We're on the scene of former 'Tonight Show' host's opening night

By Dan Snierson
April 16, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

It was a cool, drizzly night in Eugene, Ore., on April 12, but no one will remember that. All they’ll recall is the arrival of a massive warm front in the form of Conan O’Brien. From the moment that the ex-host of Late Night and The Tonight Show hit the stage at the Hult Center and the crowd of 2,500 chanted ”Conan! Conan!” it was clear that this evening — the first stop on the 32-city Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour — would be a Coco love-in. ”I’m not supposed to admit this…but I’ve really missed the applause,” cracked O’Brien.

Save for Twitter, he’s been MIA since not-so-amicably parting ways with NBC in January. Here, O’Brien seemed not bitter, but refreshed and raring to go. He did poke at his old employer, ”Believe it or not, this is the first time anyone’s ever paid to see me. They’ve paid to make me go away.” And he winked at that day’s news about his TBS talk show: Clad in a leather outfit and performing his half-finished song ”The Girl Who Looks Like Conrad Bain,” he chuckled, ”You know people at TBS are watching, [saying] ‘What the hell?”’

Billed as ”a night of music, comedy, hugging, and the occasional awkward silence,” the show delivered all of that, minus the awkward silence. There were humorous video bits (such as O’Brien’s how-I-spent-my-unemployment opener, which involved peanut butter and a dog), celeb guests (30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer, Spoon), and old friends (announcer Andy Richter helped anchor, while Triumph the Insult Comic Dog delighted with a taped gag). In a nod to intellectual property law concerns, one Late Night legend received a makeover — the Masturbating Bear morphed into the Self-Pleasuring Panda. Yet throughout the spectacle of silliness, there was genuine gratitude. ”The support that I got from people just like you has meant everything to me,” said O’Brien. He then launched into an altered version of Cake’s cover of Gloria Gaynor’s ”I Will Survive.” Based on the embraces he received as he victory-lapped through the aisles during the encore, that seemed pretty darn accurate, if not an understatement.