Last night, US late night talk show host Conan O’Brien hit the stage in Sydney, accompanied by a few of his “Australian Friends”, in what was (incredibly) the comedian’s first ever stage shows outside of North America.
His TV show band “The Basic Cable Trio” opened the show, while cameras were held notably in the wings, as this wasn’t just a one off show for promotional purposes – it was all part of his Netflix series “Conan Without Borders”. But before the man of the hour took to the stage, some local comedians were given the stage.
Aussience participation office with the host, Steen Raskopoulos played as host for the occasion, delivering his take on improvisational comedy and including the crowd in a hilarious skit he called “The Office” – which became something of a “Mad Libs” on steroids (if those steroids were capable of interpretive dance).
Becky Lucas was the first act introduced to the stage, with a hilarious routine about being “sex negative“ (among many other things). And the sex jokes didn’t stop there – the next guest, Rhys Nicholson (who Conan said was the unacknowledged love child of himself and Nicole Kidman), took some material from his hysterical Edinburgh Fringe show, with a few penis jokes and his usual banter about being a Millenial gay man who is on the verge of a mental breakdown, had the crowd in hysterics. His timing just keeps getting better – and it’s of little surprise when you do as many shows a year as he does.
Conan was overly complimentary of the acts, saying that Australians were some of the funniest people he’d ever met, “you’re very lucky here!”. But he put down the Sydney vs Melbourne argument by saying the main reason he chose Sydney was because it was the only city with a direct flight offered by his airline. That sounds like a cop out to me, but it was funny nonetheless. He did have a bone or two to pick with the city though – apologising when he first came out for arriving late (he hadn’t), saying he got stuck on the light rail – “it’s all anyone is talking about here!”.
Indeed, for the American comedian to come to Sydney and talk to the locals (which he said with the accents hadn’t been easy – and he was convinced we were just making up words and tying to trick him), he wasn’t painted a very great picture of the city – as much as he loved the locals themselves. In addition to the long delayed light rail, he took a moment to talk about the lock out laws and some of the laws he saw as ridiculous. The fact Marijuana remained outlawed he laughed at given that “even in the US, one of the most Conservative places in the world, it’s legal” – though he was impressed we’d gotten rid of Starbucks from most corners of the city, and our guns, though joked that Starbucks has probably killed more people with its shitty coffee than guns have.
And then there were our strict drinking laws.
“I looked into it, and you guys have rules we don’t have in the United States. You, Australia, the “party animals of the planet”. No drinking on the beach? That’s the only reason you go to the beach! No shots after midnight? You all laugh at that because you had shots before you came here… because you can’t get them later.”
And then the laughs turned into boos from the crowd as he delved into the lock out laws.
“Yes! Thank you! That’s the one that I saw and I thought “What IS that!?”. You leave at 1:30am and you can’t get back in again? That law… I’ve been *everywhere* and that law doesn’t exist in any place… so I’m going to propose a solution.”
He then developed a technique he wanted to be known as a “Conan”, where you hid in the bathroom until the staff left, “and then you can stay all night and not pay for any of it!”
Beyond some of the more specific segments about Australia, which reflected on his five days in Australia filming an episode for his Netflix travel series – which was spurred on by an invitation (“it seemed more a threat… if Wolverine calls, you don’t argue”) from Hugh Jackman – he incorporated stories that would have been well tested in his live show. Most of this had to do with his experiences with Celebrity (a story about Schwarzenegger being one of my favourites), being 100% Irish and just being a bit of a weirdly proportioned, lanky human being with a penis on his torso. That one will take a bit too long to explain, but it all has to do with his long legs and pants.
But this is the host of one of the most popular talk shows of all time; it wasn’t just going to be stand up. There was a musical segment too, where Conan got on the guitar to perform some AC/DC with the Basic Cable Trio, as chosen by a rather one sided wheel. Paul Fenech from Fat Pizza jumped up from the crowd to sing the song with him (which was surprisingly unplanned; Conan didn’t seem to have any idea who he was, but he left a *huge* fan). And by much demand from the crowd, they then played the Skippy theme song.
The night then delved into a Q&A which saw Conan tell a hilarious story about his “ginger pubes”, “Yes the curtains match the drapes and no one is excited about it”. He shared heartwarming stories about Phil Hartman, who he called the best all-round performer SNL has ever had, “I still can’t believe he’s not with us”, turned down an invitation to sing the Monorail song from The Simpsons because he couldn’t remember it, and was greeted by a crowd who were quick to shut up any audience member who was talking too long. “Get to the question!”.
It’s quite remarkable that Conan has never done a stand up show outside of North America before, and that Sydney was his first stop internationally. It wasn’t a perfect show, but it was a really enjoyable one. He ended inviting Pauly back onto the stage to do an AC/DC version of the Skippy theme song and genuinely thanking the crowd for letting him into Australia, remarking, “You truly have a blessed country”.
He seemed to suggest he’d be back again, and left the stage to a standing ovation from the crowd. Who knows if that will happen, but for now we’ve certainly been left with a memorable night that no doubt the rest of the country will enjoy in parts on Netflix soon!
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Conan & His Australian Friends was a one off performance at the State Theatre in Sydney on 20th February 2019. Conan Without Borders is on Netflix now.