If this week’s series of “Conan” episodes from New York’s Beacon Theater have proven anything, it’s this: Conan O’Brien never should have taken “The Tonight Show.” Because he and his staff had to uproot their families and move to LA to do “Tonight,” they couldn’t really go back to New York when the NBC situation blew up in their faces. So for the last year, “Conan” has been coming to us from a studio on the Warner Brothers lot, and something has always felt missing about it. Now we know what it is: New York edginess.
Last night’s final New York episode was jam-packed with Big Apple attitude, from the appearance of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in the audience, to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog‘s reporting from the Occupy Wall Street protests, to Louis C.K. talking about why he hates Twitter so much.
Then you had the sweet icing on the snarky cake: Conan presiding over the wedding of his costume designer, Scott Cronick, to Scott’s partner, David Gorshein. Sure, this might have been a bit of a ratings stunt, but there was a purpose to it: Scott and David are still not allowed to get married in California, where the show is shot. But even if they did, though, no LA soundstage would be able to recreate the vibe in that theater, with Andy Cohen walking Cronick down the aisle, and Will Forte as Ted Turner taking the couple out of the theater on a big fake buffalo.
This entire week has shown that, no matter how enthusiastic the LA crowds are, there’s something about the energy from a New York crowd that gets Conan fired up. He’s an east coast guy, after all, who grew up in Boston, one of the few cities whose people have an even sharper edge than New Yorkers have. Something about their immediate need to be entertained, their ability to never cut even their favorite performers any slack, feeds Conan’s soul in a way that the laid-back California crowd doesn’t. Even if the crowd was full of tourists, there was enough New York in there to make a palpable difference.
His interaction with New York at large seems to fit Conan better, too, as the pre-taped bits showed. He’s back-and-forth with the crusty owner and jaded customers of Joe’s Pizza showed a man who’s comfortable in his environment. And when he spent a day as a Chinese food delivery boy, he took advantage of the cityscape like only a person who’s been there for 20 years could — we especially liked when he climbed to the first-floor window of ab attractive woman who called to him and had tea with her.
Now “Conan” goes back to LA and back to the grind of talking to Hollywood celebs (Adam Sandler is his guest on Monday) and trying to wring some funny out of his back lot environment. After this triumphant return to New York, he’s going to need a lot of luck and skill to pull it off.
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