In the court of public opinion, Conan O’Brien clearly emerged victorious in NBC’s mishandling of him, Jay Leno and The Tonight Show; I suppose there are people who took Leno’s side in the debacle, but they comprise a small minority, and I prefer to pretend they don’t exist. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, a documentary chronicling 2010’s live tour, will add to that good will—not because it’s self-congratulatory and fawning, but precisely because it isn’t. Our beloved ginger beanpole, though essentially decent and good-hearted, is revealed to have flaws and rough edges. This only makes us admire him more.
Like Conan himself, the movie is almost unceasingly funny, often pointedly so. If you wondered whether he was angry about losing The Tonight Show, seeing his unguarded observations about (and devastating impersonation of) Leno will clear that right up. Instead of growing bitter, though, Conan funneled his emotions into the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” Tour. The hectic process is nerve-racking for him, and it’s fascinating to see how a person who is naturally funny uses humor to cope with crises.
The doc (directed by Rodman Flender) uses the tour as its framework and includes footage from the performances, but the primary focus is behind the scenes, where Conan’s compulsive need to perform takes its toll on his well-being. He did 42 shows in 33 cities in 64 days, and he did meet-and-greets with VIP ticket holders, and he appeared in a talent show at his 25th college reunion—all because, well, he can’t stop. Yet he doesn’t come across as some “woe-is-me” prisoner of fame, the way wealthy celebrities who grumble about work often do.
On the contrary, this illuminating glimpse into the frantic, complicated mind of a performer is sympathetic, a reminder that the only people who succeed in comedy are the ones who hustle.
CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP