Loco for Coco!

2090118_Conan1Make no mistake about it, I consider myself a diehard fan of Conan O’Brien. I watched his first Late Night With Conan O’Brien back in September 1993, participated in the first-ever online forum (the alt.fan.conan-obrien Usenet newsgroup), got to interview him for an article in the USC Daily Trojan in my college days, and even got to attend a taping of his show at 30 Rockefeller Center in November 1999 during one of my visits to New York City. And I was thrilled to find out he was moving his show to right in my backyard to become the venerable host of The Tonight Show in June 2009.

So naturally I was so f’ing damn pissed to learn about the recent NBC scheduling debacle that has resulted in (as of this writing) him ending his show early and leaving the network. And even more pissed because I never had a chance to go to a taping – the studio is all but five stops away from my house on the Metro Red Line.

Not only was I pissed, but hundreds of thousands of other fans were as well. So after my brother forwarded me an email of a planned “I’m With Coco” Protest/Rally at Universal Studios on Monday, January 18th – the MLK Holiday – I was soooo down.

We were encouraged to “wear orange” (in honor of the host’s notable hair color), so I got an orange long-sleeved shirt and wore my Late Night With Conan O’Brien (bought at the NBC store in NYC during my ’99 taping visit) t-shirt over it. And being a musician, I needed to bring some noisemakers, right? So I reached into my bag of percussion toys and got a flexatone and got a kazoo given to me at the NAMM show this past weekend. Prior to leaving the house, TMZ.com showed footage of early-starters in the rally, as today’s torrential rainstorm drenched them. My goal: Go out there but get the least amount of rain.

Then I hopped on the train in the rain, and when I arrived at Universal City – was it all in vain? There was no one there at the Universal City Metro station plaza! Did I miss it all? Ack!

I did see a trash can full of discarded umbrellas, so someone was here. I ran north along Lankershim to Gate 2, on James Stewart Avenue. Only then did I encounter other orange-shirted folk eager to cross the street and heard the crowd start to go crazy go nuts.

P1180104So there they were, about 400-500 strong. A typically ethnically diverse Southern Calfornian crowd, but the age demographic was clearly obvious: nearly all of them was aged from no younger than 16 to no older than 40. Surely this debacle had proven to be a generational battle.

In just a couple of minutes, Conan appeared, greeting the rally crowd from atop his studio building not unlike the Pope addressing the faithful at St. Peter’s square.At about that moment, the precipitation ceased; the crowd chanted, “Conan stopped the rain!”

Then Max appeared in an orange jumpsuit,  band trombonist La Bamba tooted a victory “Charge!” fanfare from his trombone, one of the show’s producers showed and even the aloof Jordan Schlansky made appearances. Andy Richter appeared with a megaphone and said a few words to the crowd, acknowledging that the past few days were paradoxically difficult as well as fun.

After the show’s stars appeared, the rally crowd slowly reduced in size, but remained. Tonight Show staff handed out free slices of pizza from nearby Micelli’s and  “I’m Wet For Conan” buttons. I did score a coupe slices of pie, but the button supply was exhausted a millisecond after I reached into the box. Damn.

Double damn as I had learned from fellow rallygoers that half an hour earlier, La Bamba rolled out in a “popemobile” enclosure and Conan himself ran out of Universal’s main entrance and up rain-slicked Lankershim Blvd. as he exchanged high fives and ran into the studio building.

Still the remaining rally retained a party atmosphere: A man in a “Masturbating Bear” costume did his thang and posed for pics, Someone carried a “Conan Saved Me From Scientology” sign, a fan gave Tonight Show blogmaster Aaron Bleyaert an Etch-A-Sketch portrait of Conan that read, “CONAN: YOU WILL OUT FOX NBC” and the crowd shouted impromptu chants, like “Leno Sucks!” or “Cir-cle! Cir-Cle!” and singing, “All We Are Saying, Is Give Conan A Chance…” One person started singing the date-appropriate “We Shall Overcome” but stopped either because he thought it might have been possibly disrespectful or maybe he just didn’t know the rest of the song (for shame!).

The rally’s organizer, Mike Mitchell, thanked the crowd via megaphone and instructed them to return to the Universal City Metro station plaza two blocks away. So we marched back en masse, losing a few people returning to their cars or their train.

The crowd had shrunk to some 200 or so, but a mock Battle Royale street fight broke out between Jay and Conan impersonators. “Conan” was played by Hollywood martial artist and stuntman Steven Ho, who has been a frequent Tonight Show guest. The Leno impersonators were also in full force with not one but two faux Lenos doing “Jaywalking” segments with people from the rally. One purposely coaxed wrong answers from participants, and another,  played by Adam Ray from Dipdive.com, had Fake Jay act like a total tool, even going into traffic and taunting passing cars.  The remnants of the rally hung out on the curb on Lankershim and got cars to “honk for Conan” as we cheered them on.

At about 4:45 p.m., with about 20 people remaining we decided to head back to Gate 2, (with me leading the way, lol) in time for the show taping to see if we could possibly be featured in the show, get invited to the stage or greet Conan on his way out. As night fell and the cold set in, the small number of us got to make friends and share Conan memories and experiences. A couple of us had seen the show, I talked about the time I interviewed him. We commiserated discussing the f’ed up situation at NBC. We made new friends and exchanged numbers and email addresses. There was Diana, who drove all the way down from Sacramento to be here. Shawn, who came from Glendale, Luis from Rowland Heights, Manuel from South L.A. and Caroline from Santa Monica.

For me, that’s what going to this silly rally was all about. The fellowship factor. It’s no coincidence that “Coco” and “community” (and I ain’t talking about the NBC show that’s partially filmed down the street from me)  begin with the same two letters.

A few Tonight Show staffers came out, mainly to clean up the soggy discarded pizza boxes left there since the afternoon, and the show’s prop master, Bill Tull, gave us some more “I’m Wet For Conan” buttons and not only thanked us, but told us Conan was “very moved” by our presence there today. He also told us it was unlikely we’d get to see him after the taping, since he’s “got a lot of business to do” (read: meetings with lawyers).

At about 6:20 p.m., Shawn, Luis, Manuel, Caroline and I left the rally and headed back to the subway. The day was a wrap. Andy Richter summed it up best atop the studio building: “It’s been kind of a tough time, but also a really fun time.”



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