Team Coco Goes Crazy at Conan O'Brien's Chicago Show
by Piet Levy, posted May 20th 2010 6:02PM
No city might be as Coco crazy as Chicago. Not only was there an actual protest in the city to support Conan O'Brien during that whole 'Tonight Show' debacle, students at Northwestern University gathered to collectively perform O'Brien's trademark string dance in solidarity. And when a pair of shows for the Chicago stop of his "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" went on sale, the shows immediately sold out.
So the expectations for the show's first night in Chicago May 19th were naturally huge – legions of fans showed their support with Conan T-shirts, and some people even tried to sell their own Team Coco shirts outside the theater until the cops busted up the operation. But leave it to the hysterically self-deprecating O'Brien to try to lower those enormous expectations. "I want you people to leave here tonight thinking, 'That was sort of worth it,'" O'Brien said, of course, to laughter, cheers and applause. And for the die-hard Coco cuckoos, it most definitely was.
The show came off as a looser, slightly more profane variation of 'Late Night' and O'Brien's 'Tonight,' with swinging band numbers subbing in for interviews. Yes, there was the string dance. O'Brien's TV sidekicks Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg and Andy Richter were there to steal some laughs.
O'Brien even brought back a couple of characters made popular on 'Late Night' – except now that they are the intellectual property of NBC, the infamous Masturbating Bear was now the "Self-Pleasuring Panda," and Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog was now "Triumph, the only dog in America not banged by Jesse James or Tiger Woods."
O'Brien has always been at his best when he's being down on himself; few comedians make misery so funny. The show kicked off with a hysterical video depicting O'Brien this past March – the first shot showed O'Brien bloated, a beard extending down his chest, lying on the floor surrounded by empty beer bottles and pizza slices. Cue Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" for a sidesplitting montage featuring O'Brien bouncing alone on a trampoline and putting peanut butter on his feet so his dog will lick his toes.
Throughout the night O'Brien continually hurled ridicule squarely at himself, directing attention to his non-existent butt ("You could iron a shirt on this ass") and likening his legs to "ivory Slim Jims."
He and Richter also unleashed the type of inspired, random bits of bizarre comic weirdness that makes them so loved – from unleashing a giant inflatable bat from Meat Loaf's 'Bat Out of Hell' tour that failed to overwhelm ("It looks like a hamster," O'Brien mocks), to singing an incomplete song about a beautiful woman who looks just like actor Conrad Bain (Phillip Drummond from 'Diff'rent Strokes'), to a return of a lever that cues up random clips from Chuck Norris' late cop show 'Walker, Texas Ranger.'
O'Brien catered to the Chicago crowd with jokes about Garrett Popcorn, Ed Debevic's and Boystown, talk of his summer in Wrigleyville back in 1988, and guest appearances from Chicago-raised stand-up and former "Tonight Show" writer Deon Cole, native born actor John C. Reilly and Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Aside from a few zesty bits, there weren't a whole lot of digs at NBC, or even much talk about his upcoming TBS show, although O'Brien did offer up a whiny, Jay Leno-like impersonation, although he insisted he was impersonating rapper Ludacris. Yet for the most part, O'Brien made his live show about the jokes and the fans. Because of them, O'Brien will never truly be all by himself.