How long can a running gag run without running out of gas? If you guessed “14 years,” well, you’d be wrong, since it’s now been 15 years since Paul Rudd has been faking, double-faking, and now some 15-faking Conan O’Brien out of his shoes by pulling the old promotional clip switcheroo, swapping out the requisite clip of whatever project Rudd was on Conan’s various talk shows to ostensibly promote with . . . something else.
The same something else. Again and again. And again. Along its 15-year journey, the gag has gone over riotously every time, improbably, with the deadpanning Rudd employing numerous fake-outs, bait-and-switches, decoys, and faux apologies to his host (and the studios who’s product he’s supposed to be dutifully shilling), before kicking to that same . . . something else. Look, you know what it is, Conan knows what it is, and Conan’s audience definitely knows what it is at this point, with the crowd gathered for Rudd’s appearance (technically in support of his new Netflix show Living With Yourself) busting out in grateful applause-laughter when that clip started up once more on Tuesday’s Conan.
Can a running gag that relies on surprise survive expectation and familiarity? Well, Rudd sure gives it his all, not only adding a little twist to the end of the clip in keeping with at least the theme of Living With Yourself, but also responding to the comically fuming O’Brien’s offer, “Do you want to show a real clip, you son of a bitch?” by feigning ignorance (“We had a lot of fun on it, you can tell.”)—and then dutifully setting up the real clip. No, for real this time. He swears.