Conan O’Brien began his Thursday show by giving a little rundown of his new, one-guest-only Conan format and noting that, should the unthinkable happen and that one guest, say, call to cancel a half-hour before the show, “You’re really screwed.” Well, Conan was really screwed, as, indeed, Kumail Nanjiani got caught (or so he says) filming overtime on Silicon Valley in Marina Del Rey. Addressing his audience (which, like Conan, was in Burbank) after sidekick, announcer, and lifetime companion Andy Richter had announced the Stuber star’s promised appearance at the top of the show, Conan told them bluntly, “He was fucking lying.”
So what’s a 25-year late-night veteran to do when his one and only guest pulls a no-show just before he absolutely, contractually has to do a show that night? Well, if you’re Conan, you vamp. You bring up a shaggy dude named Francisco from the studio audience to hang out while you accuse him of probably being the last person trying to sell illegal weed in a state that’s legalized marijuana. You interview your long-suffering real-life assistant, Sona Movsesian, for a full segment, something that listeners to Conan’s podcast Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend knows will be a genuinely entertaining battle of passive-aggressive bits and put-downs. Andy will chime in with a few slams, comparing Kumail to Liza Minnelli (the only other guest who ever pulled a last-minute powder, back in 1996) as a “troublesome diva,” and nailing him with a sick “Kumail Non-Showy-Uppy” burn. (Earning a respectful handshake from Conan.) You play a hurried, ten-second cellphone video emailed in the middle of the show in which Nanjiani’s Silicon Valley co-star Thomas Middleditch takes the blame, saying he didn’t know his lines.
But mainly, you pull out some old school Conan O’Brien petty comedy vengeance. Noting that Nanjiani was coming on the show to promote his new buddy action comedy Stuber, complete with the requisite promo clip, Conan set up the studio-mandated advertisement in his impromptu monologue before rolling . . . a clip from The Lion King, which opens against Stuber this weekend. “You gotta show up to get the cookie,” was Andy’s tough love assessment of the situation, while Conan threw to the Lion King clip one more time during his interview with Movsesian, just to be mean/funny. As far as abruptly repetitious clip gags go, it might not have been Mac And Me or Walker, Texas Ranger-level, but, for a last-minute improvisation, it was some solid Conan.