Conan O’Brien often starts off his late night talkshow Conan with the words ‘we’ve got a lot of fun stuff planned’, but the best stuff comes from outside the studio. The carefully constructed taping of his show is one of the most professional ones in the late night landscape, but whenever he’s out on a trip, whether it’s Cuba, Texas or ComicCon, his improvisation skills often create something truly funny, heartfelt and real.
Conan travelled to the Al Udeid Air Base in early November 2015, having been invited to perform in front of the troops by none other than Michelle Obama. Apparently, he flew over there (Qatar) with the First Lady, but due to ‘security reasons’, there were no cameras allowed on the plane. It always makes me wonder what those reasons could be. Were they scared there’d be a bomb inside the microphone or boom pole? Could ‘the enemy’ use the footage of the interior in any way to their advantage? Or didn’t they just want Conan to take out the minibar, joke about the food, walk around and look inside every cabinet for comedic purposes? Really, what could it be? It was a blessing in disguise, though, because now they were able to make a crappy looking but funny 3D animation about Conan’s arrival, much like the instruction videos on airplanes. ‘Mission Conan’ has begun.
At the compound, which doesn’t seem more than a bunch of beige buildings in a beige desert – not a tree in sight -, Conan bonds with one of the trained German Shepherds, called Astor. He puts on one of those suits only ‘fat men dressed as hobos’ wear, walks away and the dog’s sent after him. Conan quickly goes down, but he and Astor are friends for life. He also pays a visit to the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) barracks, where all the cool Hurt Locker stuff is stored. He suits up again, Jeremy Renner style, plays around with the ‘tools we use to perform procedures on devices’ (an as vague description as you can get, because: top secret), and gives especially Bradley Kline a very hard time. Why? For making him say his name. A lot. Apparently, there’s a tradition inside the military, that if you get mentioned by the media in any shape or form, you have to buy beer for anyone who’s seen it. Suffice to say, Kline filed for bankruptcy before the show ended.
No Boat In Desert
After a nice (promotional) chat with Michelle, about ‘Joining Forces’, and doing 20-something pushups for her (even though she asked for 50), it’s time for the main course: Conan on stage. He doesn’t dish up old jokes, or ones about the military in general. No, he’s written a great speech about that specific base and its specific rules, names and the branches stationed there: 75% Airforce, 22% Army, 2% Marines and 1% the Navy. In the desert. The Navy. ‘Desert, desert. No boat in desert’, as Conan puts it. ‘Don’t know why you’re here.’
Conan absolutely steals the show, which is why his guests, the lesser-known comedians Laurie Kilmartin, Brian Kiley and John Mulaney, who have to come on after him, are tasked with an impossible job. Their standup routines fall flat – at least in the montage. Mulaney’s the best of the rest, with a great cow comparison, but none of them seem to have written something about their time in Qatar. Maybe it all got cut, because of time, but I would’ve left that stuff in and thrown all the non-army, non-sandbox material out. Grace Potter closes the night, with a little help from Conan’s band leader Jimmy Vivino. Potter sings her biggest hit ‘Paris (Ooh La La)’, and plays the guitar by not even touching it, which is a bit strange. Anyway, it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of time, making such Conan specials, but they’re awesome.