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April 21, 2014

Conan might be over-polishing his edges on The Tonight Show

by Joel Keller, posted Jun 3rd 2009 11:29AM
Conan on June 2 Tonight ShowI don't know about you folks, but I never look at the first episode of any new late-night talk show as a good indication of how a host is going to start out. Why? Everything's new and shiny and there's a big introduction and everyone's nervous, that's why. It's the second night, when things are settling down into more of a routine, that I pay more attention to.

And after watching the second night of Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show, I'm getting worried that, despite all his assurances to the contrary, Conan is too busy easing up on his edginess to make good comedy.

As annoying as Conan's manic side could be at times -- inserting himself into interviews, being self-deprecating at all times -- it somehow worked for him. Seeing him walk out, jump on his star on the floor, spin, then do the string dance was always fun to watch. Last night, Conan came out and did a tiny hop on the star and a half-assed string dance, almost afraid to do the full routine because it's undignified for the Tonight Show host to do something like that.

During the monologue, something else felt like it was missing, and it was hard to place until they flashed over to a shot of LaBamba staring in amazement at one of the bits. It was those momentary flashes over to the band -- LaBama's looks, Max's dead stares -- that made the monologue work on many nights. Right now, they're using asides like that very sparingly, as if Conan and his writers want to ease people into the idea of him being host before unleashing the wackiness.

If I were to put a finger on it, that's precisely the problem I'm noticing: the signature Conan silliness isn't there just yet. Even in places where they tried to replicate the vibe of the old Late Night -- Conan's shopping spree on Rodeo Road in South Central, the Twitter Tracker bit -- the bits ran too long and weren't as funny as they could have been.

Hopefully, as time goes on, Conan will reincorporate some of his throwaway bits, like the guy who says everything is "somthing-tastic!" And I hope he'll also incorporate his signature desk bits like "If They Mated" and "Celebrity Survey." He also needs to reincorporate some of the surreal bits that he's known for, even if they're new. Maybe soon-to-be-Justice Sotomayor reading Cat in the Hat while in a dunk tank or something.

As we've seen for the last sixteen years, a subdued Conan isn't the funniest Conan. And if for some reason he feels like he needs to tamp down some of his and the show's silliness to build his audience, he'll lose a lot of his original audience. He just needs to be himself, and he'll get the audience.

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gt

the asain lady to max was awesome. i really liked the twitter segment too but the audience didnt seem to get into it. i think twitter might be out of reach for the older crowd he probably gets now.

but i disagree that by show 2 he should be back to his old self. he'll be playing it safe for weeks to come, and just keep his loyal viewers by doing 5 seconds worth of his old schtick string dance and la bamba shots.
i'm disappointed andy hasnt played a bigger role but i dont expect him to until the second week.

June 03 2009 at 4:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gt's comment
David

Funny you mention Andy playing a bigger role... i predict he'll be off the show by year 2. Again.

:)

June 03 2009 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chas Winterbottom

Really? You're getting nervous because Conan's hop wasn't high enough and his string dance wasn't long enough?

This is how we should judge the quality of TV show? Dear god...

Are people really thinking, "well if Conan's hop was just two inches higher then my faith in the show will be restored"?

June 03 2009 at 3:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Chas Winterbottom's comment
Joel Keller

Yes, it was because of the size of his hop. I spent five hundred words talking about the hop. It was all about the hop. Jeez....

June 03 2009 at 7:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Johnny

I prefer to look at the good side. Having Andy back in the monologue really freshens it up.

Also, the Hanks interview was great. The meteor = awesome.

June 03 2009 at 2:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bob Sassone

I'm just happy that Conan is walking on stage like a normal human being instead of being so self-conscious and quirky by fussing with his jacket, moving about, and jumping and twirling and pointing. I hope he completely stops doing all that on Tonight (as well as his cutting the string bit - God that's old.)

June 03 2009 at 2:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Thomas

What irritated me was that on the first night he did the whole "it's beginning to sound angry now" bit when the applause went on. He does it all the time and always in a way that doesn't somehow acknowledge that he says it all the time, as if it's supposed to be new. It just feels stale to me to use the same line (without it being a catchphrase or something) all the time, especially on the first night of a new show.

June 03 2009 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ac

I'm waiting out for a Tonight Show Small Talk Moment.

June 03 2009 at 1:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
smacksmackums

Things I want to see:
Year 2000
Staring Contest
Kids Drawings
If They Mated
Masturbating Bear

I agree that it's been pretty tame so far. I don't know why he would tone anything down though. It's not like he's on daytime now. He's still on at 11:30 at night and why would the Tonight Show need to be serious? Does he want to be Larry King or Charlie Rose? C'mon.

June 03 2009 at 1:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hargreae

I completely disagree. I'm tired of the old Conan bits like the string dance. I want to see new, fresh things. Moving to The Tonight Show is an opportunity to leave the tired, old bits behind and start new things.

June 03 2009 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

Um, he has a tough challenge to figure out. How does he be himself while, at the same time, keeping the Tonight Show audience that Jay left him? The two audiences have a large generation gap, and I dont think there's a comedian outside of Johnny himself who could bridge that gap with ease.

It's going to take him a year or two to find his stride, in my opinion.

June 03 2009 at 12:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jay

Well, first things first. If you saw some of the final episodes of Late Night back in Feb., they showed VERY OLD clips from the mid to late 90's. It helped me remember just how edgy and racy it was back then. So in some ways, Conan has been toned down for a few years.

I believe he will have somebody else experiment with the edgy material to help break the ice.

I believe he is going to have Triumph the Insult Comic Dog attack first. You can't get mad at a puppet, especially Triumph.

June 03 2009 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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