Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a potent reminder of just how funny and cool the late night host can be. Thrust into the spotlight when a series of insane decisions by NBC execs screwed network prime-time drama and late night comedy in one fell swoop, the 46-year-old comedy vet was left with a whole lot of time on his hands.
Conan was forbidden from appearing on television, but documentary filmmaker Rodman Flender was around to preserve the amazing rally of Conan’s creative and support teams towards a sort of "comedy-as-vengeance" ultimate goal—"The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour.”
The tour was born shortly after NBC took the Tonight Show away from Conan after only seven months and gave it back to Jay Leno. For those of us that didn’t get a chance to catch Coco on his tour around this great nation (and a few stops in Canada), Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop satisfies with ample footage of the stage show and, even better, tons of behind-the-scenes goodies.
From celebrity drop-ins to Conan’s unique relationship with his assistant, to being privy to the exhausting aspect of performance and burnout—this doc does not disappoint.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop picks up the story in 2010 after Conan chooses a multi-gazillion dollar severance package instead of agreeing to switch to midnight after a 30-minute Jay Leno nightly talk show. The “Legally Prohibited” tour (which included 44 dates in 32 cities) wasn’t just an effort to keep Conan’s name in the spotlight. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop shows a man with a drive and motivation fueled by compulsion to create.
It’s unclear whether Conan put on the big show just to employ all the people he got fired, to get back at NBC for pooping on their 22-year relationship, or because 6 months is just too long a time to hang around eating cheesy snacks.
It seems that, for Conan O’Brien to have fun, he requires an audience. Strangely, he comes off as a pretty humble and warm guy for someone who openly admits to requiring public adoration and approval on a daily basis.
The interactions with Conan and his writers is priceless, though some of it would most certainly be considered abusive out of context. Whether he’s punching one writer or forcing another to use banana as a phone to speak to the group, Conan is clearly a man who is very serious about comedy and thankful for his success.
Footage from the “Legally Prohibited” tour and behind-the-scenes conversations show Conan O’Brien as a wickedly smart goofball who’s just out there to have fun.
Rare glimpses of a grumpy, diva-esque Conan are few, but compelling and completely understandable. The film depicts a performer who is both tireless and unbelievably gracious with his many passionate fans. There is a huge nod to the fan-driven effort that supported Conan in the aftermath of NBC’s bizarre programming choices, and it's clear, though word is he doesn’t particularly like being called Coco, he appreciates the heck out of his fans.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop isn’t a revolutionary documentary; it doesn’t shed light on a global injustice or deal with anything particularly heavy. It is a well-made making-of, an insider’s view on what it takes to keep doing what you love when it seems that a lot of people might not want you to do so.
An incredibly likable and entertaining subject, Conan will most likely gain even more fans with this fun and fascinating peep into one of the most challenging and amazing times in his life. I, for one, am with Coco.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is now playing at the Ritz at the Bourse, 400 Ramstead St., Philadelphia.
For more of Megan Carr’s movie reviews and media musings, visit her website at therestiscreamcheese.com.