This week the New York Comedy Festival is in full swing and TBS is a big part of this year’s events. As part of the week’s events, Conan is in town, taping his show for a New York City crowd at Harlem’s historic Apollo theater. We sent our own Vito Calise- the self proclaimed world’s biggest Conan fan- uptown to experience it first hand, with special guests Bill Clinton and comedian Jack Whitehall. Conan in NY continues all week. Visit New York Comedy Festival’s website and TBS’s own hub of TBS-centric comedy programming for tickets and information.
I got to the taping for Conan about 5 minutes later than I needed to be there because of New York City’s delightful MTA. I walked up to a security guard and asked if I could still get in, he walked away for a second, said no and walked away. Then he said I looked depressingly sad so he came back and brought me into the theater through the back and snuck me in as a last minute seat filler.
As I got in and waited to find out where I was sitting I could see most fans talking about their favorite Conan sketches like “Conando” and “The Year 2000”. At this point I was keeping an eye out for Conan staffers you would recognize from TV because the last time I went to a Conan taping in 2012 at the Beacon Theater I saw the infamous Jordan Schlansky. I was lead to my seat where I was lucky enough to be on the floor, about 15 rows back and direct center stage. I was 1 row in front of Conan’s teleprompter and a producer came over and asked us all to make sure after the applause we sat down once Conan began to speak to he could see his words.
Before the show started there were a bunch of people running around holding laptops and runners trying to figure out how to fill random seats across the area. I noticed a person doing ASL for a group of people in the front corner of the audience.
Soon Mr. Brightside by The Killers came on and the warm up comedian, Gary Cannon came out full of energy. He started grabbing people from the audience to come onto the stage and remember this isn’t just some TV taping, these people were brought on a legendary stage.
Fans of HBO’s Crashing could probably guess where this was going like I could, it was a dance contest to the song Baby Got Back by Sir Mix A lot, and an older women from Staten Island tore it up with what seemed like a choreographed dance mixed in with some twerking. Everyone onstage got a free t-shirt for their dancing and sat back down and it was time for the show to start.
Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band came out with the entire audience on its feet clapping and singing along to “Move On Up” by Curtis Mayfield. Jimmy Vivino came out with fan favorites Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg and Mark Pender on stage keeping the crowd rocking until Andy Richter hit the stage to do the introduction for Conan. When Conan came out the place went crazy and were standing and cheering for at least 3 minutes straight before Conan could speak. Before he went into his monologue he did his infamous string dance and asked an audience member to touch his nipple but the guy completely misread the situation and gave him a pinch which Conan replayed in slow-mo during his monologue.
After Conan’s monologue he played a piece recorded earlier that day at Sylvia’s, an incredibly famous soul food restaurant that is only a few blocks away from the Apollo, Conan also had the guy who voices the MTA subway announcements come out, say a known phrase live and asked him to do a few new ones.
During all of the breaks of the show, Conan could either be seen getting his makeup fixed, talking to his producer Jeff Ross or running out into the crowd and shaking fan’s hands, and even signing a few autographs.
The guest for the night was former president Bill Clinton and it felt bizarre to be within feet of a former United States President. Hearing someone’s voice in person that you have heard impersonated on TV for your entire life is also a weird experience. Bill Clinton was not the typical late night guest, the first break they did covered the typical late night interview. They had a few laughs, Clinton told a story about him as a kid and showed a photo. At one point Clinton made a pretty quick joke I noticed a bunch of people look back at the teleprompter I was sitting near to see if he was actually reading off of it…he wasn’t.
When they came back from the break, things took a much more serious tone. When asked what cause Clinton is most involved with and wants his foundation to help, the former president went into detail over his fears and experiences concerning the opioid crisis. The ton changed dramatically and the interesting thing about watching a former president talk about an issue like this in front of a crowd of people was that Clinton was not looking at Conan while he spoke. He was turned towards the audience and speaking to us and it felt like you were watching the president address the nation like you’ve seen many times before.
The second part of their interview went long and Conan mentioned that he let Clinton go on a little too long and the even though it was supposed to be three parts, they were going to have to make it two. This wasn’t just a joke from Conan because I noticed the teleprompter said a few moments earlier “more with Bill Clinton when we get back” and now it said “we’ll be back with comedian Jack Whitehall”. The segment ended and Conan spent the entire break standing with Clinton and Andy Richter talking before Clinton left giving a big wave to the crowd.
Comedian Jack Whitehall had the tough job of coming out after that and having to do a tight 5 but the audience seemed to really be into him getting a few big laughs. After he was done Conan came out and did his “End of the Show Song”, which you hear the first few notes of every night on TV, but the live audience actually gets to hear Conan sing. After the song Conan thanked the crowd, said that New York is the best audience in the world and ended the show by saying “true story, right before the comic came out here I told him I had to tell a president to wrap it up so you could come out here, so you better be fucking funny”. It was a great show for anyone who’s been a fan of Conan through any point of his career.