It feels a little weird to immediately write about Conan again less than a week after it ended, but hell, something special happened on that show 10 years ago tonight, and I want to take a moment to genuflect upon it.
On June 29, 2011, Jon Dore and Rory Scovel each did a stand-up set on Conan—at the exact same time. And not together; they each did a completely separate, totally unrelated stand-up set, at the same time. Conan O’Brien introduced the segment with a sincere-seeming explanation about how they accidentally double-booked that episode’s stand-up slot, and how both Dore and Scovel “graciously” agreed to share their time with each other. If you’re watching it for the first time, it’s not clear that the whole thing is a bit until they both start up their routines. They don’t alternate, they don’t play off each other, they don’t even acknowledge each other once—they simply reel off their bit at the exact same time, talking over each other in a cacophony of intentionally hacky stand-up. About halfway through Dore grabs a guitar and Scovel brings out an audience member for some purposefully terrible improv. All along the viewer picks up stray lines from both comic, who obviously planned out the moments when certain lines would be delivered while the other was silent; the result is like the chatter in a cafeteria, the various conversations merging together, with the occasional stray sentence popping out amid the din. Dore and Scovel make sure those sentences that are delivered alone are deeply absurd divorced of context, and so you’ll probably find yourself watching it again, trying to focus on one specific set so you can figure out why, for example, Scovel grew up in South Carolina fighting Chinese kids.
The beauty of this clip isn’t just the obviously hilarious gag of two comedians performing simultaneously. It’s not just in how you’ll be compelled to watch it again and again in hopes of disentangling the two separate strands. Part of what makes this so memorable, and worth honoring a decade later, is how Dore and Scovel are able to clearly collaborate on something while giving no exterior hint whatsoever that they’re working together. Either they practiced this extensively in advance, or they’re somehow both able to deliver their own spiels without pause and without betraying any hint of hearing the other guy, while still listening to the other comedian’s set in order to keep the timing on track.
The key to enjoying this is to not worry about the actual jokes they’re telling. Their sets are intentionally hackneyed and bad, a parody of stereotypical stand-up. Focus on the performance itself, and the simple brilliance of the whole idea. During its time on TBS, Conan was the best late night showcase for stand-up, and genre-defying bits like this affirmed that O’Brien’s show would continue to be a home for the weird, smart-but-stupid comedy his NBC shows were known for.
Check out the full performance below, and then maybe start to get all kinds of torn up about 2011 somehow being 10 entire years ago.