An appraisal of Conan O'Brien at Just for Laughs | Bleader

An appraisal of Conan O'Brien at Just for Laughs

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Conan OBrien Chicago bobblehead just for laughs
Conan O'Brien began his four-night residency at the Chicago Theater last night, and editorial assistant/Tweetmaster Asher Klein and staff writer Kevin Warwick were there to take it all in. In this Gchat, they discuss the merits of Conan's style, Mayor Emanuel's guest appearance, and making fun of you, the average Chicagoan.

Asher: Kevin, thank you for joining me tonight for the Early Afternoon With Asher Klein Show! [hold for applause]

Kevin: Wow, that's how you're starting this. OK, I'll take it.

Asher: Hey, this whole endeavor is "Just for Laughs," amirite? OK, I'll stop. So. Conan. What was your first impression of the live experience?

Kevin: All in all, I thought it was fun. I mean, I've been a Conan fan since I was in undergrad in the early aughts, staying up every night to catch his opening bit and then falling asleep in some abnormal psychology text. So, it was cool to see him live, even though I can't fathom the ungodly amounts of makeup they cake on his face.

Asher: It's true, he really is made up. I went in expecting that, and maybe it's just the baseline pastiness of his skin, but it really looked like the makeup artist was laying it on thick. He's not at all a bad performer though, and it's tough, given the longish commercial breaks where he and Andy have to stand around looking awkward while the band plays. Even with all the makeup.

Kevin: Dude, he's a great performer. Sure, there are recycled bits of comedy that will last forever (e.g. the hip puppet strings), but Conan's honed his late-night show down into a pretty exact science of self-deprecation.

Asher: Oh man, the hip puppet strings! I've seen those forever, but wow, watching in person, that's something. You're right, it does feel a bit recycled, or maybe rehearsed, but there's nothing more Conan than that. The crowd went pretty nuts for it.

Kevin: The crowd would've laughed at him talking to a telephone pole. Wasn't it Steve Martin who stopped doing stand-up because the crowd was inevitably going to laugh at everything he said and that felt phony to him? It's become the same for Conan, but he works in television so it's pretty much the most perfect thing ever. But either way, when in doubt make fun of Chicago for being drunk and fat. That'll always get them. Oh, and Irish.

Asher: When you put it that way, I can see how Conan might look like the consummate performer—he does seem to have a real sense of duty to the audience, sticking around after the screening to take pictures and sign autographs. I don't know if humble perfectly encapsulates it, because he's also really aware of how he's interacting with his people, but I do like him for that. But as you know, I'm not the biggest Conan fan, and part of the reason is that compared to a Letterman or even, shudder, a Leno, his bits do all feel so hammy. I kind of like Letterman's dignity and command. There was a moment early on, I think right after the puppet strings bit, when he shouted out the 1908 Cubs, alienating half the crowd. OK, maybe half is generous, but I feel like he can't function if some people aren't jeering. (I'm not this snooty in real life, I swear.)

Kevin: Man, you are way too sensitive. Did you think that was offensive? You're not really a Chicagoan unless you can make fun of the Cubs. I mean, they haven't won a World Series since 1908, they should be a laughingstock. Were you offended by his jokes about Chicago as being fat and drunk? I wasn't. I've gained ten pounds since moving here. I drink way more than I used to. I can eat an entire Home Run Inn pizza in one sitting. It's just the nature of the beast.

Asher: It's not that he was making fun of the Cubs, it's that of course he ignored the Sox, who, if my meager baseball serves, have actually won the World Thingamajig not too long ago. That had to be what the booing was for, right? I mean, it was funny, I just think it's also a dick move to start your show off with.

Kevin: That was the booing. The audience was booing the Cubs, not Conan.

Asher: If I'm running a show, there's no booing allowed in the first few minutes. I'd hate to cause division when everyone's come to worship me. Anyway, what was your favorite part? I feel a bit like an institutional traitor, but mine was Rahm's surprise guest appearance.

Kevin: The clip of him accidentally kicking the Trinity dancer in the face while dressed up in a ridiculous getup and doing a mockery of Irish stepdancing. Definitely the best part. The entire trip to the Irish American Heritage Center was great. "Let's compare arm freckles."

Asher: That was a pretty legit place to go. Excellent work, location scouter. His tour of all the bars in the IAHC was priceless, too.

Kevin: Totally. Plus, a nice little clip of a Half Acre Daisy Cutter tap. That was nice. Obviously he's also going to call out tourist destinations like Lou Malnati's, Gino's East, and Harold's Chicken, so I'm glad we were given that.

Asher: I'm also glad he called out Harold's Chicken. I can never get enough of hearing people talk about that. How about the old woman showing him around the IAHC? She was adorable, and really game for all his jokes about Tay-to chips, despite what I detected was a natural Irish accent. How do Conan fans feel about his constant ribbing of his guests? He did it to the night's guest, Jack McBreyer, too.

Kevin: I find it playful and not threatening at all. Stop trying to get me to hate! Ain't gonna happen.

Asher: You'd never pass devil's advocate school. Kevin, we've forgotten to talk about the giant Conan Bobblehead, which I imagine is the art that accompanies the post.

Kevin: Am I being interviewed here? That bobblehead was incredible. Conan seemed in awe of it. I assume they'll be launching it over the State Street Bridge. Or did you guess that? I'm going to say it was me.

Asher: I hope the bobblehead sticks around Chicago for the summer, because Conan has every right to be in awe of it—it looked massive even next to his humongous frame. And it kept bobbling for, like, ever! I don't think it would've stopped if the stagehands hadn't pulled it off stage after a while. You could base some serious scientific research on that thing, Galileo-style. But after it hung out at, say, Millennium Park for a while, I'd want it to be launched over the bridge on Labor Day or something. The bridge-launching thing is brilliant.

Kevin: Thoughts on Rahm's appearance as the administrator of Conan's Chicago citizenship test? Kind of cocky, cheesing it up for the cameras, and doing his own comedy bits that were funnier to him. Oh wait, that all makes sense.

Asher: The only thing missing was a bit of ballet. The dude knows how to work a crowd for sure, though his timing could use some work. I think I noticed Conan coaching him to slow down toward the end. What was the best question Rahm asked Conan, do you think? I liked the twofer, "How many people are there in Chicago? (2.7 million) How many bars are there in Chicago? (4.7 million)"

Kevin: I'm upset there was no reference to The Fugitive in the test. That's a crucial piece of Chicago history. "What was the el stop that's heard in the background of one of Richard Kimble's phone calls?" "Merchandise Mart" That's some Chicago trivia!

Asher: Whoa. I think you're officially the man who knows most about Chicago. Move aside Conan. On a scale of one to five Vince Vaughns, where regardless of his knowledge of Chicago trivia Conan is a 15, how quality was Rahm's acting?

Kevin: Two Vince Vaughns and half of a Jim Belushi.

Asher: High praise indeed. Will you be tuning in tonight, tomorrow night, and Thursday for the rest of Conan's stay in Chicago?

Kevin: No, I have to go see other comedy shows. The Just for Laughs comedy fest is just too much of a gas to attend for one event!