First off, it’s no secret that I love me some Conan. He initially rose to power right around the time I started to really figure out what I thought was funny and I’ve always really loved his absurd sense of humor. Over the years I’ve come to respect him even more as I’ve realized just how talented the man really is. If you didn’t know, he’s responsible for “Marge vs. the Monorail”, one of the single best episodes of “The Simpsons” ever. Over the last two years, I’ve actually seen Conan 6 times…for one reason or another. It started with a chance meeting with him after SF Aids Walk a few years ago. A friend and I saw him in the ferry building and I mumbled a few words about where we worked and pointed to my AIDS Walk shirt. He couldn’t have been nicer and posed for a picture with my friend. Then last year on the Friday before Halloween, I got tickets to “The Tonight Show” and made my first trip to LA to see his show. A few months and a few boneheaded network TV execs later, I ended up seeing both his SF and San Jose stops on the Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television tour. Then a few months back, I got to sit in the third row of a live interview he did with Patton Oswalt and Andy Richter for SF Sketchfest. That’s 5 Conan experiences….today was number 6.
Somehow, I was lucky enough to get 4 tickets to today’s very first test screening of Conan O’Brien’s new TBS show lovingly entitled “Conan”. Two friends and I took and early flight from the Bay Area to Burbank this morning and drove to Conan’s new home at the WB studios and it was totally worth waking up early for. Out of respect for the show and the writers (who’ve obviously been chomping at the bit during their unexpected break) I’m not going to talk about many specifics of the show. I will, however, say that the difference between tonight’s test show of “Conan” and the taping of “The Tonight Show” that I saw last year was obvious. When Conan left “The Tonight Show” 9 months ago, he did it after a week of self-declared “having fun on television”, something that it didn’t seem like he was having a lot of when I saw the show tape in October. Between segments that night, I remember Conan standing with his arms crossed as a gaggle of suits (some producers and a few guys who had ‘NETWORK’ written all over them) seemed to be dissecting everything and trying to give him notes on how to improve. Tonight, both when the cameras were rolling and when they weren’t, Conan and crew seemed to be having a really great time doing their show. Does it help that a bit of the network TV pressure is off? I’m sure. But this was more about a guy who’s found his voice, knows his audience and is ready to do what he does best every night: have fun on TV.
Just because it was a test show doesn’t mean that things weren’t awesome. Tonight’s guests were Jack McBriar from “30 Rock”, Mary Lynn Rajskub from “24″ and her one woman show “Mary Lynn Spreads Her Legs” and comedian Brendon Walsh. They were all great guests and they really seemed to be enjoying their time even though the episode will never see the light of day. Props, as always, go out to Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable band who know how to get things started and keep energy high between segments.
My favorite part about the whole experience though was seeing so many of the same faces working on the new show. From Jimmy Pardo and Andy Richter to the same stage manager and executive producer, Conan’s loyalty is a rarity in show business that deserves to be commended.
It’s been a long 9 months since we saw a giant pale red head do the string dance on TV but that wait is almost over. And if what we got to see tonight at Test Show #1 is any indication, Conan’s ready to come out swinging for the fences.