From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
As you’re probably aware, back in 2010 Conan O’Brien’s stint as host of the Tonight Show was unceremoniously cut short when he refused to comply with NBC’s plan to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 AM in order to give Jay Leno back the 11:30 PM time-slot. After just seven months as the Tonight Show host, Conan was out. (The whole crazy business was chronicled in the book The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy, by Bill Carter, which I reviewed here.) Conan eventually started a new late-night show on TBS, though his agreement with NBC prevented him from appearing on television until his new show launched in the fall of 2010.
So in the intervening months, Mr. O’Brien and his crew of writers and producers launched the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour, a mad-cap series of live shows all across the country. The documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, directed by Rodman Flender, chronicles the tumultuous several months of the tour.
Having been unable to get tickets to any of the sold-out shows, I was first and foremost interested in a glimpse at what the shows were like. In that, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop delivers in spades. Throughout the film we get to see a lot of hysterical footage of the live shows — the song parodies, the big production numbers, the comedy bits with visiting guest-stars (like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), and more.
But the film is far more than that. It’s a compelling warts-and-all depiction of Conan O’Brien at a very stressful point in his life. The film highlights Conan’s incredible work ethic and easy charisma, both of which helped to make him such a successful entertainer. We also see how difficult he could be, at times, to work with (such as in the much-written about scene in which he mercilessly mocks 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer without any apparent justification, or in the many times we see him be curt with his assistant, Sona, among other examples). Mr. Flender told the New York Times that he said to Conan, before beginning the project: “I don’t want this to be U2 Rattle and Hum. I don’t want to deify you. I want this to be honest.”
And honest the film is. But Mr. Flender’s documentary isn’t out to get notice just by depicting a big star at its worst. Mr. Flender is clearly a fan of Conan’s (in addition to their being friends since the two were at Harvard together), and over-all Conan comes off as a hard-working performer trying hard to make the best of a tough situation. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a fascinating peak behind-the-curtain of comedy, and I loved getting to see all of the nuts-and-bolts work that went into creating Conan’s much-publicized tour. And, I should emphasize, despite the occasional bits of behind-the-scenes tension (which are, admittedly, quite compelling to watch), the film is very, very funny. Watching Conan’s humor (both in the scripted bits we get to see him perform on-stage at his shows, as well as in a million unscripted off-the-cuff moments), it’s easy to remember why he has so many fans (and why I’m one of them).
If you’re a fan of Conan’s, or if you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes world of comedy, I think you’ll really enjoy this film.