The Night Shift: Conan Ups the Antics, Literally Pulls Out All The Stops (Video)

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Okay, so let’s get this out of the way at the top: I’m a big Conan O’Brien fan, and I’m thrilled the red haired one has returned. But was I the only one who thought the opening night show was a little…meh? The cold open video, repurposing Conan as Sonny from The Godfather was hilarious. But the rest felt just a little… awkward, as Conan was constrained by the need to be self-referential – to constantly mention that this was his first night back after a long while. Where was the insanity? The absurd asides, that helped to make this guy a late night icon? It seemed as if the context often trumped the comedy. Well Tuesday, during night number two, he actually paused the monologue halfway through, to ask the audience’s permission to skew more topical. And then later in the show, he followed that up with three genuinely inventive bursts of craziness, proving to all those hesitant fans out there (read: me) that yes, Team CoCo is indeed ready to rejoin the majors. Videos after the jump.

The single best moment of the night was surely being surprised by the gallons of water that were dumped on Tom Hanks – and Conan’s straight-faced reaction to the deluge. The fact that Hanks was up for it, that it was executed with such gusto, that Conan barely even flinched…hilarious:

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A close runner up would be the plucking of the new beard. Apparently a trio of fans arrived to the show hoping to walk away with some facial hair – which would be reason enough to marvel at the moment. But Conan’s determination to spread the love made for some beautifully bizarre TV:

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And then Conan made a quick visit over to the network censor, trying out an array of offensive phrases and crude costumes, seeing what he can and cannot get away with on basic cable. There were bottomless leather chaps, yes. And a leather thong, of course.

But then we got our first glimpse of the fish tank underwear… more than anything I saw last night on The Daily Show, Colbert Report or The Late Show with David Letterman, this was probably the most I laughed all night (you’ll find the moment I describe at 4:10, though you might want to tune in at 3:50 for the full effect):

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Yes, it was a funny night on TBS. But far more important to the show – as well as Conan’s regular fans, who were hoping to get back to business as usual – was the moment when Conan made it clear that we’re done talking about the Great Return to Television.

As he shifted gears from talking about reviews of his new show to the news of the day – namely George W. Bush’s appearance on Oprah – Conan took 10 seconds of air time to make a powerful point: We’re back on the air, we’ve talked the transition to death, and now let’s get back to business. The poignant pause comes around 1:50 in the clip below:

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The Bush joke was good, not great. But what matters more: It’s not a joke about Conan’s quitting, or firing, or the NBC scandal, or the TBS jump. It’s a late-night comic just doing his thing, and beautifully so.

Monday night may have technically been the Grand Return, but it was last night where I felt like Conan was finally back. Thoughts?