Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011)

Directed by Rodman Flender

The Conan O’Brien v Jay Leno/NBC feud from last year as big news when it happened and there were many fans from both sides trying to make their voices heard for either side. But it always seemed like Team Coco, O’Brien’s fan base, were heard much louder, and yet Conan was still sacked from the Tonight Show after hosting for just 7 months. He refused to be pushed back to a 12:05 start time, allowing Leno his spot back at 11:30 after his 10:00 show was struggling. O’Brien was forced out which is a shame because he is a good late night host, but he landed on his feet on TBS after sitting out of the game for 6 months, as he was contractually obligated to do after being terminated.

But of course no one with the energy and passion for what he does like Conan could really sit out for 6 months. So while he could not appear on TV or the internet, he could go on a live tour around the country, so that is exactly what he did. O’Brien embarked on a 44 show tour of his act, complete with his backing band, because O’Brien is also a capable guitar player and band leader, and witty jokes about how he was bitter about being terminated by NBC. This documentary sets out to follow him in his tour and get to know how he felt about the split from NBC, as well as how he feels about performing for thousands of fans every night.

I was actually quite surprised by what resulted from this documentary and I understand that comes from my own expectations and viewpoints. I think it is important to mention in this review that I am a fan of Conan O’Brien. I find him to be really funny, really charismatic and a great host, whether he agrees with me or not, or whether you as the reader agree with me or not, it bears mentioning. I was surprised by how unrestrained the depiction of O’Brien was. When the film started I got the sense that it was going to be a Team Coco production, and in many ways it is. It reflects on how beloved and funny he is, and the energy he has for what he does, but the documentary does a good job at least showing the other side of Conan, if not the other side of the O’Brien/NBC argument.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop goes far enough in showing the side of the beloved Conan complaining about the number of pictures he has to take, complaining about the amount of people he has to meet in his dressing room from the various people involved in the tour. It shows the side of show biz that is often underplayed: the grind. Conan has a passion for what he does, that is evident, but it gets to him being away from his family for so long, doing the tiresome show night after night and meeting all his fans and dealing with them night after night. A tour like this is not an easy thing and this documentary does a good job of showing that and the less likable side of Conan perhaps, but I could hardly blame him for his reactions given the circumstances. I would be annoyed too.

But it also shows the side of Conan that fans love. The side that adores his fans and signs tons of autographs, even when he doesn’t have to, and do everything that is expected of him. Not every person in Hollywood, or show biz in general, is going to be a darling of the media or of his/her fans and this film shows the behind the scenes that fans often don’t realize or choose not to realize. He does his best, and he does it because he loves his job and he loves his fans. To lose sight of how hard and how tiring that must be is to do him a disservice. I didn’t love the film, and in fact I felt it wasted its time on certain asides that were not necessary, but it is an effective film if for nothing else than avoiding the simple documentation of the tour. By showing the good with the bad, director Rodman Flender allows Conan to become human, even as he does things, like never stopping, that most humans wouldn’t have the passion to do.


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