I wish I could say that the sight of hundreds of eager Conan O’Brien fans waiting to get into the Beacon Theater while dressed as pop culture references (Waldo, I found you!), their beloved Coco, and The Flaming C! would be different on any night other than October 31st. But as any member of Team Coco could attest, that simply wouldn’t be the case. Halloween or not, the Conan elite were slapping on their finest (and sometimes intentionally downright terrible) orange wigs and welcoming home their departed hero, in a line that wrapped around three Manhattan blocks.
As 2,894 lucky, mostly-costumed fans filed into New York City’s historic, intimate Beacon Theater, the mood felt as jovial as the Halloween parade that was happening roughly 60 blocks south. Buzz and chatter energized the Coco-devoted. Who would the surprise guests be? (The ones he had stop by during his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour last year, like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Krasinski, would be hard to top.) Would there be a visit from the Self-Pleasuring Panda? Would tonight be the night he officiates a wedding? All we could do was wait and see. After a warm-up comic and a toe-tapping performance by Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable band (turns out, La Bamba doesn’t just do perfectly-delivered deadpan faces, he can also hit all the high notes in Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”), Andy Richter hit the stage to introduce Conan back to the city he called home for years.
But before Richter could even finish “And here he is, Conan O’Brien”, he was drowned out by the deafening applause from the audience that was instantaneously on its feet as soon as the always-shockingly-tall host appeared. After the cheers died down, Conan quickly quipped, “I have not heard applause like that since I left New York.” The show may be on the road this week (they did, however, appear to bring their giant moon with them across the country), but the monologue felt right at home. Conan cracked jokes about the Occupy Wall Street movement and the ubiquitous Conan ads that have been plastered (and as he noticed, doodled-upon) all over the city, and was paid a visit from what I can only hope is a one-time character, The Ghost Human Centipede. Although Conan seemed to be a fan of the costume, joking, “I came 3,000 miles just to do that.”
Actually, as Conan told EW earlier this week, he came back to New York City to make some very New York City shows. He explained, “It’s really important to me that these feel like New York shows, so one of the key components was to make sure that I’m out amongst the people.” He wasn’t kidding. In fact, during a screamingly funny taped segment (it could seriously rank amongst some of the greats, like when he visited Ireland), Conan hit the streets of NYC to deliver Chinese food (I won’t spoil the surprises, as there are some truly brilliant, authentically New York moments of people reacting to him) and then again later, dressed in disguise (donning a truly terrifying mustache and looking like, as he described himself, a “hipster pedophile”) crashes a famous morning talk show.
In between silly, very Conan skits, the clearly amped Conan (he rarely stops jumping or moving on stage) would wave to fans — some of whom came from as far away as Conan himself and lined up as early as 5 a.m. to secure a seat at the Beacon — sign autographs, take pictures, and respond to hug requests on homemade signs.
Then there was the evening’s first (and as it would turn out, only) surprise guest: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. After the cheers, and yes, some boos (but, hey, they could have been saying, “Bloooom,” right?) Bloomberg was a good sport throughout (at one point he shouted, “Bring it on, Coco!”) with a “just invented” New York City citizenship test to dub Conan an honorary New Yorker. I went into the night secretly hoping and praying that Conan’s pal Jon Hamm would make a cameo. Alas, it turned out to be my favorite PopWatch category: Not Jon Hamm. (I was hardly the only one disappointed, though. When it was announced soon after that Tuesday night’s guest would be Hugh Jackman, you could hear the crestfallen sighs. Although, that may have just come solely from my EW colleague Sandra Gonzalez, who was understandably broken up over the news.)
It was hard to be too sad for long, since Conan’s late night successor Jimmy Fallon returned the favor from earlier this month and stopped by Conan’s show for a visit. The two joked about the less-than-desirable 12:37 a.m. Late Night time slot (Conan joked older fans would often tell him they watched because that’s when they had to take their medication), before Fallon more-or-less took over by doing his famed Charlie Sheen impression, sang an original song that was
supposed to be about Halloween, and pulled an Oprah by giving everyone a free sample of his Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. (New York fun fact: The ice cream earned much, much louder cheers than Mayor Bloomberg.)
The evening closed out with a performance by manic musical comedian Reggie Watts, who accompanied Conan on his tour, so many fans were familiar with his off-beat style (read: wearing a crushed velvet jacket). But instead of a typical comedy routine, Watts opted to do a kooky, rollicking performance of Thin Lizzy’s apropos “The Boys are Back in Town.” Really, Watts just got to be on stage to do what we all were feeling: Conan was back in town and everything felt right again. In fact, some fans would once again get a close encounter with the master of string puppets, as he ran outside to get some ice cream with Fallon when the show wrapped and later gave a quick greeting to fans exiting through the lobby.
All in all, the night had a certain ease that Conan didn’t seem to have during the “Prohibited” tour. While I very much enjoyed those shows (and the fascinating documentary that chronicled it), the wounds almost felt too raw and exposed after the Tonight Show debacle. Tonight, Conan felt more himself: A little less angry, a lot more silly and relaxed, and free to be the New Yorker he was and always will be, no matter how far he may roam.
Were you at the first night of Conan taping in New York City, too? What did you think of the show? Did it feel reminiscent of old school Conan from his Late Night days to you as well? Were you hoping for more surprise guests or were you too thrilled to see Conan back in the Big Apple to care?