Conan O'Brien's new and temporary (now that he's officially got a new TV gig on TBS) career as a touring comedian launched in the college town of Eugene, Oregon, on Monday night. MTV News was on hand for the proceedings — a Self-Pleasuring Panda, a performance by Spoon, the chants of "Conan! Conan!" at every turn — and declared the evening a "part rock, part late-night variety show" that highlighted O'Brien's "fighting attitude."
That seemed to be the prevailing impression of Coco's inaugural outing in his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour: a welcome return from a beloved comedy icon, one not always tight and LOL-inducing, but which any fan of the guy would kill to check out.
"It was plain that this was the first stop on the tour, and cast and crew were getting a feel for what worked and what didn't," wrote Kristi Turnquist of The Oregonian. "At times, the show seemed to cheerfully roll around like an out-of-control soccer ball. But O'Brien and crew always managed to bring it back from the 'where-is-this-going?' episodic brink. The proceedings could stand some tightening and trimming — Conan, we know you love that guitar, but a few of those songs should probably go — but everybody was giving it their all."
And the whole production seemed to be channeling the Coco of old, that unscripted goofball who first popped up on NBC in the early '90s — perhaps giving us a hint of what the new TBS show might feel like. "The vibe was much more 'Late Night' than 'Tonight Show,' with Conan strolling on stage looking like a paler, redheaded Barry Gibb, complete with full beard, no tie, and the top two buttons undone on his shirt," wrote Rolling Stone's Scott Sepich. "The content of the show occasionally strayed to places he's never gone on TV, with a smattering of profanities tossed in to give the show an edgier feel."
Edgy it may have been, but unwaveringly hilarious it was not (which, in all fairness, is asking a little much from Team O'Brien on Day One). As Erik Pedersen of The Hollywood Reporter said, "[The] 110-minute variety show was consistently amusing but only occasionally riotous and sometimes flat. ... The comedy was hit and miss, slowing significantly during the second hour after opening with a spirited band jam and a funny taped bit about O'Brien getting the call to work again. O'Brien was comfortable onstage, doing some of his familiar wacky gesticulations and nerdy dances."
So there were highs, there were lows, but through it all, there was Coco. And it was his mere presence — the simple fact that he was back in public doing what he was born to do — that was the true payoff, for him and the audience. "Throughout the spectacle of silliness, there was genuine glee and gratitude," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Dan Snierson. " 'The support that I got from people just like you has meant everything to me,' gushed O'Brien. 'I'll never forget it as long I live, and I just wanted to say that.' He then launched into an altered cover of Cake's cover of Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive,' a song he said that 'has had real meaning to me these last three and a half months.' Based on the emphatic embraces he received from the audience as he victory-lapped through the aisles during the encore, that seemed pretty darn accurate, if not an understatement."
Are you planning to see Conan O'Brien on tour? What are you most looking forward to seeing? Share your thoughts in the comments.