Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: This Time Together, by Carol Burnett

I have been a huge Carol Burnett fan since I was seven or eight years old. I'd watch the old episodes of Carol Burnett and Friends at my grandparents' house, and later in life when cable finally came to my hometown. In college I was known to tape episodes of Carol Burnett and Friends on the Family Channel. It drove my roommate crazy. She didn't get it, but BFF, whom I met in college, did. We'd go to each others' dorm rooms and watch Carol Burnett together. That's one of the things that has bonded our friendship.

I have her first book, One More Time, which is a detailed memoir of her childhood, growing up with alcoholic parents, a hypochondriac grandmother, and living in poverty in a one-room apartment one block north of Hollywood Boulevard. You can find my review of it here, and you can read other posts I've written about Carol here.

I had pre-ordered this book last October, almost as soon as I heard that it was going to be published. When it finally arrived in my mailbox this past April, I put aside the book that I was reading at the time and dove right in. I finished in about two hours.

As Carol writes in the foreword, this book originally started out as a collection of show business anecdotes that she had wanted to write for her grandchildren. Many of these recollections came from questions that audience members would ask at her touring Q&A show (you can read about my experience here).

Lots of the anecdotes are humorous. For example, she writes about the time she first met Jimmy Stewart, her idol, and was so flustered when she talked to him that when she left the studio, she stepped in a bucket of whitewash and walked out with said bucket still on her foot. There are several stories about the cast of The Carol Burnett Show, particularly about Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. There is one story involving Tim Conway and a stuffed sheep that had me laughing out loud--something that doesn't happen often when I read.

Some of the tales remind us that even celebrities are human, and get starstruck. Carol describes living in the same New York apartment building as John Steinbeck, and how they first met in an elevator going to their respective floors. There is a very funny story about renting her beach house to Sir Laurence Olivier. And there are two particularly funny stories involving meeting Cary Grant for the first time, as well as an Iranian princess who had the same physician as Carol.

At times, some of the stories that Carol told were touching and heartbreaking. There are a couple of sections in the book about her late daughter, Carrie Hamilton, and the play that they wrote together, Hollywood Arms. Carol writes in a style that makes you feel as if she's sitting next to you, having a conversation with you, and you can really feel the mother's grief as you read through these chapters. Carol also writes about the time when she met a very young cancer patient, and how this patient came to the set of The Carol Burnett Show to meet her. Again, the sense of grief and sadness that you get when reading these sections is incredibly palpable.

This book is not a tell-all book in any sense. In spite of some sadness, Carol generally keeps the tone light and conversational. Not only does she recall some moments of her career, but she recalls some humorous life moments, too, such as the time she had to take her dog to the vet in the middle of a New York City blizzard. There are a few stories about her daughters when they were growing up. And there are some tales about living a normal life as a celebrity. Not only do you get a sense of Carol Burnett as a performer, but you get a sense of Carol Burnett as a person. Both personae make her that much more connected to the reader.

I am going to make an unusual recommendation here: By all means, read the book. But I also want to tell you to get the audio book, especially if you're a fan. Carol herself reads the book, and the conversational aspect of the text takes on a whole new different meaning. Yes, she is there in the same room with you, because she's reading her own stories, but she's reading it as if you're the only person who's listening to the text, as if she's giving a performance just for you. She sings, she does different character voices, and at times, becomes emotional. I don't know how I stumbled upon it while I was in iTunes, but I'm a big enough fan that I purchased it, even though I had a hard copy. And I don't regret it at all.

While I finished This Time Together in one sitting, I found myself going back at random occasions and re-reading some of the anecdotes. You may find yourself doing the same thing. Because while you appreciate the time you had together with Carol, there are times when you just want to have a little more.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Review: The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner

How many of you have ever thought about happiness? I mean, what does it mean to be happy? How does one remain in a state of contentment and never let anything bad happen to them? Or, rather, how does one deal with both the good and the bad in their lives?

Eric Weiner wondered just that. As a foreign correspondent for NPR, he had been to places such as Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Iraq--places not exactly known for happy people. Unhappy people and places, Weiner reasoned, make for good stories, because they inspire people, and they are more newsworthy.

After reporting so much, though, on the doom and gloom of the world, he thought about taking one year off to study the happy places of the world:

Places that possess, in spades, one or more of the ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty stew of happiness: money, pleasure, spirituality, family, and chocolate, among others. Around the world, dozens of what-ifs play themselves out every day. What if you lived in a country that was fabulously wealthy and no one paid taxes? What if you lived in a country where failure is an option? What if you lived in a country so democratic that you voted seven times a year? What if you lived in a country where excessive thinking is discouraged? Would you be happy then? (introduction, page 2)

Weiner starts his journey in the Netherlands, where he visits the World Database of Happiness, an institution which attempts to collect data and statistics on this state of being. In other words, happiness is something that can be measured. Along the way, he attempts to find his own brand of Dutch happiness by ordering from the many offerings at one of Rotterdam's famed hashish bars. Did he find happiness in that bit of Moroccan hash he smoked? Well, just for a little while.

That is just one of many little experiments that Weiner conducts during his year-long voyage around the world. He visits ten countries in all, including a study on American happiness, written after he returned to the Mother Land. I won't include details on everything that he learned (since I'd really like you to read the book), but there are some interesting little revelations throughout the work. In his visit to Switzerland, Weiner figures out exactly why Swiss watches are known for their punctuality--Switzerland itself is obsessed with being on time, right down to the second the trains and planes leave the stations and airports. In Bhutan, the king has implemented something called the Gross National Happiness, a national priority/mandate. (NPR actually covered this recently on Morning Edition; you can read more about this report here.)

In Iceland, happiness can be found in one's failures--in fact, failure is encouraged in Icelandic culture. This is a lesson that I believe Americans need to learn desperately. In our culture, failure is seen as something terrible, and many spend their lives trying to avoid it. In Iceland, one is a failure for not experiencing failure. This chapter, for this very important lesson alone, is one of the most valuable in the book.

Another chapter I found really intriguing was the one about Qatar, a nation that is full of money and riches--but no national culture. It's interesting to read the reasonings behind how a nation can be content with all of its riches, but still lacks such a self-awareness about something to call its own. This is something that Qatari expatriates pick up on very quickly, but something that the natives are, almost blissfully, unaware of.

The chapter on India is also especially interesting. This is a nation where poverty and misery are profound, yet this is a nation where many foreigners travel to find contentment in one of its many ashrams. Weiner does indeed visit an ashram, but it is not where he obtains perspective on the Indian philosophy behind happiness.

I picked up this book on a whim one day, at Borders, during one of their "buy one, get one 50% off" sales. It, like many of my purchases, made its way to my bookshelf for about a year. I finally retrieved it from "Bookshelf Hell" when I decided to embark on my own little Happiness Project. This was the first book I decided to read, and I am--pardon the expression--happy that I did. The Geography of Bliss really gave me a lot of perspective on my own definition of happiness and contentment. Not only that, it helped me get perspective on balancing happiness with sadness. Down times are inevitable in anyone's life, and to see how different cultures deal with life's ups and downs help me deal with mine.

More importantly, it helped me examine the overall American attitude towards contentment. There is a general American perception that one needs to be happy and content all the time. Sadness, failure, and depression are too often seen as weaknesses. If this book does anything for our national culture, I hope it's teaching the lesson that sadness, failure, and depression are not weaknesses, but character builders. I'm going to stop short of saying that The Geography of Bliss should be required reading in psychology courses, but it should be something for people who are going through their own Happiness Projects should read. If anything, it provides so much perspective.

Stay tuned over the next few months, kittens, as I read more books I've chosen for my Happiness Project, along with an explanation--coming soon--as to why I've decided to launch this.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace

I brought this book with me on my cruise in February. I had been wanting to read David Foster Wallace's works for a very long time, and thought I'd start off small, before perusing his pi├Ęce de r├ęsistence, Infinite Jest (which tops off at over 900 pages).

I didn't realize until after I started reading the book how academic it is in nature. Wallace, after all, was a journalist who wrote for such diverse magazines as The New Yorker, Esquire, The Paris Review, Harper's, and Playboy. The book was composed of seven essays that were once published in magazines such as these. Some of the essays are very interesting. And some, if you don't have the background knowledge in order to appreciate what Wallace is writing about, can be difficult to read. I had to go back and re-read several paragraphs at a time in cases like these in order to fully absorb what I had read.

For example, the first essay, "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," was a memoir of Wallace's days as a competitive junior tennis player. Apparently he was once one of the best high school tennis players in Illinois. When he got to college, however, he realized that he could burn out very quickly, and gave up the sport. As a kid who was never an athlete, and never competed fiercely in any high school competition, I couldn't relate personally to some of his experiences. I liked the metacognition, or schema, that was needed in order to fully appreciate this essay. (My high school English teachers would be so proud of me for writing that last sentence!)

However, that first essay prepared me for the second to last tome of the book, an essay about a rising tennis star named Michael Joyce. At first I wondered who Michael Joyce was, since I had never heard of a tennis player with that name. And then I looked at the publication date of the essay: 1996. I decided to do a Google search to answer the "where are they now" question; however, I'll let you do a Google search, if you wish, once you finish reading this post. I don't want to include any spoilers.

The essays, while cerebral, are quite enjoyable, but not something you can read in one fell swoop. This is one of those works where you have to read a few paragraphs at a time, allow some time to absorb the information, and then continue. My friend Chantal, who went on vacation with me, would look over at me and pronounce that my book "wasn't beach-reading material." She is right; this is not something you can take with you to the beach on a lazy, hazy afternoon and breeze right through.

However, I read portions of the last essay to her, and she had to laugh at it as much as I did.

Why?

It was about the then-fledgling cruise industry.

That was a fitting conclusion to the book, given the environment. Next time I go on a cruise, though, I'm leaving the David Foster Wallace at home. This is good middle of the day reading, when your brain is functioning at its peak, but not just before bed reading when you're in the mood to relax. That having been said, I'm going to give him another chance; I just haven't decided which book it's going to be, yet.

I know it won't be Infinite Jest, though. Not yet.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Queen's Meme: The Beach Meme

Ahhh...a meme we can ALL relate to!!!




1. When is the last time you saw the ocean?
When I was in Newport, Rhode Island this past Memorial Day weekend.

2. Where is your favorite stretch of beach shoreline?
Long Beach Island, New Jersey. For years it was the Jersey Shore's best-kept secret. But lots of people discovered it, and now it's become a mega tourist-trap for the nouveau riche. It's not the same LBI from my childhood.

3. Are you planning a beach vacation this year?
Just day trips to Connecticut beaches. I'm not going away for a week. Long Island Sound is definitely NOT the ocean, though. But at least I live in a state with a coastline.

4. Bikinis or one-piece?
If you've got the body for a bikini, go for it. However, I don't have a bikini body, so I'm gonna go with one-piece in this instance.

5. Do you sunbathe or sit under an umbrella?
Sunbathe with the highest SPF I can find. I feel sheltered if I sit under an umbrella.

6. Have you ever been to a nude beach?
I've walked through one, but never spent a lot of time there. A friend of mine wanted to walk through the nude sections of the Robert Moses beach on Long Island, so I obliged. We were in our late teens when we went, and we just kept talking about nothing so we wouldn't stare.

7. Favorite activity at the beach while on vacation?
Body surfing is the best! The bigger the wave, the better!

8. Condo, hotel or cottage rental?
A cottage rental is the ONLY way to go.

9. What beach in the whole wide world would you like to visit for the first time?
Any California beach.

10. Did you ever have a special romantic time at the beach?
Who hasn't?

11. Tell us about a favorite beach memory.
As kids we went to Long Beach Island for two weeks every summer. We'd literally be at the beach from 10 AM till 5 PM. We'd walk back to the rental for lunch, then go back to the beach ASAP. Then the ice cream man would stop by the beach and we'd pick up a treat. We were in the water almost the entire day. I miss those days something awful.

Book Review: Happens Every Day, by Isabel Gillies

Could it be...that the Bookkitten has actually written a book review for the first time in months? Yes, it is true--and I am soooo happy to be finally writing a review!

We're getting back into the book reading groove with this selection--which I read while I was on vacation in February:


I had originally picked up this book back in April 2009, during a random trip to Starbucks. This was one of the coffee chain's monthly book selections, which they put right next to the register. The cover itself looked appealing enough for me to pick up a copy. As I waited for my latte, I skimmed the summary on the left flap of the dust jacket:

Isabel Gillies had a wonderful life--a handsome, intelligent, loving husband; two glorious toddlers; a beautiful house; the time and place to express all her ebullience and affection and optimism. Suddenly, that life was over. Her husband, Josiah, announced that he was leaving her and their two young sons.

When Josiah took a teaching job at a Midwestern college, Isab el and their sons moved with him from New York City to Ohio, where Isabel taught acting, threw herself into the college community, and delighted in the less-scheduled lives of toddlers raised away from the city. But within a few months, the marriage was over. The life Isabel had made crumbled. "Happens every day," said a friend.

There are many, many stories out there about this exact plot. Woman thinks she has the ideal marriage to a smart, handsome man, and has the house with the white picket fence, the dog, the mini van, and the 2.5 children. And then, suddenly, it all goes wrong. It's a story we've all heard before. However, I was intrigued because this was a true story. Additionally, Ms. Gillies is an actress (she played Detective Stabler's wife on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), and I wondered how much of her dramatic training would lend itself to the storytelling.

It takes awhile for the memoir to build up to the climax. She writes, in vivid detail, about meeting Josiah one summer in Maine, where their families vacationed. She was instantly attracted to the scholar, who eventually earned a Ph.D. in poetry. Josiah's ultimate goal was to obtain a full-time professorship, teaching poetry.

That opportunity arrived when Josiah accepted a position at Oberlin College in Ohio. Isabel threw herself into her new life, and eventually became an adjunct drama professor. They purchased an old house near campus, and everything seemed wonderful.

But soon, Isabel suspected that her husband was cheating. There were the late nights in the office, and the deepening friendship with a female Oberlin colleague. The fights between Isabel and Josiah increased. Isabel wanted to save the marriage, but Josiah kept telling her it was beyond repair. She had very mixed emotions: On one hand, she knew she had to leave, but on the other hand, didn't want to give up the life she had.

Happens Every Day is a no-holds-barred look at a deteriorating relationship. Isabel Gillies is raw, honest, and unapologetic towards her now ex-husband. The further I read this book, the more I thought of Josiah as an ungrateful, self-centered man who really didn't care that he was abandoning two children. I was especially affected by the descriptions of "keeping up appearances": giving friends and family the perception that everything was normal, and there was a happy family life, without providing any detail of the tension that lied within.

So how was this book different from other tales of marriages ending? Well, unlike the movies, Happens Every Day does wrap up its plot in a great big bow, with all of the plotlines neatly tied up. It's like having a conversation with someone who is going through a similar breakup, and just needs to vent, in order to get all of the emotions out. It's like being witness to a therapy session, and you're the therapist, listening to it all.

This is one of those books that begins where you read it in one fell swoop, but then, you have to put it down for awhile before you pick it up again. That is not because of lagging storytelling; rather, you have to sit back and process all of the emotions that Ms. Gillies has laid out on the page. It's as if you have to get over being angry at certain parties (namely Josiah) before you can continue.

There are no wasted emotions in this story; Ms. Gillies makes no attempt to try and cover up any biases towards her husband and his mistress. She is very honest, which is what makes this book such intriguing reading.

While this book is painful to read at times, Happens Every Day is hardly a woe-is-me type of tale. Not once did I feel any pity toward Ms. Gillies, but rather, admiration for her strength and determination. She does not, at any point, make herself out to be a victim, which is probably the biggest strength of the book.

And that's the main thing that makes Happens Every Day different than the typical "perfect marriage suddenly ends" story: The woman doesn't have any self pity, and doesn't make anyone else feel sorry for her.

Monday, June 14, 2010

And I thought the A and Piss Off was bad...

Atlanta bloggers, if you can vouch for what I'm about to write, please do so.

As many of you know, I am not a fan of my local grocery store, the A and Piss Off. I used to think it was the worst grocery store in existence...that is, until this afternoon, when I came across an article about a place called the "Murder Kroger" in Atlanta.

I won't describe the details, because you can read about it here and here. Proceed with caution.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Stealing: The Dark Side Meme




1. You’re building your dream house. What’s the one thing that this house absolutely, positively MUST HAVE? (other than the obvious basics of course)
Very tall, book to ceiling bookcases

2. What is your dream car?
A four-door sedan that runs purely on electricity...or better yet, water

3. What is your favorite website that isn’t a blog?
I loves me some Facebook

4. iPhone 4 or Droid, which do you want?
Neither...I love my Pantech...I'd rawther have an iPod touch, though...all the apps of the iPhone, sans bills

5. When you’re feeling down or lonely or just generally out of sorts, what do you do to cheer yourself up?
I read, nap, watch Conan clips on YouTube or my Carol Burnett and Glee DVDs

6. Tell me about something or someone that you love that most people seem to hate.
Spinach...I love raw spinach...or spinach sauteed in olive oil and bulbs of garlic

7. What do you want to be when you grow up?
A travel writer


8. Would you go on a reality show if given the chance?
NO. FRAKKIN'. WAY.

9. Who was your favorite teacher when you were growing up. (Grade school, Middle School, Jr. High or High School only.)
Mrs. Werner, 2nd grade

10. You get one pass to do something illegal or immoral. What are you gonna do?
Beats me!

11. What were you doing 10 years ago?
I was finishing my first year of grad school

12. By this time next year, I ...
..will be one year older.

13. Do you think the United States will elect a female President in your lifetime? Do you think this would be a good thing?
Yes and yes.


14. Which fictional, TV show character you would shag anytime?
I have no idea. I have some real life actors I'd like to shag, but no fictional characters.


15. What is your greatest pet peeve?
People who are late to EVERYTHING.

16. Tell me about your most recent trip of more than 100 miles?
Over Memorial Day weekend I went on a three-day road trip to Newport, Boston, and then Fall River for a friend's wedding. 398.8 miles round trip.

17. Which do you use more often, the dictionary or the thesaurus?
Spell check baby!

18. Do you have a nickname? What is it?
I don't really have a nickname.

19. What are you dreading at the moment?
It's been stressful at work lately.

20. Do you worry that others will judge you from reading some of your answers?
Nope.

21. In two words, explain what ended your last relationship.
Too young.


22. What were you doing this morning at 8am?
Sleeping

23. Do you have any famous relatives?
Nope

24. How many different beverages have you drank today?
Three...water, coffee, tea

25. What is something you are excited about?
I have a friend getting married July 4th...it's going to be a mini-college reunion

26. When was the last time you spoke in front of a large group?
This morning at church

27. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought?
I'm extra curly today!

28. What were you doing at midnight last night?
Baking cupcakes for coffee hour today

29. What’s a word that you say a lot?
Ayudeme (Spanish for "Help Me")

30. Who is your worst enemy?
me, myself & I

Bookkitten Basics: More about your Hostess with the Mostest

I figured it was time to update the ol' "Bookkitten Basics" post. There's one in the right sidebar of this blog, and it contains features that were present a year ago, but not so much today. My little corner of the blogosphere has evolved, and I must update according to the changing times. I also need to update my blogroll, but one step at a time, kittens, one step at a time!

Welcome, dear kittens, to my humble little corner of the blogosphere! I am the Bookkitten, but you may call me "Kitten" for short. I address all of my readers as kittens, even if they are bipeds, puppies, hamsters, snakes, etc., etc. I love all kinds. I do not cater to one specific species.

So why am I "The Bookkitten?" Easy! I originally created this blog back in 2007 to post my book reviews. You'll still find those here, but this space evolved as a personal journal for me. I write about things that have happened in my life, such as my travels, my concerts, and other experiences. Sometimes I get philosophical. Sometimes I'm funny. Sometimes I'm serious. But I try to write as close as I can to my own personality, without revealing my identity.

Speaking of identity, there are a few of you regular readers who know who I am in real life. However, I prefer to blog, for various reasons, anonymously. Let's just say I have a very public job, and while I say nothing controversial here that could make me risk losing it, I would prefer that no one bombard me at work the next day about something I said on my space. I need to keep my work and personal life separate.

I do blog about several people in my life, but I use pseudonyms to keep their identities private. My family members make frequent appearances; they are known as Mama Cat, Papa Cat, and Sister Kitten. Some friends of mine make appearances, too; two of the regulars here are known as my best friend (BFF) and Chantal, who loves to sing. (Chantal comes from the French verb chanter, which means "to sing.")

I participate in a lot of memes, but I don't do it every week, only when I really, really like the questions. I also like to post a lot of YouTube clips when they catch my fancy.

What else do you need to know about me? Well, I love Glee and will admit I am obsessed with it. I have all of the songs downloaded to my iPod, and have the DVDs. Carol Burnett was my very first comedy hero, and I like to write about her a lot. And I am a major Conan fangirl. I try not to blog about either Glee or Conan or Carol too much, but these shows do get a lot of mentions here. (Glee, in particular, gets a mention whenever I post my latest iPod playlists).

So basically, in addition to books, you'll find music, television, pop culture, and philosophy here in this space. But why exactly am I known as "The Bookkitten." I love books, and I love cats. Simple. I have two cats, who used to get a lot of mentions in the blog during the early days, but I haven't blogged about them much at all lately. Call it evolution; I may return to writing posts about them one day, but I'm not sure when.

Not to mention, I don't post nearly as often as I used to. I have a very busy life. I used to post almost every day, sometimes three times in one day! These days, I'm lucky if I get to post once a week. But life, as you all know, has its ebbs and flows, and I pretty much post whenever and wherever the mood strikes.

So that's me in a nutshell! Thanks for stopping by my little space in the blogosphere! Please come back again!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kitten's Conan Adventure

TWO NOTES: This is a longer entry than usual, and full of tour spoilers, so if you haven't yet seen the show, you may wish to skip this. But I want to record as many details as I can as soon as I possibly can. There are also a couple of video clips from past shows. But for those of you who couldn't make it to the show, I wanted you all to see what went on. And if any YouTube clips from Mohegan Sun get posted, I will post them for you as well. And photos to come soon, too. :)

So last night was THE night. The night that Sister Kitten and I exchanged almost two dozen E-mails over the actual purchase of tickets. The night we both had been looking forward to for so long. Yes, kittens, Conan was at Mohegan Sun last night, and I, along with my lil' sis and BFF, were lucky enough to see him.

And the evening was worth every. Precious. Penny. Sister Kitten even stopped smarting over the $4 fee the casino ATM charged her, as well as the $25 she lost at the slots.

Anyhoo, first of all, about the arena itself. It's a small enough arena that there isn't a single bad seat in the house, but isn't large enough to feel like it's an arena, if you know what I mean. There are about 10,000 seats in the house. Conan said it was the largest room that they played on the tour, and the place was almost entirely sold out.

The show started promptly at 9:00 PM with the opening act, Reggie Watts. He was, in a word, bizarre. Lots of his riff between songs--if you could call them those--were nonsensical. Every third or fourth word he uttered was "shit". He opened his set with a really bizarre song about grandparents, then continued with a "tender" song about lovemaking, and closed with an interesting beatbox mix. I will admit that some parts were laugh-out-loud funny, but man, this guy was weird.

But we didn't come to the casino to see Reggie Watts, no!!! We came to see our favorite ginger!! There was a ten-minute break between the opening act and the main attraction. And then, Conan's band, the LPB Band, came onstage.

The LPB Band consists of almost all of the members of the old Tonight Show band, sans Max Weinberg. And they were tight. Awesome. Seriously, one of the best live bands I've ever seen. The horn section is particularly amazing.

The band opened with an amazing cover of "Move On Up." LaBamba had lead vocals! And the man can sing--more than just the falsetto he used in the "In the Year 2000/3000" skits. And then he, Jerry Vivino (on sax) and Mark Pender (on trumpet) went into the audience and played! It was wild! And then Pender blew his trumpet--and held the note--for what seemed like five minutes! Lots of people were chanting "Blow man blow!" It was a great opening to the show!

And then, the arena went dark and the screens filled with the words, "Two months ago..." (Note: the video clip says "One month ago..." because it's a clip from one of the Vancouver shows in May. Thank you, YouTube gods).



At that very moment, the lights start to flicker. Andy Richter makes his grand announcement. And then, he walked onto the stage, clad simply in a dark grey suit, purple shirt, and a full red pompadour and beard. The audience immediately was on its feet.

Conan immediately went into his monologue, and it didn't take him long to start riffing on the casino's location: “We’ve played a few casinos on this tour, Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but now the crown jewel – Uncasville. There’s a name that rolls off the tongue – Uncasville." (He's not the first performer to make fun of Uncasville's name, trust me. I saw Debbie Reynolds at the Cabaret several years back and about a third of her show was based on that).

There was a Connecticut Sun game in the arena hours before the show, and Conan quipped that when he entered the arena, people thought he was one of the players. That was just one of the many examples of self-deprecating humor during the show. At another point, he compared his legs to "a pair of ivory Slim Jims dusted with paprika." He also mentioned that someone told him he resembled the Brawny paper towel guy after a bone marrow transplant, upon which he quipped, "I'm not feeling very absorbent right now."

Conan also took lots of ample time to make fun of our fair state of Connecticut. He mentioned that there would be lots of raccoons on the drive home giving him the finger. He took time to riff on the robotic wolves that could be seen throughout the casino, wolves that cried out such things as "Your children will never go to college!" He said that he couldn't say, "Hello, Uncasville!" at the top of the show because not everyone was from Uncasville. He told the story of the guy he met who drove fifteen hours, from Maine, to see the show, and started doing an imitation of the man driving, pacing back and forth across the stage. At one point during this riff, a woman screamed out that she was pregnant, to which Conan responded, "That was one wild night in Uncasville!" One thing I love about Conan is how he plays off of the members of his audience so well, and tonight was certainly no exception.

Near the end of the monologue, which was about half an hour, he talked about how he "visited a therapist" and how she told him about the "eight stages of grief for a late-night talk show host who just lost his job." The eight stages started off with...well, rawther than me tell you about it, allow me to show you:



After the monologue, the fun continued when Conan picked up his guitar. There is just something so sexy about him playing guitar--and he can play! The band started playing, and his backup singers, the Coquettes, danced on stage. This is when Conan started to sing about his childhood, to the tune of the Elvis tune, "Polk Salad Annie". Following this very high-energy number, there was another video clip featuring a "generic network executive" (clip from one of the Seattle shows):



Speaking of Conan and women, he said that women have never liked it when he growls and hisses at him. Au contraire, mon frere! That's one of my favorite things about him, and many other women in the arena felt the same way! (And some men, too. At one point Conan asked, "Why do I always get the guys? At the hotel there's always a line of three or four guys waiting for me, wanting me to watch ESPN together.")

After this number, Conan introduced his old sidekick, Andy Richter, to the tune of "Trololo" (which sounded, to me, like something from The Muppet Show.) Andy and Conan riffed for a bit, then segued into a "commercial" for Mystic Seaport--a very raunchy commercial involving lots of "seamen" on the decks. (Please use your imagination on this one, kittens). This was one of the few weak parts of this show. This commercial was tightly scripted, and Andy flubbed his lines a couple of times. He would return a few minutes later, but only after...

...the ginormous, inflatable Bat Out of Hell from the Meatloaf. I will post pictures of it when I can. It has to be seen to be believed. It was one of the funniest sight gags I've ever seen.

The bat made a very brief appearance and was deflated very quickly. But not to fear, kittens, the laughs would continue with another old friend...

TRIUMPH!!! (clip from one of the Seattle shows) Oh, and be sure to check out Conan's outfit after Triumph's bit...



Following this clip, and this brilliant sight gag (God, I can't wait to post pictures), Andy came back on with a segment that told about "what he learned after leaving The Tonight Show." Again, it was, unfortunately, a weak segment where Andy flubbed his lines. I really felt bad for the guy, I really did. Andy can really get some funny moments every now and then.

There were no special guests at this particular show--no Dropkick Murphys like in Boston, and certainly now Stewart/Colbert/O'Brien dance-off like at Radio City. But that was okay. Deon Cole, one of the old Tonight Show writers, came out and did a hilarious set. He was even funnier on stage than he was on The Tonight Show, probably because he was free of network constraints. He played off of the audience brilliantly, and had a lot of jokes about the relationships between Caucasians and African-Americans. Very, very funny.

Conan came back after Deon Cole's set and went into a cover of "On the Road Again," with some changed lyrics about his situation about "wanting to have his own show again." When he came to the lyrics about thanking TBS for having his own show again, the arena erupted into applause.

Then out came the "Walker, Texas Ranger" lever. If anyone remembers from the old show, this was the handle that, when you pulled it, played random, bizarre, and unaltered clips from the old show Walker, Texas Ranger. However, because this bit was now owned by NBC, he had to change it to the "Chuck Norris Rural Policeman Handle." And I will say, these clips were extremely funny. I mean, really bizarre, the kind that made you think, "How the hell did these clips fit into the storyline?"

Finally, the closing number (sadly) arrived, where Conan thanked all of his fans, in a genuine, heartfelt way, for all of the support he received since leaving The Tonight Show, and ended with a cover of "I Will Survive," as performed by Cake:



Was there an encore, kittens? Not just one, but two!!! This following video is straight from the show I saw. The Coquettes each had a solo in the first encore, "The Weight", and then Conan ran into the audience for the second one, "Forty Days":



Unfortunately, this video clip didn't have the solos with the Coquettes, but it was still an amazing number.

As you could tell, I had an awesome time. Conan's amazing as a live performer, and I think he's even better without the network constraints. I can't wait to see what he does with his TBS show. I loved the fact that he was able to play music during his show; he can really shred that guitar. I really, really hope that the rumored documentary comes to fruition; I will certainly buy that DVD!

After I got home, at 1 AM, it took me two hours to fall asleep. I was that wound up from the excitement of the show. It was not a disappointment in any way. I had a GREAT time.

P.S. He DID do the string dance. That made me enormously happy. :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Exactly WHY am I a Conan fangirl?

People who have known me my entire life have known me not to get too excited or obsessed with celebrities. I mean, I never developed an obsession with them. For instance, I have a friend who is in lurve with Josh Groban and has seen him in concert several times. She has all of his CDs, DVDs, and even a pillow with his image. (That last item was a gift). I am friends with a couple who follows Phish and they go to see them any and every chance they get.

Now, kittens, as you know, I'm a huge Carol Burnett fan, but I never was obsessed with her. Ok, well, a huge fan, but never a rabid, drooling, obsessed, gotta Google-her-name-for-the-latest-news kinda thing.

And then...

He came into my life.

Yes, kittens, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know of my Conan obsession. I must confess that I was a fan of his during his Late Night days, but did not become the rabid, drooling, obsessed, gotta Google-his-name-for-the-latest-news fangirl until June 1, 2009.

That was when his version of The Tonight Show debuted. I stayed up late to watch the whole thing out of pure curiosity. I could never stay up late enough to watch a full Late Night, but with all of the hype and hoopla surrounding Jay Leno passing the baton, I had to watch.

And I fell in love. Hard. I mean, I've always had a thing for redheads, I will admit, but...my God, I had to tune in and watch the next night, and the next, and the next.

What was it about him that made me go from a mild-mannered, stay behind the cover of my books all day girl, to an "is it 11:35 yet" woman? I must admit that I go crazy whenever he does the string dance. And I've always loved and appreciated goofy, off-the-wall type of humor. I absolutely love it whenever he pulls out his guitar and starts to sing. He may not be the best singer in the world, but there's something about it that's so endearing, like your boyfriend singing to you outside your bedroom window.

Conan very quickly became a part of my life. On the nights I could stay up late, he tucked me into bed. After I got DVR last August, he and his crew became a part of my morning routine. I'd watch the monologue as I ate breakfast; I'd see the rest of the show after NBC Nightly News. I loved it especially when he'd talk about his family; he didn't do it often, but those little stories he'd tell about his little kids were so charming.

Yet during all of this, I always had a sneaky suspicion that he wouldn't last long. When I heard that Jay Leno was moving to 10 pm, I had a really bad feeling about that move. Call me paranoid or delusional, but when I kept seeing Conan's ratings go down, I had a feeling that NBC had a plan B in place to get The Tonight Show back up to pre-Conan levels.

Needless to say, I was devastated when Conan left the airwaves, and actually cried during his last episode. I still am a little embarrassed by my reaction. Me, cry at a TV show? One that is ending too soon? It was so atypical of me; before DVR, I rarely watched TV. Now I have three or four shows I follow religiously, and am emotionally involved in all of them. This really is quite the change for me.

So, in dealing with my Conan withdrawal, I joined the "I'm with Coco" page on Facebook and started following members of his old crew on Twitter. Again, this was atypical of me. I entered a Google alert for his name. Yes, I know, this is borderline sick. And finally, when rumors were abound that he was about to tour, I recruited BFF and Sister Kitten and asked if they would join me. If the price was right, and the time was right, they agreed to go.

Well, the rumors were confirmed, and in March, the day tickets went on sale, Sister Kitten sent me a madcap E-mail. She sounded more excited about the prospect of seeing Conan than I did! I knew she liked him, but didn't know she was that much of a fan!

So long story short, we got three tickets, and the three of us (and possibly BFF's little bro) are going to see Conan. As excited as I am to see him, I must admit that some of this is a little anticlimactic. I've been reading his tour blog, so I know about some of the numbers that are going on, and I just really, really hope this all lives up to the hype. Ok, I can't start feeling regrets now!

Am I nervous that Conan won't live up to my expectations? Yeah, you could say that. I didn't feel that way with Carol Burnett, though; I had more like nervous butterflies and giddy anticipation when I saw her.

So, in conclusion, I'm not exactly sure why I'm a Conan fangirl. I know I've explored some of the reasons above, but there's nothing really conclusive about what draws me to him. I just really dig him. Maybe it's as simple as that.