well as the blown-up version on screen, I wanted to be sure to see the person and not the projection. Conan himself mined this idea for comedy during a sketch in which he had us read words projected on the screen and then responded to what we said. That way, he said, we could tell our friends we’d had a little chat with Conan, one-on-one.
As the audience shuffled out of the theater, we were still being entertained by a video of Conan dressed as a “generic network executive,” who shouted that network TV is where its at! And be sure to watch the brand new TV show “I’m A Celebrity, I Eat Bark” (later changed to “I’m a Celebrity, I Eat Aluminum Siding”).
Conan (or Beardy O’Brien) has talent and energy to spare, and proved that getting fired may have been one of the best things that’s happened to him. As Isis and I drove home in the Oregon rain, we realized it was the closest we’ll probably ever be to Conan and were glad for the opportunity.