I have to confess that I never watched Conan O’Brien on the Tonight Show. It was nothing personal – I just don’t do the late night talk shows. I enjoy The Hour, The Daily Show, and the Colbert Report, and I never watch them either. I like Conan just fine; in fact, I consider one segment from Late Night to be the very funniest thing I’ve ever seen on television. It featured Tom Selleck, The Big Show, and Sue Johanson, who is a very tiny lady who hosts a sex advice talk show and who, on this evening, was demonstrating toys from her "Hot Stuff Bag." One of which was called The Accommodator. Another one was homemade. The three large men were horrified.
Point being, despite being a fan of O’Brien, I never bothered to watch his show, and so I didn’t really get behind all that I’m With Coco stuff. I supported the general concept, for sure, and was never a fan of Leno, but it felt like it would be hypocritical of me to get too upset about him leaving the Tonight Show, since I never cared enough to watch it in the first place. But pay a bunch of money and drive for something like 16 hours over four days on a whirlwind trip to a live show? Well, that sounds reasonable.
I have mentioned before that I am a sucker for a limited-time offer. I was lucky enough to read about the official announcement of the Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television tour right after the announcement had been made. I thought that maybe I should ask Mika to see if she had any interest in actually going to this, but then I figured that if I took the time to do that, there’d be no tickets left if I wanted them. And it turns out I was right – I bought two tickets during my morning coffee break in the hopes that if she didn’t want to go, I could find someone else who would. When I went back to Ticketmaster at noon, only individual seats were available, and when I went back that afternoon, the show was completely sold out.
For a road trip story, I don’t have much to talk about. The drives to and from Saskatoon bookended drives to and from Edmonton, and all the driving was uneventful, which is how I like it. Our hotel was a Super 8 which was perfectly tolerable. We had a few hours to visit West Edmonton Mall, the biggest mall in North America. I always seem to go there with only a few hours to look around, and I always think I’ll need more time, and I’m always done well before my time runs out. For being so big, it really isn’t all that… interesting. On average, I’m there once every few years, and it never really seems to change. Yep, that’s still a waterslide park with a roof on it; if you want to call it part of the mall, fine, but if people can’t shop there, I don’t think it counts.
Anyway. I have a very limited knowledge of how to navigate around Edmonton. I can find the mall, I can find that one Super 8, and I can find my way out of Edmonton. I was quite delighted to find that the River Cree Casino was only about a 10 minute drive from the mall and wouldn’t put me too far out of my way. Though I am not sure if the casino is in Edmonton proper – when I looked at the list of concert dates on Conan’s site, I missed it the first time because it was listed under "Enoch, AB." Judging from the lack of Google results, Enoch, AB may not technically exist. Maybe the casino is a town unto itself, I don’t know. Or maybe Enoch is the name of the First Nation that runs the casino? Maybe I am stretching to fill space?
A casino is a casino, but I will remember two things about this one. First, it was stinky. I am no longer used to places where you can smoke inside, but since this casino was on a First Nation, they get to make up the smoking rules, and I guess it’s allowed there. We were nice and smelly by the time we got home, and we didn’t even spend much time in the actual casino.
Second, I will remember the venue named The Venue. Fargo also had a venue named The Venue – this is where we saw Ben Folds. I guess a lot of venues are named The Venue and this joke isn’t nearly as clever as I first thought. Oh well. But years down the road, I may not remember the name of the venue named The Venue, but I will remember that it was a tent. I don’t mean a figurative tent, I mean a literal one. You left the casino and walked outside into what I would describe as a temporary structure with a stage and a lot of folding chairs. Saskatchewanians may know what I mean if I make reference to those Cover-All buildings that had a tendency to blow over in the wind and cripple Dallas Cowboys staff members. It was one of those. Conan and his guests made many jokes about the quality of this particular venue.
I can only imagine how much money this tour must be making. The show sold out within hours (and that’s with us packed in fairly densely – all our folding chairs were zip-tied too closely together), they opened second and third shows in some cities, and it looked like at least half the crowd bought something. I saw many, many shirts and hoodies. There were also bottle openers, coffee mugs, and various other goodies. Some folks were wearing Late Night or Tonight Show shirts. Lots of people were getting their pictures taken in front of the stage.
I’m speaking mostly to the people who might stumble across this review when I post it online, but if there’s even a chance that you’re going to see one of the shows on the tour, you might want to stop reading now. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting in for, so I checked a few reviews of the first shows on the tour, and had a few of the comedy bits spoiled for myself as a result. If you want to know if you should go… well, all the shows are probably sold out, so you either have a ticket or you don’t, but I enjoyed it. You should go because you clearly like everything that I like.
The opener was a comedian whose name I did not catch, but Google tells me was Reggie Watts. Appearance-wise, he looked like a cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Afa The Wild Samoan. "That’s quite the combination," said Dave, but I think it is a fair one. Skinny Afa wearing a tucked-in t-shirt and suspenders. He said he was been born in Edmonton, but he was also a black guy with an English accent who later talked about being born in Montana. I missed his first few jokes because I couldn’t make out a word he was saying. Neither could the rest of the crowd, it seemed, and I was thinking that this might be a failure of epic proportions. But he quickly turned it around with, ironically, a story told entirely in a made-up language. There was also a song about purses that was delightful. Even with the spoiler warning, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but by the end of it, Watts had won the crowd over.
Before Conan and pals took the stage, they turned the big screen back on with a message that if we were tweeting about the night’s show, we were supposed to use the "hashtage" #bessielou. I checked, and people were doing just that. Some people thought #bessielou was in reference to Conan’s desk from the Tonight Show; others thought it was his couch from the show. Many people also identified the opening comedian as Deon Cole, but halfway through Conan’s set, he brought out Deon Cole who was an entirely different person who, hilarious stereotypes notwithstanding, looked nothing like Watts or either of the Wild Samoans. I’m going out of order here, but since I brought him up, he also wasn’t nearly as funny as Watts. I have no idea if the Wild Samoans are funny or not, but they might have the edge as well. Most of Cole’s jokes brought to mind the "white guys drive a car like this, but black guys drive a car like THIS" bit from The Simpsons. There were a few good lines but nothing blew me away.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Legally Prohibited Band came out first and played a song, with a few of them (including La Bamba) roaming out into the crowd. This led into a video of Conan getting ready for the tour before he finally came out on stage in an Oilers jersey. By and large, the show was the same in Edmonton as in the other cities I’ve heard about, though there were a few local touches like the hockey references. Later on, Andy Richter would do local commercials for West Edmonton Mall and the Athabasca Oil Sands. Also, we didn’t get any guest stars unlike other cities, but that didn’t surprise me. They’d have to fly someone in and I think they were using people who were already in town.
The show was about a 50/50 split between comedy and music. There were some new skits and a few favourites from TV (which had been hilariously renamed for alleged legal reasons). The "Walker, Texas Ranger Lever" (sorry, I mean the "Chuck Norris Rural Policeman Handle") was new to me, and nearly had me in tears. YouTube tells me that these clips were shown on one of Conan’s TV shows, but it seemed like the audience either didn’t know this or didn’t care. We also got an awful lot of Conan on guitar, playing his old favourites, sometimes changing up the words, and running out into the crowd. Until the last episode of the Tonight Show, I hadn’t known of him to be a musician, but you can tell he loves playing the guitar.
Ultimately, the live show was a lot like an episode of the TV show, only with the host doubling as the musical guest, in front of a far more enthusiastic crowd. Some of those jokes were fantastic. Some, not so much – but there were enough people who were thrilled to be there and ready to react to everything that it didn’t really matter. Really, it was the crowd that made it work – I have been to many shows, but you rarely see a crowd that is just so completely ready to love everything. I’m sure Conan is getting crowds like that every night out – the best thing that could have happened to him was getting shafted out of his Tonight Show gig – but he seemed as genuinely appreciative of the crowd as they were of him, and it made for a really fun night.