ATLANTIC CITY — Conan O’Brien’s fans are undoubtedly loyal. Unfortunately, there were not enough of them to keep him on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”
That said, his legion has proved its faithfulness on O’Brien’s “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour,” which has sold out nearly every show, including two Sunday night at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
After sitting through an interesting, but mostly unfunny opener in Reggie Watts, the 2,000-plus fans at the 8 p.m. show couldn’t wait for the long-legged, newly bearded redhead to take the stage.
When he did, the night was part variety show, part freak show, as O’Brien told jokes, sang, played guitar and even danced in his goofy marionette style.
The show began in amazing fashion as the first 30 minutes or so featured well-written routines, funny prerecorded videos and O’Brien’s trademark, self-deprecating stand-up. After his band, minus Max Weinberg, warmed up the crowd with two horn-fueled songs, a hilarious video portrayed O’Brien as a fat, depressed, unemployed loser eating KFC by the pool and playing Nintendo Wii while “All By Myself” served as the soundtrack.
Receiving a standing ovation for merely walking on stage, O’Brien proved he was in top form with an impressive monologue that hit on everything from Atlantic City to “stepping down” from his “Tonight Show” gig.
“What better way to spend Memorial Day weekend than to do Jager bombs and empty your entire bank account” quipped O’Brien, who added he had to be careful about what to say during the show because NBC handcuffed him. He said he was not even sure he could use his own name.
“I may have to use my birth name: Jet Blaze.”
O’Brien, clearly aware of his talents, spent most of the night introducing funny clips and riffing on himself, particularly about losing his job. One of his funniest bits discussed his eight steps to recovery in which he questioned how people such as Kim Kardashian and Snookie can have TV shows and he doesn’t.
As soon as O’Brien picked up his green Fender guitar, however, things went from hilarious to inconsistent. Playing songs like “Polk Salad Annie,” “On the Road Again” — really? — and “I Will Survive,” O’Brien proved he can’t really sing and the laugh totals were low. In fact, he played songs such as The Band’s “The Weight” and Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town” without injecting any humor whatsoever. The world can do without the musical Conan.
O’Brien fans, however, didn’t seem to notice any lulls in the show. They plunked down their cash and were happy to see the TV star in person. In fact, strangers to O’Brien’s comedy style would probably find difficulty connecting to a great deal of the absurdity.
But that was kind of the point. O’Brien told “60 Minutes” that the show helped him get over his depression from “The Tonight Show” debacle, so this spring tour was not only going to keep his employees working, it was going to please longtime fans who missed the edge that O’Brien seemed to lose when he took Jay Leno’s job.
He delivered. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog made a memorable video appearance in which all references to Atlantic City were comically dubbed in. O’Brien claimed to spend half of the show’s budget buying Meat Loaf’s pathetic inflatable bat from the “Bat Out of Hell Tour.” And he even brought his “Walker, Texas Ranger Lever” out of mothballs as the NBC-safe “Chuck Norris Rural Policeman Handle,” which brought big laughs thanks to unedited, ridiculous “Walker, Texas Ranger” clips. The only surprise was that he didn’t bring out the NBC-safe version of the Masturbating Bear that has made appearances on other tour stops.
O’Brien and his team are not going through the motions and putting on the same show every night. A good amount of Sunday’s material was written for the Atlantic City audiences, including his monologue and a commercial for a bus line that delivers “geriatric slot jockeys” to the city. The Triumph jokes aimed at A.C. were particularly funny, especially when he said the state animal is Lawrence Taylor and the state flower is former Gov. James McGreevey.
Sidekick Andy Richter may have been the biggest disappointment of the night. Although the writer, actor and comedian contributes some great moments to O’Brien’s shows, Richter seemed like he was not having as much fun as everyone else, occasionally bantering with O’Brien but not really adding anything of substance.
If the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour” proves anything, it’s that O’Brien needs to remember the devoted fans that made him a pop culture icon. The move to TBS may be the best thing to happen for O’Brien because the artistic freedom he should have at the cable network will enable him to please Team Coco more than ever.
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