DALLAS Conan O’Brien kicked off a week of Dallas-taped editions of his TBS show Conan on Monday night at the Majestic Theater, and as expected, there were plenty of riffs on Texas stereotypes. But the riffs were pretty funny, and the Conan crew seems to understand what a lot of national TV doesn’t — that there’s more to Texas than cows and the Lone Star flag.
“I’ve traveled many places,” O’Brien said during his monologue, “finally I’m in a city where my hair is big enough to fit in. You guys invented this!”
O’Brien went on to make cracks about how he was going to try his hardest ever to make this a great show. (“You know why? Because I know you’re armed!”), and about how the show was here for the Final Four (“Of course, in Texas, the Final Four refers to the number of Democrats in the Legislature”).
For the past couple of years, the show has visited the city where the NCAA Men’s Final Four was taking place (well, this one will be in Arlington, but much of the surrounding activity is in Dallas). Even if you weren’t inside the Majestic, it was hard to miss the O’Brien presence, especially with an interactive “Cone Zone” a block away in Main Street Garden, where a life-size Conan bobblehead and a giant basketball sporting a large Conan wig greeted parkgoers.
Billboard trucks promoting the show cruised the streets near the Majestic, just in case you didn’t know what was going on — or why there was a line that went halfway around the block.
Along with announced guests Adam Sandler (whom some people in line spotted outside the theater) and comedian Tig Notaro, Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki made a cameo to give O’Brien — who’d bragged about how well he’d done his research — a “Texas citizenship” quiz. Sample questions and answers: “What’s the state bird?” “Beef.” “What’s the state flower?” “Beef.” “What’s the leading cause of heart attacks?” “Tony Romo.”
O’Brien also brought Big Tex’s boots onstage, where they towered over everything, including the 6-foot-4 host. There was also an amusing pre-recorded bit in which O’Brien “trained” to be a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy, to the amusement (and frustration) of Johnson County Sheriff Bob Alford. At the end of the taped bit, O’Brien rose to the top of Big Tex’s boots, sporting a deputy’s hat, looking for all the world like a grown-up Howdy Doody.
The show lost some momentum during the latter portions when the guests came out; Sandler looked tired, and yet another pre-recorded bit — this one of Sandler trying to find O’Brien in his Los Angeles neighborhood so he could give him an orange soda —didn’t work as well as the Johnson County one. Notaro, a comedian who had a double mastectomy because of breast cancer, probably needed more than the few minutes she got to really give the full impact of her act.
During commercial breaks, O’Brien stayed on stage, dancing and bopping — sometime goofily, sometimes with real rhythm — to the music of Jimmy Vivino and His Basic Cable Band. The Conan house band included a few nods to Texas music, such as the Sir Douglas Quintet’s She’s About a Mover.
The show will tape in Dallas through Thursday, with guests including actor Seth Rogen, The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg and former NBA star Charles Barkley. Denton’s Eli Young Band is scheduled to appear Wednesday, and Lyle Lovett on Thursday. Expect more surprise guests along the lines of Nowitzki, and more Texas-themed gags, like the one involving a full-court shot with a 72-ounce steak. Using a catapult O’Brien said “we stole from Mark Cuban’s bedroom,” the giant steak used in the Big Texan challenge in Amarillo was launched the length of a basketball court set up outside AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The first shot bounced off the rim, but the second banked in, scoring a big laugh -- just one of many on Conan’s first night in North Texas.