Last night marked the second of Conan O'Brien's two sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall and the culmination of his triumphant return to New York City. As Conan said early in his monologue, he had counted the paces from Radio City to NBC headquarters at 30 Rock (right around the corner) and determined we were all sitting 200 feet from where he used to work five nights a week as the host of Late Night. The crowd gamely booed at the mention of NBC, the arch villain of all Team Coco members. One image that was clearly unique to the New York show was a shot of the famous marquee, with the TBS logo instead of NBC.
The theme of the night was without a doubt Conan's rejection by NBC. And while he did devote a good deal of his monologue to running through his unique 8 stages of mourning and calling out people who inexplicably still get to be on TV (like the Cake Boss, who got some cheers from the bridge and tunnel crowd), I didn't feel that the bitterness went too far.
For the most part, the show was a chance for Conan to have some fun with his unique situation (of being "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television") and revisit his most classic and beloved bits. Of course, Andy Richter was there to play a similar role that he played on TV as Conan's sidekick, making quippy remarks throughout the night. Our old friend the masturbating bear made a brief appearance, before he was replaced by the "self-pleasuring panda" to avoid stepping on NBC's property.
The same issue arose with my favorite recurring sketch, the "Walker, Texas Ranger Lever," which was renamed the "Chuck Norris, Rural Policeman Handle." Eli Manning and John Krasinski both stopped by to help pull the lever. I appreciated it when John Krasinski mentioned that he and Conan are both from Massachusetts and would probably get in trouble for associating with a New York Giant. Conan made sure to take the job himself of pulling the lever for the final, ultimate clip that we all knew was coming. As many times as I had seen it before, there was something special about being in a room with thousands of other people when a young Haley Joel Osment said "Walker told me I have AIDS."
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog showed up as well, though on screen, not in person. The reason for this choice (besides Robert Smigel's availability) became apparent when we realized what they were up to. They recorded one version of Triumph's message for all of the cities on the tour, then dubbed references about New York (ie. "One time I took a poop on 'Broadway' street".) The crowd ate up the in-jokes as if Triumph were actually in the room making them.
The undisputed highlight of the night came from the most unexpected guest, Pee-wee Herman, who appeared as Conan's "assistant." Pee-wee's in town to promote his Broadway show, which is playing for 6 weeks starting in October. In Pee-wee's words, "I hope you all get a ticket. If you can get a ticket!" It took the audience a few moments to realize that it was really him, but once he started interacting with the crowd, there was no doubt. Pee-wee concluded his appearance with a extended balloon trick that you have to see to understand how funny it was. On paper, it may not top the previous night's Stewart/Colbert dance-off, but I wouldn't have wanted to miss it.
The final special guest of the night was Max Weinberg, of Conan's former band the Max Weinberg 7. It was great to see the two of them back together again, after he neglected to be part of the short-lived Conan Tonight Show. For the encore, the band played a singalong version of The Band's "The Weight," which ended with Conan walking through the audience, shaking hands, hugging fans, and even giving some love to the mezzanine. In the end, Conan over-delivered on his promise that the show would be "sorta worth it."
CORRECTION: Max Weinberg was in Conan's Tonight Show band, it just wasn't called the Max Weinberg 7 anymore. Thanks observant commenter for the heads up.