Conan's Tour Draws Cheers From Fans -- And Critics
Conan O'Brien may be legally prohibited from being funny on television, as the title of his current 30-city concert tour proclaims, and he may also be barred from using many of the regular features from his NBC days when he returns to TV in the fall, but that has hardly affected his debut on stage. During his opening-night performance in Eugene, OR -- which possibly drew more national press attention than any event in the city outside of an election year -- O'Brien introduced his infamous masturbating bear, remodeled as a panda; Triumph, the insult dog; and even the Walker Texas Ranger Lever. In reviewing the act, New York Times TV writer Bill Carter commented, "All the elements -- which at least nominally NBC has said that it owns and can prevent Mr. O'Brien from using if it wanted to press the point legally -- underscored that Mr. O'Brien was trying to stay in touch with his comedy brand." In the Los Angeles Times, writer Charles McNulty added that O'Brien may have "exploited his anxiety about names and characters that his former employer may own" by transforming the masturbating bear into "the self-pleasuring panda." But the result, McNulty observed, was that NBC's restrictions had "a way of shoring up his image as the TV rebel with the Howdy Doody looks and the asymmetrical wit who somehow managed to crash the network party." Actually, O'Brien, at one point in his act, admitted that he would take "no negative shots against those other guys." After all, he said, "lawyers are listening." He then remarked after the crowd's reaction died down, "I'm not kidding." And throughout the show, he made only one sidewise reference to the announcement earlier in the day that he would be returning to late-night TV on TBS in November. "I've got a new job," he remarked to cheers from the audience. "I'm the new assistant manager at the Eugene Banana Republic. I'll be in the corduroy section."