Conan O’Brien’s fans, fellow comedians, and other culture vultures are applauding the announcement that the former "Tonight Show" host will tour to at least 20 states and 30 cities between April 12 and June 14. The tour, as well as Mr. O'Brien's recent foray into Twitter, has media watchers split over what the comedian will do next.
“It was either a massive 30-city tour or start helping out around the house,” O’Brien joked in a statement.
Some say the clear aim of the tour is to bring O'Brien enough exposure to get back to TV.
"What Conan hopes to accomplish with his cross-country tour is attract a huge enough interest to get him back on television with a plum deal,” says Paul Levinson, media professor at Fordham University.
“Since he has no TV show nailed down with Fox or Comedy Central, this is obviously his way of keeping himself in front of the people,” says Richard Goedkoop, a professor of communication at La Salle University in Philadelphia.
"He is ... thumbing his nose at corporate America (NBC) by saying with this tour: 'I may have to stay off TV for a period of time but that is not going to preclude me from doing what I love via other avenues,' " says Don Tanner of strategic communications firm Tanner Friedman.
"This 'rebel' approach makes him more a man of the people than ever before, and is going to both strengthen his eclectic fan base and win him new ones," says Mr. Friedman.
O'Brien will begin his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television" Tour April 12 in Eugene, Oregon, working his way across the United States and Canada over the course of two months. Tickets for the shows are selling so fast that more dates have already been added and sold out.
He, sidekick Andy Richter, and members of his former "Tonight Show" band will offer up "a night of music, comedy, hugging, and the occasional awkward silence," promoters promise. Absent will be longtime O'Brien bandleader Max Weinberg.
The musical chairs fiasco with Jay Leno in the past year is likely to be a comedy topic seized on by O’Brien, as quips from Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon about the subject raised ratings significantly for all of late-night TV.
The website TMZ has reported that O’Brien won’t make a cent off the tour – that he is doing it to employ his former staff among the 40 who will work on the production.
"What’s cool about this is that he’s taking his comedy to the heartland," says Alan Cross, a former writer for "Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. "You can go see other famous comics in Vegas and Los Angeles and New York, but O’Brien is making America laugh in places like Tulsa.”
“He's obsessed with the absurd and loves a big production, shares the stage with guest talent very well, and is amazing at adapting to the unexpected," he says. "Why didn't Ted Koppel do this?”