by Phuong Pham
Every year, I go to “not Comic-Con.” That is to say, I usually attend ticketed and non-ticketed events around the convention center and I would argue that I have had more fun there than I have had with a badge. This year I was lucky enough to be able to attend a few events I had my eye on: Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, Game Grumps Live!, but perhaps the event that is closest to my heart is a taping of Conan O’Brien’s Comic-Con special. Hit the jump for more on my personal experiences as an aspiring writer/comedian and former musician attending a Conan taping.
I was an awkward child without many friends and on top of that, an insomniac. I remember spending late nights by myself, huddled in my blanket in bed, watching Conan with the volume on low and stifling my laughter so as not to wake up my mom. I’ve since grown up to be an awkward adult busting my metaphorical balls to make a living doing comedy.
I’ve always wanted to be a comedian. My first exposure to Conan’s work is most likely when he was a writer for Saturday Night Live. While he wasn’t on camera, I was enjoying his work, even then. I didn’t have much adult supervision but despite that, instead of partaking in childhood mischief or rebellious partying, I ended up just sitting at home, alone in the dark, and watching a lot of comedy. Among that was the comedy stylings of late night talk show host, Conan O’Brien. To give you an idea of how big of a fan I am, I attempted to get tickets to a Conan taping in LA last year and was denied entry as they overbook for shows and had just run out. I remember feeling overwhelmed that I had just met the man’s interns.
My very kind friend, Veronica (who has also provided photos from the event) had acquired tickets for one of Conan’s Comic-Con tickets so without much effort, I had the luxury of sitting second row for one of my favorite comedians of all time. While Conan is an incredibly talented comedian, I think it’s also important to acknowledge just how talented Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band are. Because this is my first ever Conan taping, I don’t know if this regularly happens outside of ConanCon but in addition to providing Conan with musical accompaniment, the Basic Cable Band also did an amazing job of warming up the crowd.
They went far above and beyond just playing a set. As the band was playing, trumpetist, Mark Pender and trombonist, LaBamba, danced up and down the aisles of the theatre while playing their wind instruments. For those that have played a wind instrument before, you understand how much stamina it takes to play them and these guys are running around whilst doing so. Their energy was absolutely infectious. I commend them immensely for their showmanship and I can see why they were chosen to back Conan.
Overall, it was surreal to just be there. It hadn’t even hit me that I was really, truly at a Conan taping. For the first ten minutes or so that Conan was onstage, it felt like I was just watching the biggest, most high-definition television ever. It didn’t really register for me that I was actually there until Conan did a bit about a guy in the audience who had never seen a single Star Wars movie. With the actor sitting in the middle of Spreckles Theatre, and my placement in the second row, I was able to read the jokes on the cue cards. Not wanting to spoil the punchlines for myself I turned my attention to Conan, onstage. That’s when it really hit me that I was seeing one of my comedy idols, in the flesh.
And if you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when Conan throws to a clip, it’s basically what he’s doing when he’s being filmed: working. With some extra help, in between pre-taped skits, Conan is given coffee or water to clear his throat, assisting grips with setting up the stage (in this case, the chairs that were being put out for the Suicide Squad), getting his makeup touched up due to the hot stage lights, having his coat cleaned so it looks camera ready, and a handful of other things. But maybe the thing that endeared me to him all the more was in between all of this, he decided to walk into the audience and autograph tickets and memorabilia for people. He ended up stopping when a nearby production assistant said he only had thirty seconds to be back on camera. This is the type of guy Conan is and this will be made much clearer as I detail my account of what happened after the show.
When the taping ended, I waited to be directed outside. In order to get everyone out safely, the balcony, mezzanine, etc. were asked to leave the theatre, first. Because I was in one of the first couple rows, we were one of the last to leave. This can be positive or negative, depending on what you are looking to do after the show. The Suicide Squad came out briefly to sign autographs but couldn’t stay long due to other engagements so we missed them however, this was fine as it wasn’t really my end goal. I had one mission and one mission only: meeting Conan, thanking him for his work, and telling him that he was the reason I got into comedy. On the way there, by complete chance, I ran into someone else on the show whom I’m a fan of: Mr. Jordan Schlansky. For those unaware of who Jordan Schlansky is, Jordan is Conan’s associate producer and often complies in skits at his own expense for Conan. I was actually disappointed I didn’t see him or Aaron Bleyaert (of the Clueless Gamer segments) at the taping so I was pleasantly surprised to run into a (believe it or not) smiley Jordan Schlansky. He thanked me for being a fan and went on his way. I tried to keep it brief since it seemed like he had somewhere to be.
After about an hour or so of waiting, Conan emerged from the back entryway of the theatre to an eruption of cheers. My friend, Veronica, was now a ConanCon veteran after having attended a taping prior to this one. She instructed me on the optimum place to stand for the best fan encounter. He made his way around the corner and I found myself getting nervous. This is quite rare and hasn’t happened since I was around 17. Keep in mind, trying to get a leg into the entertainment industry, you have to learn quickly to be desensitized to celebrities to get work done and get your brand out there. Additionally, being a former disgraced reality show personality, the last time I was starstruck was when I was on the biggest reality show in the world. When you’re not only exposed to celebrities but being a household name, yourself, at the age of 17, it becomes a culture shock and you adapt rather quickly. That experience, while unfortunate, has always reminded me that celebrities, whether or not they wanted to be famous, were people just like us. It’s said a lot but I find it can be difficult to identify with that idea.
When he finally got to me, I got right to the point, not wanting to get too nervous or take up too much of his time. Clutching both my ticket to his show and my limited edition Funko Pop vinyl figurine given to all the audience members at ConanCon I cut right to the chase, “I just wanted you to know that I’ve been watching you since I was around 13 and you’re the reason why I got into comedy.” He smiled, warmly and signed my things, responding, “Oh, that’s so sweet,” his voice full of sincerity. Then a Comic-Con miracle happen: despite the throngs of fans still waiting to meet him, he didn’t seem to move on (and for those waiting to get shit signed at Comic-Con you know this is the type of miracle that you need to sacrifice at least three virgins and a goat for.) He had a ridiculous number of people to see, but I think he could tell how much this meant to me and didn’t budge. I was honestly, completely caught off guard but seeing as how he was still more than gracious of his time with me I decided to ask if I could take a selfie with him. After a chipper, “Absolutely!” he obliged and I told him thank you for what looks like one of the best prom pics, ever. We both took this as a cue as a finality to our meeting and he began making the rounds, again; presumably fulfilling others’ dreams. But that is the story of how I met one of my favorite comedians and I am very excited to (hopefully) be attending another one of his tapings, again on August 23rd. Hope to see some of you Nerd Funnelers there!