America’s eyes and ears, and funnybone: Chris Erskine

Sometimes what I think the Pulitzer committee is after, humor-wise, isn’t just one epic exposé, as per last week’s gem on rotten-tomato fights. It’s a body of hard-hitting work.

That’s what leads me to this steamy parking garage in Burbank, looking for Deep Throat. My investigative partner is my buddy T-Bone (not his real name), who is also overdue for a Pulitzer, which is named — bet you didn’t know this — for a St. Louis publisher responsible for some of the most exploitative journalism of all time. They used to call what Joseph Pulitzer did “yellow journalism” back in J-school, and this type of sensationalism was the harbinger (good Pulitzer word!) of the sort of crud we see today on TMZ or in the New York Post.

Anyway, here we are in the parking garage where “Conan” audiences gather before a taping. Between T-Bone and me, you can feel the riptides of history. Or maybe that’s a security guard grabbing for our feet. Because security is pretty aggressive here. Afraid, I guess, of Irish terrorists.

We’ve chosen Conan O’Brien’s show because his name always sounded like a chain of fun suburban pubs. If ever a show needed waitresses, it’s this one. Each night, they should serve beer. The set should be made entirely of waffles.

Conan, of course, is also occasionally funny. I’ve got friends who are funny all the time, including T-Bone, but he doesn’t have a show. Which makes me wonder: “Why do some people get their own talk shows and funnier people don’t?” I sense discrimination at the deepest corporate levels.


I tell T-Bone that we should seek evidence of collusion with some sort of Freedom of Information lawsuit, like Hunter S. Thompson would do. He’d turn up here at the Warner Bros. studios with an injunction. That would be a pretty funny bit, but we don’t have that kind of budget.

Instead, we infiltrate this audience. One of the greatest things about living in Southern California is that you can infiltrate a talk show at will. You just go online for free tickets to Kimmel, or Leno, or Ellen. After City Council meetings, a talk show might be the best free laugh in L.A.

Didn’t cost us a dime, though after signing in, we did zip over to the famous SmokeHouse, the kind of dark joint where informants hang.

We didn’t get any hot tips there, but the calamari was tender as a mermaid’s kiss. Just to fit in, we also choked down a beer. Whole thing cost under $50, which isn’t bad for lunch in these parts. For $50, you usually get one crouton.

Back at “Conan,” they bus us to the studio, an experience much like being transported to your preliminary hearing. Inside, a bald guy with a badge eyeballs the audience, looking for Irish terrorists, or journalists, and when T-Bone and I reach to silence our phones, he’s all over us. That’s how safe a “Conan” taping is.

The show starts, and out comes Conan himself, so lanky he might be a type of pasta. The comedian hosts a veritable clown car of a show, from which emerge his various weird personas. Conan might be too smart for America; he’s the funniest redhead we have.

His first guest is the actress Isla Fisher, another redhead, which is wonderful because I’ve always loved redheads. I even wed a redhead (with mixed results). Some people dream in black and white. I dream in redheads. I want to marry Isla Fisher.

Following her is a dude from “Breaking Bad,” then a rock band that undergoes some sort of seizure right on stage. They start very loud and grow very louder. Success seems such a sure thing for them.

So, I might start attending more of these talk shows. For no charge, you get lots of laughs and you get to meet lots of hipsters, who make up most of the audience. T-Bone, who looks like a hipster, says he actually abhors hipsters. They make him break out in a pimple-rash.

But I think they have a lot of good stories. Plus, hipsters tend to be passive people, channeling their anger inwardly, where it can harm only themselves.

There’s a Pulitzer winner right there, the juncture of anger and humor in America.

Boss, stop those presses.