Conan VI: What? Harrison Ford is funny?

You know that life is odd when Harrison Ford is the funniest guy on a show.

It turned out that way on tonight's "Conan." Ford worked that dry-and-dour image to perfection, drawing some huge laughs. By comparison, host Conan O'Brien had a mixed night and comedian Reggie Watts drew no crowd reaction during his first couple minutes, before finally catching on.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the sixth night of "Conan"; please add yours:

1) For his monologs, O'Brien is very smart, but not very agile. With his rowdy audience, simple gags work better than brainy ones. One that worked: "New research shows that Neanderthals lived fast and died young. So don't expect a third season of 'Jersey Shore.'" One that should have, but didn't: For the first time, Chinese TV had a woman discussing the fact that her son is gay. "Unfortunately, all the woman said was, 'It's still better than having a daughter.'"

2) Since O'Brien is no stand-up master, we expect him to make up for it with offbeat films. There was a prime example tonight, pretending to be a "Conan" promo aimed at black viewers. It was fresh, clever and beautifully filmed.

3) The show's first try at "product integration" was mis-handled. Sure, it's nice to give away 20 free cars and to give Chevrolet a plug. Even with humor inserted, it shouldn't have been an entire segment.

4) Then Harrison Ford arrived -- terse, taciturn, mono-syllabic ... and oddly funny. O'Brien handled it perfectly.

5) Yes, that means a Ford was much funnier than some Chevys. Go figure.

6) Rosario Dawson was fine. By second-guest standards, she was excellent.

7) I like the notion of sometimes having a stand-up comedian instead of a music act. Oddly, O'Brien's first two comics have been so-so. Watts eventually recovered with some offbeat music; prior to that, however, this was the uncomfortable experience of watching a comedian talk for a couple minutes with the audience being (understandably) silent.

8) Speaking of music guests, there's been a quick change. Kid Rock had been announced for Wednesday; it would have been the perfect way to end a show that starts with Russell Brand. Now, alas, he's out and it will be music by The 88.









Conan V: Settling for sorta-good

Maybe this is all we can expect from Conan O'Brien's new show -- something light and sorta-fun, easy to watch and easy to forget.

The second week began tonight and O'Brien seemed to be settled into his zone of OK-ness.

The problem is that O'Brien isn't a stand-up comedian and often does only a brief stand-up bit. His mind leans toward odd little bits and pieces, often visual.

For the third time in five nights, he's done a humor bit with the fake moon in the back of the set. Tonight, he also celebrated the arrival of the Conan blimp and borrowed a fake red beard from an audience member.

Such things offer nice little surprises and laughs, but O'Brien also needs bigger bits that sustain the fun. Tonight, a TSA agent borrowed an audience member to demonstrate the new airport pat-down techniques. The "agent: was an actor in disguise, and did well; the audience member was, alas, an audience member, and his grins and laughter took away some of the humor.

To really sustain the fun, however, O'Brien needs to have a funny first guest. He's had that twice, with Seth Rogen and Tom Hanks; he should have that again Wednesday, with Russell Brand.

Tonight, however, the guests -- LL Cool J and B.J. Novak -- were pleasant without being more. Only the music act (Sharon Jones) was exceptional.

It was a fairly enjoyable show, which might be enough to please the people at TBS. O'Brien joked that they said the show is "not just good, but 'According to Jim' good. In they're world, that's good."

Maybe. But after all that fuss, we're still hoping "Conan" will be great. For now, it's merely good enough for a cable channel that has reruns of "According to Jim."


"SNL": Life in reverse (almost)

For a while, I thought this was going to be a backward "Saturday Night Live": The sketches were funnier than "Weekend Update."

Then things returned to normal:

1) Seth Meyer closed "Update" with a classic joke: The first Starbucks-at-sea has just opened on a cruise ship, he said. "And somehow, there's already a homeless guy in the bathroom."

2) Then the sketches went sour. There was a repetitious and wretched bit that mostly had a guy with a broken knee falling down. There was also a one-note pseudo-message from cook Paula Deen.

Still, the music (from Arcade Fire) was sharp and the early sketches were first-rate. An "Unstoppable" take-off was fresh and funny; so was the opener, with the head of China constantly hitting Barack Obama up for the $800 billion his country is owed by the U.S.

Scarlett Johansson, the host, delivered her monolog poorly, but that led into a dandy (and timely) update of the song "Class." Things thrived for a while, then "Update" slumped a bit. (It had one other great gag, when Meyer read a statistic that 17 per cent of auto accidents are caused by driver drowsiness, then concluded: "The blood is on your hands, 'Prairie Home Companion.'"

Then everything kept going downhill -- until a happy surprise, near the end of the show: It pretending to have two girls -- perky, white and 11 years old -- doing scenes from "On the Waterfront," "Color Purple" and even "Brokeback Mountain." It was a great bit, near the end of mixed show.

Conan's week: An overview

Now it's pause-and-reload time for Conan O'Brien.


If you've read my previous blogs, you know I thought it was an up-and-down first week for "Conan." Now here's an overall commentary that I sent to papers; it repeats some of the points (and some of O'Brien's jokes) from the blogs, but also ties things together.

Here it is -- please add your comments -- and I'll be blogging anew on the second week. Meanwhile, I'm also reading "The War For Late Night," the terrific new book by "Late Shift" author Bill Carter. More on that when I finish:


On the first day of his new life, Conan
O'Brien talked about his odd transition.

Once called “the new king of late
night” by NBC, he'd gone to TBS, an oft-overlooked cable channel.

“It's not easy being on a channel
without a lot of money, that the viewers have trouble finding,”
O'Brien said. “So thats why I left NBC.”

On the fourth day of his new life, he
brought other basic-cable stars to welcome him. There was Bruce
Jenner from “The Kardashians,” an angry hoarder and some monster
crabs from “Deadliest Catch.”

Both bits helped mock the bizarre move.
Once a star at the former home of Johnny Carson, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill
Cosby and Bob Hope, O'Brien was in a basic-cable world filled with
hoarders, bounty-hunters, pawn shops, pitbulls, tattoo artists and
sexy rich kids.

“I have dreamed of being a
basic-cable talk show host ever since I was 46,” deadpanned
O'Brien, 47.

Now “Conan” returns Monday with LL
Cool J; the week ranges from Harrison Ford to Russell Brand.

That makes this a good time to look
back at that first week. Here's one view of how it went:

– Monologs: These have never been a
strong point for O'Brien, who wasn't a stand-up comic.

At first, his only sharp lines involved
his new status. He had named the show “Conan” because “that
would make me harder to replace.” Other proposed titles included
“Plan B With Conan O'Brien.”

It wasn't until the fourth night that
he reminded us he can whip out sharp monolog jokes.

Prince William reportedly has a
fiancee, he said. Until now, her title was “peasant with benefits.”

California had been named one of the
states with the lowest intelligence. Residents were angered by this,
“once it was slowly explained to them.”

And Wolf Blitzer had accepted a “Soul
Train” award for Eminen. It was the show's “prestigious All You
White Folks Look the Same to Us award.”

– Other humor pieces: The long,
opening-night film was masterful. Another film, visiting the show's
actual censor, was OK; so was a bit with O'Brien and Andy Richter
giving a generic local newscast.

O'Brien also likes quick, one-laugh
bits, some involving his ocean mural. One night, Tom Hanks was
sprayed; another, the Carnival cruise ship sank. These were quick and

– Sidekick: As the one true sidekick
on latenight TV, Richter is helpful with quick one-liners.

Hanks, for instance, explained that in
his new movie he's an out-of-work community-college student, Julia
Roberts is his teacher and “you can guess the rest.” So Richter
guessed: “She's a vampire?”

– Guests: “Conan” works well when
the first guest keeps the humor flowing. The first two nights, Seth
Rogen and Hanks were excellent; the next two, Jon Hamm and Michael
Cera struggled. The second week's most promising moment is Wednesday,
with Russell Brand.

The problem came with the second
guests. Only Julie Bowen was at ease and entertaining. The others –
Lea Michele, Jack McBrayer, Charlyn Yi – were mostly scattered and

– Music: This is an O'Brien strong
point. His band is excellent; so were the first-week guests – Jack
White, Soundgarden and Fistful of Mercy.

For the second week, it had sounded promising to have Kid Rock on Wednesday; alas, that has now been changed to The 88.

Also, some nights have a comedian instead
of music. Jon Dore was OK; coming Tuesday is Reggie Watts.

– Overall: “You have taken the
chat-show format and blown it out of the water,” Hanks said.

That was a joke that O'Brien chose to
ignore. He has kept the talk format unchanged, simply making it a tad
quicker, more youthful, more Conan-esque. It's pretty good now and
could get a lot better.

– “Conan,” 11 p.m. Mondays
through Thursdays, TBS; George Lopez follows at midnight.

– Guests: Monday: LL Cool J, B.J.
Novak, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings; Tuesday, Harrison Ford,
Rosario Dawson, Reggie Waltz; Wednesday, Russell Brand, author Susan
Casey, The 88; Thursday, Jesse Eisenberg, Venus Williams, The


Conan IV: The week ends well

OK, it turns out that Conan O'Brien still remembers how to deliver a full comedy monolog.

Prince William reportedly has a fiancee, he said. Until now, she's been known as "peasant with benefits." This was the start of a blitz of mostly-clever gags ... some done alongside a tiny box showing Kanye West rambling on and on during a news conference.

That was followed by a bit in which O'Brien and Andy Richter delivered a generic local newscast. This was going to be a good hour, no matter what else happened.

That's fortunate, because the first guest (Michael Cera) had a horrible time telling a light story. Things were better when Julie Bowen ("Modern Family") arrived, telling a funny story that included Cera. Instead of a music guest, the hour ended with a mixed (but sometimes quite good) stand-up bit by Jon Dore.

That added up to a lot of laughs in 60 minutes. After a couple so-so nights, "Conan" was back to the fun of its debut.