In the 35th of 42 shows on his "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny" tour, Conan O'Brien finally came home.
Last week, the hipster television icon and Brookline native was back in Boston with nothing but respect and gratitude for the city he still refers to as his hometown.
O’Brien walked on stage wearing a Paul Pierce jersey over his shiny blue dress shirt.
“This town means the most to me on this tour,” he said. “I have over 300 family members in the audience tonight. I live in L.A. now, but this is how I dress.”
While every date in the traveling show provides the audience with a unique experience, this one was indeed a concentrated tribute to his hometown. Conan spent most of his monologue giving praise to our city the way that most comics do — by irreverently riffing on local stereotypes. “I miss Boston so much,” he said, “In L.A. I actually pay a guy to wear a Bruins jacket and call me a ‘queer.’”
O’Brien wasn’t just a world-famous comedian, but a funny friend reminiscing about old times. He seemed more down to earth and less cartoonish than his on-tube persona. His hair wasn’t as big. He didn’t appear to be wearing makeup. He was even growing a beard.
When he wasn’t joking about Boston, Conan dwelled heavily on being dropped from "The Tonight Show."
“I’ve been going to a therapist,” he said. “I learned that there are eight steps of recovery to losing a late night talk show.” According to O’Brien there’s " denial, " "blame yourself," "blame everyone else," "anger," "paranoia," "36 hours of Red Bull and Halo," "buy things Amazon.com says I might also like," and finally, "get yourself back to Boston."
Obviously and understandably bitter about being let go, O’Brien constantly spoke of the injustice and thanked the crowd for always being on his side through it all. Surely each night of the tour he vented the same frustration and received his the same response, but at home, the overwhelming response of the audience seemed to provide some sort of catharsis.
“I’ve done a lot of reflecting,” O’Brien said. “And the one thing I learned is I never want to reflect again. Don’t ever look back at your life. Push those feelings down and take them out on your kids. That’s what makes this country great.”
Before taking any comedic stabs at his former network, Conan noted that he was legally forbidden from doing certain things. Besides not being able to appear on television, radio or the internet until September, anyone with a likeness to him is also forbidden to appear. That includes “the Wendy’s Girl, Jimmy Neutron and Tilda Swinton,” he joked.
When Conan seemed to attempt a brief impression of his late night talk show usurper, O’Brien sidestepped the matter by telling the crowd and the possible lawyers present that he was actually impersonating the rapper Ludacris. Later in the show, he jumped through another legal loophole and presented the audience with something similar to the “Walker Texas Ranger Lever,” which he renamed the “Chuck Norris World Policeman Handle”.
To whatever degree these restrictions on O’Brien are fact or fiction, he was able to bring along some old sidekicks to join him in the show. Longtime co-host Andy Richter took the stage with his trademark innocence and lovable wit, while Triumph the Insult Comic Dog appeared in a pre-taped telecast providing the show with its raunchiest moments and heartiest laughs.
Conan didn’t disappoint when it came to his trademark dance moves and often highlighted his own physical awkwardness, especially after appearing in a replica suit from Eddie Murphy’s "Raw." But the show wasn’t about sticking to his old tricks. Taking a step back from his traditional talk show format, Conan’s live show focused mostly on his other love — music. Relying heavily on musical comedy and wielding a baby blue Fender guitar, Conan opened with a blues ditty about his “tough” childhood in a privileged family. He later reworked “On the Road Again”, adding the line, “I just can’t wait to have a show again.”
Even the special guests of the evening followed suit. Ed Helms, formerly of the “Daily Show,” star of "The Hangover" and fixture on “The Office,” used his brief stage time to play Conan a song on an electric piano about how bad the show had been thus far. The Dropkick Murphys performed their gritty hit “I'm Shipping Up to Boston" as Conan stepped back to play rhythm backup guitar. The night also ended in song with Conan doing a rendition of “I Will Survive,” in the more contemporary minor key style made famous by the band Cake.
It wasn’t exactly the show many thought they would see, but Conan seemed right at home on stage, and maybe that’s because he was — in more ways than one.
“In all my years, I’ve never done a show like this here, ever.”