If there are bags under my eyes, you can probably blame them on Conan O'Brien -- him, and 5:45 a.m. weekday reveille to take my kids to school. If I'm really using my brain, I tape (no TiVo, yet) Late Night with Conan O'Brien. But either way, I try not to miss it. So, for this trip to NYC, I called ahead to get a ticket to a taping.
Truth be told, knowing I'd only have time to see one show taped, I debated between Conan (NBC photo by Dana Edelson, right, from a Nov. 8 episode with Will Ferrell) and The Daily Show. The selling point for Conan was that the Max Weinberg 7 is hands down the best band on late night TV, and I figured I'd get to hear more of them at a taping. I was right, though I didn't figure on sitting in the front row or having Conan goad me into a man hug with Les, the dentist from Toronto.
But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The studio is on the seventh floor of the GE Building in Rockefeller Center. They gathered us together at about 4:20 p.m. yesterday (Nov. 8), where we waited about 15 minutes before being incrementally ushered through a metal detector and up to the seventh floor. The ushers were nice, though you occasionally got the sensation of nursery school teachers -- "We're going to put our bags on the table, open."
I have long maintained that going to an event alone raises your odds of getting a good seat, and it sure paid off here. Being a single, I was ushered to a front-row, aisle seat.
It made me nervous. After all, being on the front row really increases your chances of being on TV. What if my hair was messed up, or there was a booger hanging out of my nose? What if I didn't clap at the right times, or Conan singled me out for some sort of comic ridicule -- there was an incident with Drew Carey at a Virginia Beach comedy club in the late '80s (when Drew was skinny) I'm sort of scarred by. What if, like the warm-up comic said, you looked up at the monitors when you thought you were on camera and looked like a (bleep). More on the last one, later.
The studio was actually smaller than I imagined, the curtained area Conan enters through is not terribly wide, and the band takes up a significant amount of the floor space in the monologue area. Conan's desk is snuggled right next to that area. There were numerous monitors for the audience to look at, which was sometimes useful, because depending where you sat, there was probably a camera in your way at some point. I don't think I actually saw any of Seth Meyers during his chat with Conan. I was always told that part of the reason TV taping tickets are free is you'll probably have an obstructed view, and that was true.
But how great to be in the same room with that band.
After the warm-up comic, the Max Weinberg 7 (NBC photo, below, of the band playing in Chicago with John Mayer) played, the only disappointment being regular trombonist Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg was out. But we did get to hear trumpeter Mark Pender sing, and I really dug getting a closeup look at guitarist Jimmy Vivino's rig. If you think they sound amazing on TV, live is something else again. And while folks at home are watching Head On commercials and the like, the audience is hearing the 7 jam.
Conan came out to briefly address the audience before the show, and my good seat earned me a handshake from the pale one. Then, in a very Conan-esque manner, he asked Les from Toronto for a hug. Then, he decided he wanted Les and I to hug. Thank God this was the warm-up, and not national television. There was a tentative moment, then a friendly embrace. Then Conan got Les to embrace Max, who gave him a set of drumsticks. Les gets around.
Around 5:30 or so, the show got started. The biggest obstructed view disappointment was not having a good view of Conan's little tuck and jump when he comes out. It is to Conan fans what Johnny Carson's golf swing was for his followers. If I ended up on TV, it was because I was sitting next to a gorgeous blonde woman in a black dress. Conan commented that usually folks show up for his show in jeans and backward baseball caps, so he repeatedly complimented this woman for dressing up. I caught myself in a no-no during one of those moments, glancing up at the monitor like a dork, while the camera was on us. The saving grace would be that if I am sharing a frame with her, no one was looking at me -- BTW, the cameras probably missed her great red shoes with severe pointed toes and a red bow on the ankle.
Conan's first guest was Chaz Palminteri (photo, left), who told a great story to tie in with my very Broadway week here. Seems Chaz was cast as an understudy in his first Broadway show. When he explained to some of the heavies in his Bronx neighborhood that being an understudy meant he went on when the star couldn't, one of them asked, "You wanna go on?" (Cue Godfather music.)
Whenever the show has a commercial break, Conan pops up and chats with folks during the time, which seems to be the same length as an actual commercial break.
The musical guest was TV on the Radio (photo, right). Initially, it seemed they would play back behind the proscenium arch. But then the whole stage rolled out for them to play in the monologue area. Good band. Conan watched intently, tapping his foot as they played. One thing I love about Conan is he books a lot of bands that remind me of edgy, emerging groups I saw on the old Late Night with David Letterman in the '80s. There's a spirit of that late night classic Conan is keeping alive.
After the closing music for the show, Conan joined the group to wail for a moment on a song that had lyrics like, "Here's the song at the end of the show! The song you never hear on TV."
He seemed to be having fun, and the fun rubs off, whether its on TV, or in the studio. At least last night, I didn't have to stay up until 1:35 to see the whole show. Well, I'm probably going to go and watch it now.