Conan eases back into late night with The Tonight Show
by Danny Gallagher, posted Jun 2nd 2009 2:47AM
Conan O'Brien's return to late night television as the fifth host of NBC's The Tonight Show (six if you count comedy genius Ernie Kovacs) felt like a jogger who is pacing himself for a long marathon.
That might sound like a bad review. But compare that to Conan's constant high energy Late Night and that makes The Tonight Show a Jack Russell Terrier on at least three Starbucks espressos.
Conan put aside the puppets and characters for his opening night on the Universal Studios lot for a very enjoyable transition to the new Tonight Show that's sure to get better in the months and years to come.
The opening sketch for Conan's first show was just about perfect for his first foray into late night at 11:30 p.m. Conan realizes he's done everything to prepare for his new show except move to L.A. and begins a mad dash across the country. It did a great job of setting the tone for the style of his show, the sparkle of his humor and the unexpectedness his type of talk show brings, and above all else, it was damn funny.
The monologue had a few chortlemakers, but didn't hit a homer out of the park with every swing. That's because the first show aimed to focus on getting Conan and company set up in their new digs and less on topicality and ripping the headlines a new one. The funniest parts were the interchanges between Conan and his new announcer/old sidekick Andy Richter. It was great to see Andy back on late night television and with Conan. The two have a sense of timing together that almost feels telepathic. If one of them turned out to be a ventriloquist dummy and the other their puppet master, it would not surprise me in the slightest. It would creep the hell out of me, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Then as Conan mentioned in his previous interviews, he got down to work and started playing around with the various foils and targets that L.A. has to offer a comedian. He took over a Universal Studios tram tour that led to probably the funniest Octomom joke I've heard all week. His trip through Tinseltown in a beat-up Ford Taurus was hit or miss, but mostly hits that delivered right crosses of funny with every swing.
Then Will Ferrell took to the stage and they could not have picked a better guest to introduce L.A. and the world to the new Tonight Show. Ferrell might be on a junket tour for Land of the Lost, but he easily has some of the most memorable and funniest guest appearances on Conan's old show -- from his thong sporting reenactment of the famous Patton speech to his conducting an entire interview in his comical Robert Goulet persona. No one else could get away with singing a goodbye tribute on Conan's first show.
The whole night was an evening of smart moves for Conan's first show. It set the tone for the humor and style perfectly without giving the audience too much of what they really wanted, but did not sacrifice the wit or comedy that his audiences crave. That means it can only get better from here, and here's hoping that Conan has just as long of a run, if not longer, than Leno's and Johnny Carson's stay on The Tonight Show.