Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan the Entertainer

Late-night TV wasn't funny to me until I started watching Conan O'Brien's show years ago. The unfunny old guy and the annoying dick who jacked Bruce Campbell's chin are not entertaining in the least. (The guy from The Drew Carey Show is great, though.) Conan's damn funny. He used to write for SNL years ago and his seasons of The Simpsons are by far the pinnacle of that series (which today is put a hollow shell of what it once was). Conan's strange humour and self-deprecation made his late-night program immensely enjoyable. Nothing was taken seriously because everything was fun, even the really messed-up characters, such as Vomiting Kermit, the Insult (occasionally) Comic Dog, and the Masturbating Bear.

Flash forward a few years. Conan gets to take over The Tonight Show, which is a huge deal. I watched the first episode, laughed like hell, and loved it. It was great to see Conan with Max and the band at an earlier time doing the same kind of gags they usually do. The bits about Conan dicking around in the studio backlot were hilarious - pretending to do an exorcism on cohost/sidekick Andy Richter as the studio tour bus drove by, turning his desk into a go-kart and drag racing a forklift operator, and taking a tour group out on the town, to name just a few moments. Don't forget his other escapades: going guitar-hunting thanks to Craig's List with his buddy Slash in tow, and pimping around LA in his green '90s Ford Escort, getting girls pregnant by just looking at them and making Fabio himself feel jealous.

Remember the BIG events outside his studio? The human cannonballs? The Grave Digger monster truck leaping over a ramp to stomp a giant pumpkin? The "Conan, Please Blow Up My Car" contest in which they actually blew up the winner's old clunker? (Don't feel bad. The winner received a brand new car as a prize.)

Well, all that's over. You know what's been going on. And it's not funny.

Last night was Conan's final episode on The Tonight Show before it will return to the humourless drivel it was prior to his arrival. Conan had a few jokes about what will become of their new studio, suggesting they leave it empty as a metaphor for NBC programming. How fitting.

His guests included Steve Carrell as an NBC bureaucrat, followed by a tired, nostalgic Tom Hanks, who emerged from backstage with round sunglasses and two glasses of scotch - one for Conan and one for himself. Sidekick Andy Richter, of course, carries a flask in his breast pocket. Tom Hanks and Conan spoke about the good old days, when Hanks hosted SNL and Conan, "the Irish kid," would write sketches for him.

The musical number was an incredible performance by Neil Young. Yes, the Neil Young. When he heard the news about the NBC late-night fiasco, he was the first to offer Conan support.

The closing act of the show featured Max and the band and guest Will Ferrell performing Free Bird, with Conan on guitar. While Ferrell's overall unfunniness and inability to sing ruined what should have been a powerful finale to Conan's stint on The Tonight Show, the most powerful moments of the episode was the montage of various unforgettable moments from the seven months Conan hosted (including some of the clips mentioned earlier), Conan's farewell speech, and the audience's unstoppable roaring applause. I've never cried watching late-night talk shows, but if any episode ever gave me a reason to, it would be this one.

Farewell, Conan. Thanks for the laughs and the good times. Best of luck in the future. I can't wait to see you on my TV screen again.

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