Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop ***
Directed by: Rodman Flender.
No matter what you think about Conan O’Brien, you have to admit he got a pretty raw deal from NBC. Told for years he was the heir apparent for Jay Leno as the host of The Tonight Show, Conan was finally handed the reins of the show a few years ago. But the network got nervous when it became clear that Leno wasn’t just going to retire and go away. Fearing that he would jump to another network, they gave him his own 1 hour talk show at 10pm on weeknights. It was a ratings and critical disaster. Still though, they didn’t want to let Leno go to another network and compete against their own show. After all, Leno got better ratings than Conan did as the host of The Tonight Show – he got better ratings then anyone. NBC, having invested millions in Conan, didn’t want to lose him either, but wanted to move his show back to midnight instead of 11:30. When Conan said no, he was given millions of dollars to go away, and Leno took back his place as host of The Tonight Show. For six months, Conan was not allowed to go on TV. Instead of taking a break, he went on tour – the Legally Prohibited to Be Funny of Television Tour. The documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop documents that tour.
Now, because Conan has made millions over the years, it is hard to feel too bad for him. And yet, hosting The Tonight Show had been his dream – and the dream that NBC said would one day be a reality. And yes, they did let him host it for a few months, and yes, the ratings were down. But ratings were down when Leno took over from Johnny Carson as well. Even though Conan had had his own show at 12:30 for years, it does take time to build a new audience – and time was the one thing NBC wouldn’t give Conan. But whatever, he seems happy hosting his show on TBS now (which I watch on occasion – and far more often than I watch Leno).
This movie shows Conan as he prepares for that show, and then hits the road. Why does he do it? Mainly, he misses the applause – the thrill of being on stage in front of people. There was only 3 months between the end of his run on The Tonight Show and the start of the tour – and already he seems to be going through withdrawal. The title of the movie is apt – because Conan can’t seem to stop. No matter how much he bitches about having to meet people, take photos with them, sign autographs, he continues to do it, and hide his feelings. He may be miserable when he is forced to do yet another photograph, but the people taking them would never realize it. Conan always seems to be “on”.
I have a feeling that there is a darker documentary in here somewhere struggling to get out. We see glimpses of Conan with an ego, with his insecurities, and all the rest, but for the most part, Conan still comes across as he does on TV – as a genuinely nice guy. But there is anger to him here – anger that he mostly successfully buries throughout the film. I wish he hadn’t.
Directed by Rodman Flender, Conan O’Brien can’t stop is an interesting documentary – and a must for Conan fans, which I consider myself to be (even if, years ago, I abandoned the networks and have gotten by late night comedy fix from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert). But it’s an uneven, and at times frustrating doc as well. Flender cuts away at times when we really want to see what happens next, and holds on some scenes far too long. At times, I couldn’t help but think that a typical concert doc of one of Conan’s shows would have been more effective. Yet overall, I liked the film. Yes, it could have been darker, and had it been, it would have felt more honest. But for what it is, it is pretty good.