Conan O’Brien And Friends
Radio City Music Hall
Tuesday, June 1
“The Masturbating Bear was onstage!” marvels a satisfied customer, strolling down Sixth Avenue immediately after Conan O’Brien’s celebrity-stuffed musical-comedy extravaganza. “Which makes up for Vampire Weekend!” And there you have it.
This thing was frankly in pretty rough shape at the halfway point, but sweet respite came in the form of both the aforementioned boldface names and Walker, Texas Ranger. The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour is, in the grand Team Coco tradition, jovially half-assed. (Sample stage banter, after a Conan-Colbert-Stewart dance-off in which the latter is both a) dressed as a matador and b) shot: “That was the most shockingly under-rehearsed thing we’ve ever done.”) After a bewildering opening set from beatboxer/putative comedian/excellent squirrel impersonator Reggie Watts, the Max Weinberg-less band comes out, whoops the crowd up, cedes to a video of a distraught post-Tonight-Show-abdication Conan living in semi-hilarious squalor, and then cedes to the man himself, taking the stage to a thunderous standing O.
He is indeed something to see in person: ludicrously tall and gangly, bounding around on arachnid legs like a Tim Burton creation and freely mocking his gangliness, his awkwardness, his asslessness. He does a long, rambling monologue detailing the eight stages of grief for deposed talk-show hosts (“Buying everything Amazon says I would also like” was my favorite, or in any event it didn’t get any funnier), flirting with outright Leno-based hostility (“We are 200 feet away from NBC headquarters!”) but never really getting there, mercifully. What emerges instead is an uneasy mix of lively banter (Andy Richter on hand to denigrate Papaya Dog), greatest-hits cameos (the Masturbating Bear live, Triumph on unsatisfying video), a chicken-and-watermelon-themed stand-up interlude from one of his writers, and… songs. Like, Conan awkwardly strumming a rhythm guitar (he can play it, sure, but watching the guy play guitar is somehow a tremendously physically uncomfortable experience) and doing, say, “On the Road Again” as “[I Want] My Old Show Again,” etc. These tunes are frankly kind of boring, enlivened only by his taste for surrealist props (Eddie Murphy’s suit from Raw, the inflatable bat from Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell tour) and unshakable crowd goodwill.
But after Vampire Weekend wanders out, appropos of nothing, and rolls through “Walcott” like this is a normal gig (Conan just standing there, strumming his guitar idly), you start to wonder if this is adding up to anything. (“This is the first time anyone has paid to see me,” our host notes, and that’s pretty obvious.) Fortunately, he knows a lot of famous people. The Stewart-Colbert dance-off jolts the crowd, and afterward we finally find our rhythm by milking my personal favorite of Conan’s recurring bits: The Walker, Texas Ranger Lever, which triggers an inevitably fantastic clip of Chuck Norris drop-kicking a dude who’s already on fire through a window, or Haley Joel Osment delivering the line “Walker told me I have AIDS” with remarkable gravitas. Mssrs. Hader, Krasinski, and Rudd all take a turn pulling the lever. Not the most sophisticated gag, but it’s way more fun than listening to Conan sing “I Will Survive” or (as an encore!) “The Weight.” I can’t claim to understand the appeal of all this, but if I learned anything tonight, it’s that Chuck Norris not trying to be funny is funnier than Conan O’Brien trying to be funny.