He opens by messing up an audio cue. Clearly he'd never practiced with that particular song. Not a huge deal. Then he chuckles at his own joke. Kind of an amateur move, but everybody's rooting for the guy. Let's get to some real jokes.
Probably his greatest reaction of the night is in the first few minutes. "I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I'm clearly not the strapping young Muslim Socialist I used to be." It's a great line for the president. For a late night comedian, it's an old joke. An obvious one. But it's funny to hear the president say it.
And that's the theme for the rest of the night. Old, uninspired jokes made brilliant by having them come out of the Chief Executive. He follows the socialist remark with a joke about Eric Holder and one about how badly NBC is doing. Both are extremely well trodden in the late night space but they hit great because the president is saying them.
The rest of the set is a combination of some harmless Photoshop jokes (the president with bangs) and more tired jokes. Fox is conservative, CNN got some reporting wrong, Taylor Swift sings about breakups. And.. and... and...
The parts where he really shines are when he does a bit of crowd work "I've got 99 problems and Jay-Z is one of them! [pause, finds Bill O'reilly in the audience] That's a rap reference, Bill." and when he tells a joke only the president could tell. "People say I should have a drink with Mitch McConnell. … YOU have a drink with Mitch McConnell!" That joke doesn't make any sense from anybody else but from President Obama it's amazing.
He didn't write any of it, of course (which caused him to chuckle after a couple jokes like he hadn't seen the punchline coming). And Conan has writers too. But the other handicap Conan had was he had to follow the president. That's not a task any comedian would take lightly. To make matters worse, the president ended his set with a five minute serious discussion of the tragedy in Boston. THAT is hard to follow.
Conan was meatier, more daring, and more original. He was great, if a tad angry sounding at times. And he should be better. The president was great at telling jokes for a guy who spent the day running a country. Conan would be pretty bad at being president for 10 minutes once a year, and if he didn't nuke something, we'd probably say he was a better president than a real president.