Last night marked the second stop on Conan O’Brien’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television 2010 Tour. With the help of a friend and fellow fan with room on her credit card, and thanks to a late-night discovery on Ticketmaster the night before, we were able to score tickets before @ConanOBrien had even officially announced the tour via Twitter. By beating the rush, we were able to get fantastic seats. Third row on the aisle. Tickets were not cheap. Close to $100, all told. Prohibitively expensive for some, but I was more than willing to bite the bullet. After all, when was I ever going to be able to see something like this again? Unless his new show on TBS is quickly cancelled, which will likely never happen, the man isn’t going to be doing many theatre tours. And if by some chance he does do this again, who knows if he’d be coming back to Vancouver? Clearly this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that needed to be seized.
Having said all that, I had no idea what to expect. Would there be guests? Would he do interviews? Would it keep the same talk-show format? Mostly I was just excited to atone for a missed Olympic opportunity. Back when I was at UBC, I remember hearing buzz that The Tonight Show would be broadcast out of the Freddy Wood Theatre for the duration of the Games. It was cause to be excited, as the show had already been promised to Conan by that point. Leno would be gone, and it would be a can’t-miss Olympic event. Then, Late Night Wars happened. The plan was scrapped. Maybe it had been scrapped already, as I really hadn’t heard much of it in the lead-up to the Games, but hey, I want an excuse to feel personally slighted by Jay Leno, and this is as good a reason as any (Aside: people occasionally tell me I look like Leno. It is a terrible insult. I’d rather you just tell me I’m fuck-ugly).
Flashforward to last night, where all questions were answered and all expectations were matched and exceeded. I will have a hard time expressing in words just how joyous an occasion this show really was, but luckily, I took several videos which should help you get the idea. I will apologize in advance for the occasional speaker-buzzing “woo!” from yours truly. I will also apologize for poor picture quality: all photos and videos were taken on my iPhone. Conan is a tough man to photograph — his pale skin becomes incandescent under stage-lighting, and most photos come out looking this. I will not apologize for my incessant giggling.
The first thing we were greeted by on our way in the door were directions on how to tag your tweets should you be writing any during the show. Conan has successfully conquered the Twittersphere since his Tonight dismissal, using it as a valuable tool to connect with his audience during his time away from television. As I mentioned earlier, this tour was even announced over Twitter. Conan re-iterated these instructions once he took the stage. “If you’re going to be tweeting during show, we ask that you tag it with #conezone. A lot of people have been using #conebone instead. I’m flattered.” I must admit I did post a few things during the show. Mostly for posterity’s sake, but also to be a bit of a braggart. But more on that later.
We took our seats and the lights dimmed almost immediately. The opening act for the show was a man named Reggie Watts, and his set was a perfectly bizarre mix of stand-up, track-layering one-man hip-hop, incoherent mumbling and existentialist discussions on advanced physics and time-travel. It seemed like every time he opened his mouth he was speaking with a different accent, and he pulled off each so well that I literally have no idea what this man sounds like ordinarily. His voice and his keyboard skills are reminiscent of TV on the Radio, if TV on the Radio sang about having sex with androids and how perfect a robot’s tits are. As he began his final song, I made sure to bust out the camera. Of course, just my luck, I caught the only song that wasn’t meant to be funny, but it still gives you an idea of what his set was like:
He was everything you’d want from a warm-up performer: unexpected, hysterically funny, exciting, and he left us wanting more. After a short intermission (where I bought a shirt and bumped into a friend), the lights dimmed once more, and the disembodied voice of Andy Richter introduced the Legally Prohibited Band. Led by LaBamba, they emerged from the wings playing Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’, and after briefly taking their spots on stage, LaBamba led the brass section down the stairs into the crowd, where they wandered up and down the aisles blowing their horns.
After a brief video montage detailing what exactly Conan has been up to over the past three and a half months, the man, the legend, the hair himself finally took the stage. Andy stayed back for the first half of the show while O’Brien worked the crowd by himself. I went in unsure of what to expect from the show, and at times it seemed Conan too was unsure of what to do. I don’t mean that in a bad way, however. Free of his talk-show shackles he found himself in the centre of a variety show (a real variety show, not a Jay Leno at 10pm wannabe variety show). A lot of the show had an off-the-cuff feel to it. Conan was himself, and he spoke on many things, from what he’s actually been prohibited from doing by his agreement with NBC (“I am no longer allowed to say the word ‘peacock’. But I can say pee, and I can say cock, and really, that’s even better.”), to how his life has changed without the show. He was always careful not to mention NBC (“a certain network”) or Leno (“my neighbour….. Joe.”) by name. It lent the show a very personal feel, as without strict scripting, Conan was free to riff on whatever he liked — most of it Vancouver-based.
He started the night in a Canada hat, rocking a sweet beard (though not quite as sweet as his epic writers’ strike beard). As I stroked my fledgling playoff beard, I thought about complimenting him on his, but decided against being an obnoxious shouter. Fortunately, he beat me to it. “Do you like the beard?” he asked. “Someone came up to me on the street today, they’re probably here right now. They said ‘nice hockey beard’. It’s not a hockey beard, it’s just a beard. Why is everything about hockey with you people?? ‘Cute hockey baby.’ ‘Good hockey beer.’ ‘I’ve got a terrible hockey cold sore on my lip.’ No! It’s just a cold sore!” Oh Conando, you know us too well. He asked us if we were glad to have the Olympics over with (and didn’t get the response he was expecting when most everyone said no), before saying he ran into some strung-out mascots down in Pigeon Park. “Please mista, my name’s Sumi… Help me out? I’m just trying to get my life back on track.” There was a stunning amount of local content, which spoke to how loose the show really was.
He played a number of songs on guitar, with help from the band and his back-up singers, the Cocettes. “Since this is a tour, we were gonna call them the Tourettes, but they kept yelling FUCK at inappropriate moments. … That was good. You’ll reuse that.” Look at that, I just did. Andy came out halfway through the night to change up the dynamic somewhat. Almost immediately upon Andy’s entrance, they called out another old friend, slightly altered so as not to infringe on NBC’s intellectual property:
Masturbating Bear? What Masturbating Bear? This guy’s totally different. After another brief video montage — this time featuring another old faithful, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, giving a generic speech with Vancouver-specific things edited into it like “Mr. Black” in that classic Kamp Krusty episode of the Simpsons — Conan returned to the stage…wearing a purple leather bodysuit similar to the one Eddie Murphy wore in Raw. It really showed off his no-ass.
After another round of jokes and songs, Conan left Andy alone on stage while O’Brien changed back into something more sensible. It was Andy’s chance to shine, and shine he did in a rinky-dink cowboy costume sharing “What I’ve Learned” during the time off. I caught some of that on video, though I apologize, as the lighting washed out Andy’s face entirely. Give it a look if you so choose:
To facilitate another costume change, and to allow Andy and Conan to recharge backstage for a bit, comedian and long-time Conan writer Deon Cole did a short stand-up set, reading new material off a note-sheet and scribbling audience responses down after telling them. He was very funny — his mad scribbling after telling a joke often more hilarious than the joke itself.
Conan and Andy returned, breaking out another old Late Night favourite renamed to avoid legal trouble. I actually captured most of their closing bits on camera, so instead of writing about them, why don’t I just let you watch it? Whenever they started talking about how they were about to wheel out another classic, it was my cue to bust out the camera. I wound up taping almost 12 straight minutes here, as there was just no natural place to press stop. The newly-renamed “Chuck Norris Rural Policeman Handle” led straight into Andy advertising a local business, which led straight into heart-felt thank yous for the crowd, which then in turn led straight into a cover of ‘I Will Survive’. And I caught it all on film:
Shortly afterwards, they said good night. But after prolonged chants of “CO-NAN! CO-NAN! CO-NAN!” the big red curl returned. One last song, he promised. A rockabilly number that he’s always liked and has needed an excuse to play. Its name slips my mind at the moment, but really, it’s not important. What matters is that O’Brien took the opportunity to do what the band had done to start the show, and that was wander out into the audience. More specifically, wander right down my aisle.
After he wrapped up the song, he took his time getting back to the stage, acknowledging his fans and offering personal thank yous to those close enough to receive them. Luckily enough, I was one of those people. He looked me in the eyes (again!), gave me two quick pats on the shoulder, shook my hand and said something like “Glad you could make it!” or “Good to see you!” I usually have a photographic memory for these kinds of details, but honestly, in that moment, I was just too damn star-struck to take it in properly. Luckily, I caught it on video:
It’s not exactly clear what’s happening there, but wouldn’t you know it, I went on YouTube and found that exact moment in someone else’s video. That’s me holding my phone up like an idiot at the :20 mark.
I feel a bit foolish to be making such a big deal out of such a small moment, but honestly, it meant so much to me. And he knew it. The cherry on top of an already perfect evening. Looking over what I’ve written here, I’m not sure it’s come across just how enjoyable this night really was. I have been fortunate enough to see many legendary performers over the years (Radiohead, REM, Pearl Jam, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Bob Dylan, Rush, The Rolling Stones, The Flaming Lips and The Roots, to name a few), and been to my share of special shows (front row at an intimate acoustic set with Metric) and stand-up performances (Louis CK). None of them have come close to being as fun as this show was. From the moment Reggie Watts took the stage until the last note rang out on the final song, I had a big, goofy unshakable smile on my face that lasted for hours afterwards. Hell, I’m still smiling just writing this review. It got to the point where my jaw hurt from non-stop smiling, but the two and a half hours this show lasted were a constant state of bliss — for me, and I’m sure just about everyone else in attendance.
This was a special night. I hear Seth Rogen had a part in tonight’s show, and honestly, it doesn’t really bother me that I missed him. I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience. I’ll never forget this show as long as I live. Conan, my friend, I’m sure you will never read this, but thank YOU. So very, very much. I look forward to having you back on TV in the fall. We’ve missed you.
Final Note: Congratulations if you’ve read this whole entry. I just can’t seem to embed vimeo links into my entry. If anyone knows how I can fix that, I’d be greatly appreciative.