Conan fever

In a post, with the fitting title “No Bread for the Redhead,” TMZ reported that Conan O’Brien isn’t making any money from his upcoming 30-city comedy tour. Rather the former Tonight Show host is doing the whole thing so he can employ his former staff members. Reportedly, there are around 40 people that make up the production staff, many of whom worked with O’Brien during his time on The Tonight Show. Although this philanthropic move by O’Brien adds to his credibility and should earn him best boss of the year, the move to do the shows without a payout to him is really no sweat off O’Brien’s back. O’Brien received US$45 million from NBC after leaving the show.

For those of you who have forgotten about the scandal in January, or maybe for those who have just recently emerged from under a rock, Conan lost the job as host of The Tonight Show when NBC decided to bring Jay Leno back to his old timeslot that Conan had taken over. NBC offered O’Brien the opportunity to host a show at 12:05 a.m., after Leno, but O’Brien turned down the offer and took the $45-million buyout package from the network instead. Despite generating mixed support and criticism as The Tonight Show host, being replaced by Leno resulted in widespread sympathy and exceptional publicity during the dispute. Although it was expected that O’Brien would take a late-night slot with another network, nothing has been announced yet. Instead, Conan O’Brien’s tour was announced. O’Brien has promised that the show will be “a night of music, comedy, hugging and the occasional awkward silence.”

“The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” has been selling tickets fast with new dates being added, which is good news for the crew. The tour will include O’Brien’s sidekick Andy Richter and likely Max Weinberg as well. Currently, there are 33 cities on the standup tour, including three Canadian stops. O’Brien’s tour is set to kick off on April 12, making a stop at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver April 13, a casino in Encoh, Ont. April 17, and Massey Hall in Toronto on May 22. Power 97 has launched a campaign to have people show their support for Conan O’Brien and demand a show be scheduled in Winnipeg.

O’Brien is the social network cause that kicked off 2010. Statuses, tweets, posts and blogs spread like wildfire in a flurry of support for the lanky redhead. As the tour approaches, the comedian is once again on the minds of many, joining groups like “I’m With Coco” or following him on He’s the wall post king of the moment, but will this Internet support translate into sales?

There are new dates being added and tickets are nearly sold out, however, if his supposed fans were unable to turn their TVs to NBC to watch his show, will they really make it out to see him live? Ticket prices for the Canadian shows are upwards of $58. Will his Facebook friends and Twitter followers really be able to put their money where their keystroke is? The success of the tour hinges on their ability to show their apparent support it a tangible way. It seems that with the tickets almost being sold out and new dates being added, it could be speculated that the guilt felt by fans, for not tuning in to O’Brien on The Tonight Show, might motivate them to purchase tickets to his show and demonstrate their commitment to the cause.

Conan O’Brien has the air of the underdog, and who doesn’t want to root for the underdog? His self-deprecating humor, oddball appearance and perception of having been tossed aside like a dirty rag make O’Brien an easy fan favorite. Those supporting his cause don’t like to mention the large severance package he received, but rather fix their eyes on his heroic efforts to keep his staff employed, going on tour without any profit to himself. The so-called selfless tour on O’Brien’s behalf is a curious case. O’Brien’s efforts to keep his staff employed seem respectable enough, but what’s the game plan? Is O’Brien looking to raise support before he begins another show? Like a politician coming to your door to put a sign on your front yard, O’Brien is looking for his fans to plant their support on their homepage. It’s a digital campaign, and while I doubt the message is “O’Brien for president,” it isn’t absurd to think that he is doing this tour to rally the troops for his next major venture. We’ll have to wait and see if O’Brien can keep his fans as dedicated as they are when the show starts.

Updated March 24