Conan O'Brien's Sunday night early show at Borgata was hardly the most hilarious progran ever witnessed in Atlantic City. But neither was it anywhere near disastrous as the once-and-future late-night TV gabber continued his "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour."
Staging his first-ever (and, quite possibly, final) in-concert presentation, O'Brien seldom strayed from the self-deprecating goofball humor that has been the hallmark of his 17 years on television.
His roughly 75 minutes on stage started on a strong note. The opening gambit was a video announcement that warned the audience against such behavior as speaking to "Coco," or even making eye contact with him. After an atomic-powered couple of songs by his six-piece band that included Northeast Philly native Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg on trombone, another video sketch was screened. That one purported to show O'Brien's NBC-imposed exile. He portrayed himself as a disheviled, corpulent, semi-catatonic hermit whose best (only ) friends are booze and food. Until, that is, he receives a phone call offering him the tour--provided he is in good physical shape. The rest of the bit found him slimming down, mostly by removing his fat suit.
That was followed by an extended stand-up routine which included the requisite Atlantic City/New Jersey jokes (What better way to celebrate Memorial Day, he reasoned, "Than by doing Jager bombs and losing your entire pension?"), a few pokes at Donald Trump and several self-directed barbs (he suggested he looks like "The Brawny paper towel guy before his bone marrow transplant").
From there, he generally hopscotched between stand-up, pre-taped segments and musical sequences during which the guitar-strumming star got to live out his rock 'n' roll fantasies.
Most of O'Brien's bits hit the mark; the best contained a series of you-had-to-see-them-to-believe-them clips from Chuck Norris' old CBS series, "Walker Texas Ranger," including the most absurd of all--the one in which Haley Joel Osment, (who played the creepy kid in "The Sixth Sense") tells a couple of people that Walker has informed him that he (Osment's character) has AIDS.
The show's bumpiest spots came courtesy of O'Brien's supporting cast. Opening act Reggie Watts turned in a puzzling, absurd set that featured hip-hop song parodies containing the roughest language imaginable (I guess the joke was having such a potty mouth open for a guy who by necessity works clean).
O'Brien's loyaty to his old pal Andy Richter is admirable, but his erstwhile second banana added absolutely nothing to the proceedings (his "comic" commercial, for a New York-based casino bus route probably would have been a lot funnier had Atlantic City not lost most of its senior-citizen business to Pennsylvania's casinos over the past few years).
And while stand-up comic Deon Cole had some decent lines, his mid-show turn killed the momentum Conan had built up to that point.