Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Review)

CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP
(6/24/11; Documentary)
Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Jimmy Vivino, Scott Healy, Mike Merritt, James Wormworth, Jerry Vivino, Mark Pender, Richie Rosenberg
DIR: Rodman Flender
1 hour 29 mins
MPAA: R for language.
BOX: $262,734

Fascinating peek behind the curtain at a guy who waited five years for his dream gig, only to have the whole thing blow up in his face.

A brief history: In 2004, NBC announced that Conan O’Brien would replace Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in 2009. When the transition happened, NBC attempted to retain Leno by building a disastrous nightly prime time show around him. The fallout was spectacular. While the world watched, NBC attempted to save face and keep both comedians on the schedule by suggesting Leno move his new show to its old time slot at 11:35, pushing Conan’s Tonight Show to 12:05.

In the end, O’Brien was paid to walk away from NBC, and Team Coco was born. Overnight, O’Brien went from being a struggling host to a TV icon, engendering sympathy and a rabid cult following. And because his exit contract speculated he had to stay out of the media and off TV for six months, he launched the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour, entering the most creatively fertile project of his life, and dragging his demons along wit him.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is compelling viewing for even casual fans of the carrot-haired comic, mainly because it provides an ugly glimpse into the thing we know about entertainers: that they are “on” all the time because they need to be, and yet, they seem to be miserable, too. Something about being in the same space with them is exhausting. You can see it on the faces of everyone working with, and regularly tortured by, O’Brien.

He’s well aware that he is his own commodity, and finds ways to remind them why they should take care of him, because they’d be out of a job otherwise. It’s not an idle threat, it’s the truth. I don’t mean to cast a negative light on Conan. He is what he is, but he’s also acutely aware of it. He’s also quite kind-hearted by nature, which is a side he may choose to keep hidden.

Credit must be given to Conan for letting the cameras roll during a time when he was processing a lot of upheaval, but given his nature to be “on,” it makes one consider if he’d act any different if the documentary cameras weren’t rolling. (Pariah/Abramorama)

— DENNIS WILLIS

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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