Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Heeeeeeeeere's Conan (again)!!!!

Some quick thoughts on the second episode of "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" coming up just as soon as I admire that asteroid...

Much better. Much better.

Again, it's not that Conan had a bad debut show, but there were some nerves, and it didn't feel like he led with his strongest comedy material, especially after having so many months to prepare. But night two was Conan firing on all thrusters, whether with brief, surreal gags like the small Asian woman turning into Max, or with longer pieces like his shopping trip to Rodeo Rd. Twitter Tracker worked almost entirely because of Conan's reaction to the overexuberant announcer, and the asteroid gag with Tom Hanks(*) was perfectly executed. I had no idea it was coming, and I had to rewind it 2 or 3 times before I stopped laughing at it.

(*) Question: Who are the top 5 talk show guests currently alive and working enough to pop up on these shows now and again? Hanks has to be on that list, just as he's in the upper pantheon of "SNL" hosts.

All that, and he (or Brian Williams) got President Obama to crack a few jokes at his expense(**). Nice!

(**) Let me remind you once again of our No Politics rule. You can talk about whether Obama was funnier than comparable appearances by Bush or either of the Clintons, but that's as far as we go, okay?

I don't know that anything in episode two will change the minds of the Jay loyalists who e-mailed me yesterday to complain that Conan was, quote, "Unbelievably childish." (Because, of course, nothing says sophisticated and mature comedy like Jaywalking or the Dancing Itos.) But for the Conan fans, and those still on the fence, this felt much more akin to what the guy looks like at the top of his game.

What did everybody else think?

64 comments:

Anonymous said...

OFF TOPIC: I thought the Obama NBC News Special/documentary was very interesting and gave a nice behind the scenes look into the White House (overtly censored in true reality tv style, I'm sure...but interesting nonetheless).

Can we get a Sepinwall review blog post?

Also...Conan is guaranteed to put a smile on my face...the haters need to step off.

Michael said...

The Rodeo shopping spree was brilliant. Conan saved the Twitter Tracker from being entirely terrible, but I'm praying that never shows up again.

Ben said...

Love the "top-5 guests" idea. Totally agree on Hanks. At one point I would have said Bill Murray, but he seems to be getting a little surly as the days go by.

off the top of my head I'll go with:

Tom Hanks - the classic
Will Ferrell - the clown
Drew Barrymore - the quirky flirt
Bruce Willis - always goes for it
Don Rickles - lifetime achievement

Kathryn said...

The monologue was much stronger too - he felt particularly in control and most like himself when mocking the audience for their confused reaction to his Cheney/waterboarding joke.

Mike F said...

My top five guests...

Tom Hanks
Julia Roberts
Steve Carell
Tina Fey
Larry David

honorable mentions...

Stephen Colbert
Steve Martin
Jerry Seinfeld
Hugh Jackman
Jim Carey
Johnny Depp
John Hamm
Brad Pitt
Angelina Jolie

Anonymous said...

I have to nominate George Clooney to be added to the list of top 5 guests.

Anonymous said...

Agree on Clooney. Paul Rudd has some Top 5 stuff as well.

suga said...

I nominate Amy Sedaris to the top guest list.

Anonymous said...

If Conan is unbelievably childish, I suppose Jay Leno is merely believably childish.

(Just kidding, I love Conan.)

andythesaint said...

Brian Williams could be top five talk show guest material. He's never not funny.

Ostiose Vagrant said...

Top 5 entertaining guests:
Ricky Gervais (ask Elmo)

Ripping off Ben: Don Rickles (loved his TDS appearance after beating Jon Stewart and Colbert and I think Conan and Letterman)
Quote:"You guys were weak."

Will Arnett (the air guitar thing on Conan)

Alec Baldwin (he should stop talking about his daughter in public though)

Kristen Bell (mainly for the moment that Craig Ferguson gave us)

Lane said...

Nathan Lane has been great the last several times I remember seeing him on Letterman or Conan

Otto Man said...

Great show, though Hanks was surprisingly a little too over-the-top. The Turner and Hooch song was lame.

Kent said...

I guess Conan was "unbelievably childish" because he's appealing to a demographic under 50, unlike Leno. I'm sure senior citizens are thrilled that they don't have to stay up after the news to watch him anymore and can go to bed as soon as they're finished with their grilled cheese and weak cup of tea.

I have never found Leno to be funny. All of his successful humor seemed to be in exploiting the mistakes or ignorance of others. And he milked it dry with his ad nauseum repetition of Jaywalking and by stretching out headlines even when he didn't have enough funny material to do a whole segment.

Meanwhile, Conan's self-deprecating wit allows him to be the butt of jokes and a lot of times comes from a very Carson-esque ability to turn a failed joke into a hilarious punchline.

Not to mention, and this is probably the other reason Leno fans are calling Conan "childish," Leno is a complete black hole of physical comedy. Whereas Conan uses his whole face and body to sell his material (or his realization of a lack thereof), all Leno does is hit one of his hands with the other to let you know that the joke is over and you're supposed to be laughing.

Anonymous said...

There are "Jay loyalists"?

Tully said...

Those of us who grew up on Johnny Carson and really appreciated the genius of that Tonight Show (esp. the 90 minute version) never really accepted Jay as the host. We all knew the NBC Letterman was the spiritual descendant of that shows lineage, and Conan took that up once Letterman left and became his own guy on CBS. Jay seems like a nice guy, and he sure came off that way the one time I saw the show live; he just didn't seem to care about maintaining the spirit of that show. I didn't avoid Leno as much as found his existence uninteresting, and I've probably watched that show only a handful of times over the last decade. I hated the way he treated the band as his prop, never allowing them to perform songs even close to full length, whereas Conan, a real music fanatic, respects his band the same way that Johnny did his. Jay would never have dressed in that outrageous outfit like Conan did last night, as his humor leans more toward making fun of other's stupidity (Jaywalking, headlines). Leno always seemed like an act, because the Jay I used to like back in the 80s was an edgier and more sarcastic guy. Conan comes off more genuine, since he really had nothing to lose on his Late Night show; you could tell he finally grasped the magnitude of his new gig when he got caught with first-night jitters. I can't remember the last time I saw Conan out of it like that; I appreciate him even more for that. I am glad to have the Tonight Show back after a 17 year hiatus; now where are the crazy animals and the Edge of Wetness!?!

LDP in Cincinnati said...

Maybe I'm the only person here who's old enough to remember the early days of David Letteman's "Late Night." Jay Leno was a frequent -- and very funny -- guest. That version of Leno is long gone, though, and Conan is already mopping the "Tonight Show's" floor with him.

J said...

Top Talk Show Guests can depend on which talk show they're on. Julia Roberts on Letterman (but not, to his chagrin, on Letterman) trumps Julia Roberts everywhere else.

Rickles is gold everywhere. (Though a recent appearance with Denzel Washington on Letterman was one of the most professional, hilarious hours of talkshowdom I've seen in like decades).

People enjoy the Bruce Willises and the Steve Martinses because they show up early and work out comedy bits. Which is nice. But I prefer nonprofessionals like Carson's potato chip lady or professional characters like Brother Theodore.

Anonymous said...

I thought the Twitter bit was hilarious. It was the first time I said, "Yup, that's our Conan."

Robin said...

I was "on the fence" about Conan. I knew I liked *some* of his bits that I'd seen, but Craig Ferguson always won my tv at 11:30 (CST). And I admit it, I liked Jay Leno. It was fairly boring middle-of-the-road humor, but I didn't really want heavy weight stuff when I was getting ready for bed.

But Shopping on Rodeo Road completely won me over. THAT was hilarious.

I think the word that they are looking for is "irreverent." And yeah, to many people irreverent humor is childish. Their loss.

One thing I do wonder though, to all the Late Show fans: did Conan ever have animal segments like Leno and even Letterman did/does? I will greatly miss Jack Hanna and Julie (can't remember her last name). The animal segments on Leno were the best things he did, and really, they are a Tonight Show tradition, at least going back to Carson.

jcpbmg said...

The CSC offices were set in midtown (specifically in the 50s around 6th or 7th- they said it in one of the DVD commentaries). I always assumed they just cut to downtown because it was cheap stock footage (and knowing Sorkin every episode probably ran over budget).

However I always found those cut-away intro shots to be a complete waste of time and would have been better used on dialogue/plot

Also I too am quite excited for the re-watch and subsequent posting

Bianca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bianca said...

As far as Conan guests go Martha Stewart has always been a favorite of mine. The chemistry they have is hysterical.

GabbyD said...

i think a big difference between leno and conan was the meteor bit.

i've never seen leno participate in a skit, or get others to do a skit on his show like that.

conan does it regularly (as much as possible)

Felipe said...

much better last night...

I have a question, was the voice of the 'Twitter Tracker' segment Joe Goddard's (the previous announcer)?, if it was Andy's then, what kind of effects they put to his voice?

Alan, when are you going to have a review of Jimmy Fallon (his progression in these few months)?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, when are you going to have a review of Jimmy Fallon (his progression in these few months)?



Funny you should ask. That's the subject of Friday's column, which I just finished writing.

Otto Man said...

Hate to admit it, but Fallon's growing on me.

The Slow Jam the News bit is terrific.

Anonymous said...

What I find great about what Conan's doing with the "Tonight Show," his that he's doing HIS Tonight Show. This will undoubtedly turn off many Leno fans, but will likely broaden audience to include people like me who have never understood why people think Leno is at all funny.

Bruce Reid said...

Robin: Fear not, O'Brien coos over lion cubs and squirms as millipedes are placed on his hand about as often as every talk show host.

Two of the best talk show guests--Letterman and Bonnie Hunt--are probably disqualified from the question since they're hosts themselves. And J's right, it depends on a chemistry with particular hosts. But, for fun:

Jim Carrey
James Ellroy
Norm MacDonald
Ewan McGregor
Amy Sedaris

Dan said...

Can anyone explain why a guy who's been fronting a chatshow for nearly 20 years basically gets an earlier timeslot and everyone has to critique him? Er, isn't it just Conan O'Brien on at a different time with a new title? Essentially.

I could understand people reviewing chat-newcomer Jimmy Fallon, but Conan?

Can't wait for the Jay Leno reviews. My guess? It's be like The Tonight Show a few months ago (with a new new features), but earlier. I'm psychic like that.

Anonymous said...

I guess Conan was "unbelievably childish" because he's appealing to a demographic under 50, unlike Leno. I'm sure senior citizens are thrilled that they don't have to stay up after the news to watch him anymore and can go to bed as soon as they're finished with their grilled cheese and weak cup of tea.

People say things like that as if they think they're never going to get old!

Felipe said...

thx Alan!...

I don't understand why fans of each comedian have to be so critical of the other guy; I prefer Conan, but that doesn't keep me from finding Leno funny, his monologue is the best in the business (maybe Ferguson's is as good as his sometimes), and some of his bits are funny (Headlines, Jaywalking)... whereas some of them don't work for me (Celebrity Jeopardy is an example)... my point is that you can enjoy both, they are not mutually exclusive...

J said...

That's the subject of Friday's column, which I just finished writing.

Heavily peppered with mentions of the lower-resourced, infinitely superior Ferguson, hopefully.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ferguson gets a complimentary mention, yes.

JoeE said...

Robin @ 1:09 PM:

Conan is great with animals. He usually gets a lot of mileage out of the chaos that animals usually bring to the studio. And no other talk show host will devote five minutes of airtime to a duck that eats its own crap.

Jenn said...

Kent hit it right on the head! Conan's willingness to get involved in the skits in a physical way really changes the type of humor. He's also much more self-deprecating than Leno was, which makes me, as a viewer, more comfortable with his humor -- perhaps because I think O'Brien identifies himself as a nerd in a way that none of his predecessors ever has (though Letterman is close).

I thought Hanks was a little wired, but a nearly perfect foil for Conan if he was still fighting some nerves. The Coco Christopher hand signs were excellent -- and Rodeo Road, well, try and picture Leno in that skit.

Tom said...

the twitter tracker voice was by the great brian mccann. no not the baseball player of the same name, the guy who does preparation h raymond, the suicidal kayaker, s&m lincoln, the fedex pope...

Nicole said...

Conan is especially good with bears...

Anyway, Tom Hanks is really one of the best talk show guests ever. He works well on all the US shows, and if you check him out on UK shows, especially the Jonathan Ross show, he is a great guest on that too. I guess he really is just that nice of a guy.

I wanted to mention Norm MacDonald, but he is already taken and he is a good guest in the subversive way. Brian Williams is great in that you don't anticipate his sense of humour because of his anchor guy persona. Bill Cosby is usually good on Letterman, and he must have done the Tonight Show once or twice right? (Carson probably, don't recall Leno)

Felipe said...

gracias Tom!

that skit for me it was the first true Conan (Late night) moment

dez said...

Ewan MacGregor on Ferguson's show = talk show guest heaven. Those two really Scots it up.

Matt said...

Leno's been told he has to restructure to be less guest dependent and that he has to close with a comedy bit each night. I assume that just means he'll do monologue-guest-guest-band-comedy, rather than his traditional monologue-comedy-guest-guest-band structure. (And I use "comedy" in a descriptive, not a normative, sense.)

Anonymous said...

I can't stand Julia Roberts on Letterman. Or Julia Roberts in any interview, non-filmed appearance, as she seems so full of herself.

It all comes from a Letterman appearance where later on in the show they were going to have a Yankees fan, in his 80s, who had been to every game since a certain year (or something like that.) When Dave mentioned it before he came on (while Julia Roberts was still there) she mocked him for basically having no life. So cruel.

And then when the guy came on, you could tell he was upset but had to play it off.

Made me hate her.

Tyroc said...

I thought the Tom Hanks interview even without the meteor was fantastic.

I thought the monologue was not strong. I hope they start doing some desk pieces instead (the remotes are good too.)

Not sure what role Andy is playing. I think he's really funny in general, but the show doesn't seem to need him. And where he's standing now, he seems to just be a barrier between Conan and his audience. And hearing him laugh at Conan's jokes is kinda lame. Hope they find something for him to do soon, or he's just going to grate.

As for great guests, I think Wanda Sykes is a pretty fantastic guest -- especially on Leno. We'll see if she can go from great guest to great host. A hard transition to make but she is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

The twitter thing was so obnoxious it made me switch to Dave.

John Royal said...

Definitely agree with Tom Hanks. He's great no matter which show he's doing, and he seems able to adjust his style and material to fit the host.

Two of the all-time greats who are rarely on anymore, one because he doesn't work much anymore and another because she's sick, were Charles Grodin and Teri Garr, especially when they would appear on Letterman.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are also very good, no matter who the host is.

And I think someone mentioned it above, but there's this thing with Craig Ferguson where guests just become so much more alive and real when they're on his show -- though I wish Ferguson would have found time to let Fozzie Bear do his routine last night.

Nicole said...

I agree about Ferguson. I was watching him when he had the girl from Castle on, and he was hilarious. She seemed really comfortable in the interview and so it wasn't the usual awkward show plug from a television star who hasn't been in the public eye for long. He is probably the best out of the current hosts in terms of interviewing ability.

Anonymous said...

I loooooooooove Conan!! He is the best and I agree the second episode was much better!! I'm getting sick of people choosing sides- Leno or Conan. Like if you love Leno you can't like Conan....that's just dumb. Conan has been my fave for a long time and he probably always will be but I still like Leno and most of the other talk show hosts. I don't understand where all this competition is coming from with Leno and Conan....they're not even direct competitors in the same time slot. Just give Conan a chance!!!

Jake said...

Guests:

Tom Hanks
Norm MacDonald (the king)
Ricky Gervais
Kevin Smith
Don Rickles

If he was known at all in America, I'd nominate Stephen Fry. He is the perfect talk show guest: funny without making the interview all about him, always doing something interesting even when he's got nothing in T.V. or film, and blisteringly intelligent.

I loved Monday's show despite Ferrell being Ferrell and the mix on PJ sounding like an illegally leaked bootleg, but this was a major step up. The Twitter tracker was great (and Conan's reactions kept it from slipping into being too long), the monologue was funny and the Rodeo Road spree killed. And of course Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, and they seemed to have smoothed out the sound for Green Day. That's the Conan we know and love.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe nobody mentioned Robin Williams as one of the top 5 talk show guests. He's so hyperactively funny, running around and immitating accents and stuff.

Otto Man said...

I can't believe nobody mentioned Robin Williams as one of the top 5 talk show guests. He's so hyperactively funny, running around and immitating accents and stuff.

Ugh, no thanks. He's been doing the exact same schtick for decades now.

J.J. said...

Artie Lange has been a great guest.

He's funny and sloppy, and he's got great stories (which he's great at telling).

Elena said...

I'm not a habitual late night talk watcher, usually am sleeping. But had a tummy ache last night, so checked out Conan. Thought the Rodeo Rd. skit was hilarious, and nice to see acknowledgement that L.A. isn't all glitz, which is what I see reflected on most of these shows. Will definitely be taping some Conan, as hopefully I'll be back sleeping at 11:30 this evening.

John said...

Good to see Conan back as his old usual self. I was afraid it was gonna take a while after seeing the first show. Only real drawback is Andy Richter. They really need to find something better for him to do than laugh a little too loud at Conan's jokes. (The way Paul Schaffer does on Letterman) Put him in the couch next to Conan like in the old days.

I would love to see old time favorites Will Arnett and Stephen Colbert on the show.

Also I agree with dez about Ewan McGregor on Craig Ferguson. They have great talkshow chemistry. James McAvoy was pretty great too. Which brings me to guests I would like to see on Ferguson: David Tennant and Kelly MacDonald.

Craig said...

He's also much more self-deprecating than Leno was

How many of Leno's bits are about making fun of other people? Jaywalking (look at how stupid everyone is!) Headlines (people make silly typos!) Even those Ross the Intern bits were predicated on how gay he acts. Conan doesn't have to indulge in that sort of cheap crap, because Conan is actually funny, and people who are actually funny usually make themselves the butt of jokes before anyone else.

Thank God for Conan, the Tonight Show is watchable again.

Ben said...

I can't believe nobody has mentioned Martin Short as a Top Fiver. The story about Lucille Ball accusing him of kicking her airline seat will never - NEVER - get old.

I'd also put Jeff Goldblum on that list...a while back, Conan used to say "the eye goes to Goldblum," and he was exactly right. There is something so wildly compelling about him that I'd be happy to see him on every night.

Hopefully Conan will continue doing animal segments with Jarod Miller...those are very nearly as good as Dave's with Jack Hanna. The secret seems to be that the interplay between the two men must be as hilariously awkward as an exotic bird that craps on the desk.

Kent said...

Anonymous- As a 30 year old with a 22 year old fiance, I am perfectly aware that I am getting old. Believe me, if I ever forget, she's there to remind me.

But I don't know a single person younger than my parents (closing in on 60) that actively enjoy Leno and don't just tune in for something to watch because they aren't Letterman fans.

I do think it's partly a generational thing because nearly everyone I know that is around my age demographic loves Conan. And based on the purely anecdotal way my folks have gone from not enjoying him to being entertained by his work on Tonight and the way younger audiences continue to "discover" him without him losing his hipness, he could definitely be the successor to Carson in terms of multigenerational appeal.

Garrett said...

I haven't seen Wednesday night's episode yet, but I thought Tuesday made much better use of Andy despite not giving him that much more screen time.

Anonymous said...

The obvious answer to the top five talk show guests is Crispin Glover, Crispin Glover, Crispin Glover, Crispin Glover and Crispin Glover.

Jay Leno's material is condescending, insulting and very, very hacky. He was at one time a very good comedian. I think every night, he goes to his house and stares in the bottom of his sink for a few minutes. And then he realizes how rich he is and lives with himself.

When Fallon got the 12:30, I swore to myself that I would never watch it. I really didn't like a lot of his stuff on SNL. He relied on breaking the 4th wall (breaking up laughing) for laughs, which is as cheap as you can get. His dorm room webcam bit was okay but wore thin. I just never got the appeal. I gave Fallon a chance the other night because of Steve Martin. That celebrity impersonation on the street bit was brutal to watch. Fallon seemed so out of place standing to the side trying to act charming. The bit in itself is a decent idea; if Conan or Dave did it, it would have been terrific. Fallon just doesn't have it.

I wish Lorne went with an unknown entity at 12:30. The charm of Conan was watching him get his feet wet. The show wasn't good at first but getting to watch an unknown make his own show from the start was compelling. And then once he found the voice of the show, it just took off from there.

There's a NYC comedian who would be great at the 12:30 slot. His name is Dave Hill. He hosts a show called The Dave Hill Explosion at the UCB Theater which has a cult following. He also does a lot of celeb interview stuff. Someone like him should have gotten the role.

Conan at 11:30 is a lot like when he debuted at 12:30. He's out in LA and knows his audience is now at least a little different. But he's still pushing the envelope in terms of weirdness, which is great to see. Rodeo Rode was classic. His remotes have always been pretty brilliant. His monologues still stink, though.

LA said...

Hanks' In 'N Out riff was fantastic. I wonder if Conan is going to ask every LA-dwelling guest for local tips?

Brian said...

Martha Stewart and Regis Philbin are my favorite guests on Conan. Martha Stewart is hilariously serious and monotone in the face on Conan's absurdity, and Conan's always funny when dealing with Regis' enthusiasm. In fact, even hearing Conan talk about Regis is funny: "CO-nan!".

Anonymous said...

I thought Conan was good! He usually makes me laugh and he continues to do so. Tom Hanks is always a good guest to have.

I always found Leno boring and after going to a show of his, well, it didn't help my opinion of him any.

Anonymous said...

I still feel Conan isn't settled in yet -- the brilliant give and take with Andy is nowhere to be found, Conan is used to being his own timing now. I just saw his new "in the year 2000" and that was just unfinished jokes and bad timing and even camera work. In general, it feels like the jokes are laboring to get to the point, and often just feel TOO long without the payoff. Compare the Clutch-Cargo-style TV interviews skits to anything so far... they were fun. Triumph, again, always fun. This now, is always about "getting it" that they aren't so funny, or what... The opening monologs are endless, like 15 minutes?

One last thing about Jay: So much was written about why no one is writing on Jay's last show and his leaving the Tonight Show. But maybe because he was about the idea of an ensemble setting - I think that threw everyone. He was as good as his writers material - but that could be something incredibly adept at getting good laughs if the material was good. It was about the machine to a degree, and it being human. Conan ends up being alot of individualness, "human" as idiosyncratic, and if that isn't in good form night after night, no material can work. He can't grow up though, while Carson could. Jay wasn't required to because he chose to be a stand-up host, where the jokes should grow up. Jay's world view was quite social-oriented if you think about Jaywalking among others, he never took the opportunity for promoting himself in the last segment, but promoted the Union Shop production, the people who have worked for him, and chose as the shows legacy the budding generation to come, via the children born by virtue of Tonight Show employee couplings. I think that no one gave him the respect to have managed this many years without losing out somewhere to the crazy individual -- even if comedy requires it, reality requires a whole world view, and Jay's Tonight show had one that was not bad in the end. Conan is going to be odd at 55, a married guy talking with some young actor about meeting chicks and so on... it won't work that well and he will have to make a decision the way Letterman did too...

Anonymous said...

Many, many thanks to whoever posted Norm Macdonald. His appearances on Letterman, Dennis Miller Live and Conan -- especially the one with Courtney Thorne-Smith of Melrose Place -- are as good as it gets.

Jackie said...

I'm not sure if it was on this show or another one but I want to attest to the glamour-quality of the CA DMV photographs. I don't live there any more, but I moved to CA from NJ and the difference between the photos was just as striking as the difference between Conan's 2 driver's licenses. This tickled my fancy so much because it affirmed my own suspicion that CA truly glams its drivers' photos like nobody's business. In fact, if I could, I would use my CA driver's license photo for all of my default online pix.