After NBC legally banned the red-headed giant from the airwaves, the only medium left was live entertainment. So, Conan took his act across the country with the Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.
Last night, Conan came to Chicago. I was fortunate enough to see him in action. For those of you who couldn't get a ticket or simply want the details of a live Conan show, the following is an account of my one night with Conan.
Before I get into a chronological review of the night, I should tell you this was the most electrifying and exciting feat of live comedy I've seen in person. Conan O'Brien is truly one of the finest showmen in entertainment today. He needs nothing but an audience to create hilarity out of thin air. In fact, it's when the show veers off course that the funniest moments take place.
When I arrived at the historic Chicago Theater at 6:44 pm for the 7:30 pm show, a certain musk filled the air. A half-full theater of half-drunk, but fully pumped fans wandered around, eagerly anticipating the opening act - Reggie Watts.
Conan chose Watts as his opening act after writers presented a few YouTube videos of his stand-up work. Conan immediately agreed with the selection and called the impossibly recognizable comedian. I say this because he has a gigantic Afro unlike anything I've seen. Let's call it the Afro to end all Afros.
Right off the bat, Watts went hardcore with his raunchy and vulgar routine. If anything, it completely set the tone for a night of unpredictable comedy and musical numbers. His one-man beat box was phenomenal, as was the Shakespearean poem about macaroni and cheese. But Reggie Watts' shining moment was the lullaby he wrote specifically for Conan's children.
Let's just say 90% of the lyrics would overload the television censors. But Watts found ways to involve the audience, kicking off the night with everybody chanting R-rated chorus lines.
Once Watts exited stage right, we were granted an unnecessary intermission. Half an hour later, the soothing voice of Conan's sidekick Andy Richter burst through the speakers. But fear rushed over the audience when Richter made a stunning announcement.
"Unfortunately, Conan will not be able to perform tonight, but the role will be played by his understudy, Sir Ian McKellen."
I think I'd actually pay to see McKellen as Gandalf in stand-up comedy. But before Conan appeared, the "Legally Prohibited Band" (The Tonight Show Band minus Max Weinberg) performed a rousing, exuberant musical introduction. LaBamba and his trombone ran up and down aisles as the nearly ten-minute song progressed.
Finally, Conan appeared. But not in person just yet. The LED big screen first showed a video of Conan. The sketch was flawless. An overweight Conan lays on the floor between boxes of pizza, sporting a Moses-like beard. The video followed his everyday life as a depressed, out-of-work loner who needs his dog to lick peanut butter from his toes just to crack a smile. When a phone call presents the opportunity to go on a national tour, a Rocky training montage ensues and the show truly begins.
Conan kicked off his introductory stand-up with a few low-blows to the good citizens of Chicago. He couldn't go wrong with sports humor and food jokes. Some memorable quotes from the opening monologue:
"I've got a 30% blockage in my arteries already."
"This is the first time anybody has paid to see me. But trust me, they've paid to see me go away."
After a few Jay Leno impersonations Ludacris impersonations, he claimed NBC has tried to retain the rights to his name. But Conan's got a backup plan. He will simply revert to his birth name of Chet Blaze.
Finally, the music began. I'd heard Conan's shows are primarily music-oriented, and that was no exaggeration. The show is about 75% music, almost always led by a guitar-wielding Conan.
When Andy Richter hit the stage in person, Conan's attitude changed a bit. The two feed off each other so well. They simply come off as best friends hanging out in front of a few thousand people. And everything that comes out of their banter is hilarious. The two best moments of Conan and Richter together were the inflatable bat out of hell and a new gag, "Chuck Norris World Policeman Handle." I'll get into those in a bit.
As the two left stage, an old friend appeared on the monitors - Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. I'm not sure about the legalities of his presence, but he did refer to himself as "Triumph the Only Dog Not Banged By Jesse James or Tiger Woods." His Mad Libs-style video was a short and funny joke for the hardcore Conan followers.
If it weren't for the 20-foot inflatable bat, Triumph may have been the highlight of the night. But no, Conan had to "spend half the production budget" on an enormous and hideous inflatable bat. He was hoping for more scares from the so-called "bat out of hell." Instead he called it the "s-----est bat you've ever seen."