I had the chance to see Conan O’Brien film an episode of Conan at the Appollo Theater 752 years ago when people went to theaters and saw shows. It was a truly interesting thing to see (they literally waste no time and everything they shoot goes into a show — it’s wild), but for everyone on stage, it was probably pretty routine. That’s what happens when you’ve done something a few thousand times. But in the midst of COVID, routine things have obviously gone by the wayside. And apparently Conan misses staring out from the stage to see people’s faces instead of a bunch of seatbacks and judgey ghosts (all theaters are haunted, that’s just science). Which is why he’s turning to a method used by Major League Baseball to fake out the look of having an actual in-person audience when he records at The Largo while respecting social distancing rules.
As seen on last night’s episode, the initial experiment is a little weird and a little thin. Four Kevin Harts, a James Comey, Conrad Bain from Diff’rent Strokes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg… these were the options that were laying around (no word on what happened to the other six Kevin Harts that make a complete set), but they want to “flesh” out future shows (for the foreseeable future) with fan submissions via Team Coco. Yes, your face could be staring at Conan O’Brien’s increasingly untameable hair while he stares back at you, wondering why you chose that shirt or why asymmetry alludes you. And yes, clothing is mandatory. But a smile is not. So if you want to look like you’re standing for an insurance photograph in the dust bowl during the lean times gritting your way through life, that’s your prerogative. Same if you want to look as though you’re laughing your ass off.
I’m personally going to send in something that screams stoic eroticism. Like a Buckingham Palace guard, I want to shock Conan out of his game for a split second. Or maybe I’ll send in a GIF of the Steve Guttenberg cutout from the El DeBarge “Who’s Johnny” music video from Short Circuit. How do you put a GIF on a cardboard cut out? Not my problem. Besides, look at that smile. That’s exactly the audience you want.