When one of the biggest names in televised comedy goes on tour, it’s a rare opportunity to deliver the best material, with no censorship, night after night. Likewise, Conan O’Brien gave the packed Mohegan Sun Arena much more than an hour of stand-up. All of his old friends from late night helped out onstage: Andy Richter, the house band, even Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, via video.
But the night was a mix of older, favorite bits and new material. The show’s prelude was a video of the overweight, depressed O’Brien getting ready for a tour. He then walked out to a standing ovation, and, after a scream from a woman in the front row, he instantly improvised a joke – on fathering her child, years ago, in Uncasville, Connecticut. Richter narrated an innuendo-laden commercial for the area’s museum by the sea. Even Triumph’s video was obviously overdubbed to roast the region.
The tour marks a return to the edgy, absurd form, after NBC failed to turn O’Brien into the next Jay Leno, pressuring him to make his act more accessible, all in the name of matching his predecessor’s ratings. O’Brien jabbed Leno and his former network, putting on a show that was the opposite of the conservative vanilla that The Tonight Show became years ago. After a great rant on how he dealt with getting screwed, a video played of O’Brien playing a Dr. Evil-meets-Jeff Zucker network executive, hell-bent on ruining his former employee.
Deon Cole and opening act Reggie Watts supplemented the program with raunchy stand-up. Watts warmed up the crowd with his bizarre music, afro, and body language. He crooned a hilarious slow jam at the electric piano, and then replicated the Catholic mass ritual with his voice. Cole, on the other hand, almost stole the show with his monologue mid-program. He ad-libbed after asking the mostly white audience what they hate to do around black people, and had hilarious musings on race relations, sex, and bad comedians.
O’Brien himself was at his most ridiculous – jumping around in strobe lights, unveiling a giant inflatable bat, and even wearing a rhinestone jacket, and Eddie Murphy’s famous purple leather outfit. He even strapped on a guitar and jammed with the band a few times, something he rarely did on TV, first on the Elvis obscurity “Poke Salad Annie,” and later on “On the Road Again,” “Seven Nation Army,” “The Weight,” and the soulful rockabilly number “Forty Days.” It’s great to see him back in a loose setting where he can flourish. Here’s hoping TBS doesn’t make NBC’s mistake of toning him down.