Conan is heading north of the border as he takes his show to Toronto this week. The award-winning late-night show is in its tenth season with NBC and, for the first time, is taking its act on the road. Packing everything up and treading to Canada in the middle of winter is something that seems illogical, but O’Brien appears to have quite an entertaining plan in mind. Tuesday night’s show opened with a thunderous ovation as Conan eventually had to scream for the crowd to sit down and tried to reason with all the applause by dealing with the acclaim as he usually does: completely making fun of himself and the show, saying; “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but the show is going to start now.”
The packed crowd at the historic Elgin Theatre remained rowdy throughout but served as a nice change of pace to the ho-hum New York studio audience. The show’s two sketches poked fun at Canada and Conan, as one featured Conan playing hockey with members of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the other, titled “Canadian small talk,” featured bandleader Max Weinberg.
In addition to the trademark characters such as the masturbating bear, the coked-up werewolf and the infamous cactus wearing a chef’s hat while playing “We Didn’t Start the Fire” on the flute, O’Brien will also host several A-list comedy superstars. Mike Myers and comedian Ron James are Canadians that made an appearance Tuesday, in addition to American comic legends Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, who will appear later this week. This lineup of satirical talent on one show all in one week will live up to potential for some of Conan’s best episodes in recent memory.
Canada, especially Toronto, has a rich history of producing comedic masterminds that date back to John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, and continues today with stars like Mike Myers. Toronto also has one of the world’s premier comedy theatres in “Second City-Toronto” (where the comics and “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels all got their starts), and neighbor Vancouver hosts one of the most prestigious stand-up comedy festivals in show business every year. Look for Conan to employ a few guest writers from these various Canadian comedy staples. The show may subsequently have a slightly different feeling but should be exciting to watch.
Besides producing great comedy, Canada is also known (with apologies to Rush) for producing terrible music. Those who tune into “Late Night” for the musical talent will have to look elsewhere this week. So far Canadian acts Nickelback and the Barenaked Ladies have been booked to perform, along with what will surely be a piss-poor lineup of stale adult contemporary music. One can only hope that Celine Dion will continue to build upon her colossal ego and pass.
O’Brien’s road trip to Toronto also adds to his legacy of satirical innovation. A Harvard graduate and two-time president of the nationally prestigious comedy magazine “Harvard Lampoon,” Conan has been utilizing his intelligence and natural quick wit to produce superior satire in the two decades since his debut in the business as a writer for HBO’s “Not Necessarily the News.” He then moved on to write for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and later took a job as head writer for Fox’s mega-successful “The Simpsons” before getting the nod to host his late-night talk show for NBC. The show struggled in its early years, as Conan and since-departed co-host Andy Richter often presented humor that didn’t always connect with their audience. After a few slow years, the show found its own unique identity with its audience (ranging from middle-school kids laughing at the masturbating bear while simultaneously trying to understand the monologue and sketches, to graduate students looking for some comic relief) and has enjoyed critical and commercial praise ever since.
O’Brien’s Toronto experiment should deliver some high-quality laughs, but it also runs the risk of falling flat on its face and losing its comedic individuality. If Tuesday night’s show was any indication, “Late Night” should deliver an energetic atmosphere with a unique live-show feeling all week. Whatever happens, it’s only happening for a week and should be more exciting than watching David Letterman and Paul Schaffer giggle and mumble about nothing, Jay Leno and Kevin Eubanks laughing at each other for no apparent reason in 10-second increments, or listening to Craig Kilborn namedrop for an hour.