conan-o-brien-can-t-stop-originalIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime.

Starring: Conan O’Brien playing Conan O’Brien

Directed by: Rodman Flender

Please understand that I have a lot of respect and admiration for the comedic talents of Conan O’Brien and I rank him among the very greatest late night comedians of television. But, and a big but at that, I absolutely cannot sympathize in any possible way with the comedian’s perceived unfairness in being shafted by NBC in 2010 to be replaced by Jay Leno. Exacerbating my lack of sympathy for Conan is the anemic labor market in 2010 where it seemed (and it continues to a lesser extent today) you were either unemployed, employed with lesser pay, or employed but afraid of losing your job. Conan lost his job too, but he also got to pocket approximately $33 million in the process. So although I felt that NBC made a big mistake firing Conan O’Brien over Jay Leno, Conan was more than compensated monetarily for leaving the network and, in the end, he returned to television with a new show.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a documentary that takes place in 2010 between Conan’s firing from NBC and the beginning of a new chapter in his career at TBS, where he got his own show again. Following his departure from NBC, Conan was contractually prohibited from appearing on television as the host of a program for 6 months. However, nothing in the contract barred him from appearing before a live audience on stage so between April and June 2010, Conan went on a 42-show tour in the U.S. and Canada. The concert tour was called The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour and this documentary follows Conan O’Brien and his posse of writers, musicians, producers, his assistant, and Andy Richter as they tour the country with their show.

Are there qualities that separate those who are very successful in life in terms of power and wealth from everyone else? Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop made me think that there are and those qualities appear to be drive, ambition, and a huge ego. Regardless of whether he was motivated by a need for attention, a need for continual acceptance, or a steady high income, Conan O’Brien is a very ambitious individual. Conan hardly looked back at his two-decade long late night show before he began immediately hatching plans for a comeback. While he was busy negotiating with other networks for a new show, Conan figured “oh, why not” and he decided to launch a concert tour, something which he had never done before. Then to his and everyone else in his crew’s surprise, the concert tour became an instant success. To top that off, a financially successfully and well-received documentary film was also made out of it.

Among my favorite documentaries are those that shed light on the inner workings of show business. I am especially drawn to those that give us a peek into those celebrities who keep their lives private. Madonna’s Truth or Dare comes to mind as an excellent example. Truth or Dare chronicled Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition Tour and we got a glimpse into the Material Girl’s insecurities, humor, and compassion that made us connect with the singer. I was hoping to get that same quality with Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, but unfortunately that was not to be the case. Although we bear witness to Conan O’Brien’s anguish over getting fired from NBC and we see how it affects his relationship with his family and crew, I felt like Conan still maintained a distance between himself and the cameras. What we basically got is akin to a stand-up comedian’s routine about his life. To be sure, there are little bits and pieces scattered throughout the film. For example, Conan discusses the effect his anger at NBC has on his family and he admits later on his struggle between his love of show business and balancing that with his family duties. However, by the end of the film, I did not feel like I knew this man any better than I already did based on his late-night show.

At the same time, what we see of Conan O’Brien does not really paint him in a very flattering light. This film does not intend to portray Conan in a particular way, but I came away from this movie thinking of Conan as sort of a jerk (that at least he admits in the film) who claims he is not entitled to anything, but he ends up acting like he is entitled to his own show. It is clear from the film that Conan has a thin skin in dealing with the politics and business of show business as we see from his always stressed out behavior. Even after he completes one of his tour stops and discovers what a rousing success it was, his moment of rejoice is short-lived before he succumbs to fretting about something and fuming about his circumstances.

For a film about a comedian and a comedy tour, I was also surprised by little humor there is in Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop. Its not that Conan isn’t funny. He is always joking around to be sure (and the film shows us just how wickedly smart the man is with the rapid-fire witticisms that seem to come so easily to him), but his constant anger and depression over his situation really dampens the atmosphere and creates a constant sense of tension during the tour. I kept expecting him to blow up into a tantrum at any second (and maybe he did outside the cameras’ views). It is amazing to see how hard Conan works in this film. As the tour winds down, he appears gaunt and absolutely spent. I am surprised he didn’t simply fall off the edge of madness and I can imagine this insanity was exacerbated by the behind the scenes negotiations he and his agent/manager were probably doing to get him a new show.

Many of the best moments in Truth or Dare were the stories behind Madonna’s crew. The lives of Madonna’s tour members and their interactions with each other were equally compelling to Madonna’s own life and experience on her tour. In contrast, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop focuses almost exclusively on Conan and the only thing we see regarding the rest of his tour crew is whenever they are interacting with him. It would have been nice to have heard what others in the film thought of Conan’s raw deal from NBC, whether they were worried about having a job, and how they dealt with being away from their families and regular lives while on tour. Andy Richter, Conan’s sidekick, is barely a presence in the film as he says and does very little.

One thing that Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop does well is show us the grueling and laborious nature of putting on a show. Even one as hastily and cheaply put together as this one. It is tiring just watching the crew travel from Eugene, Oregon, to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Canada, and the Bonnaroo Festivel in Tennessee. With the exception of his assistant, its not like Conan and his posse are a bunch of 20-year olds with a lot of energy. There is constant retooling of the show to make it better. To add to this laborious effort is the celebrity ritual of having to go out there after each show and greet fans and industry people with whom Conan clearly does not want to meet.

Conan O’Brien is among those few people in this world who must perform. The only place he feels comfortable is on the stage in front of an audience. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is also about this obsession. What Conan O’Brien is unable to stop doing is being on, being a performer, and having an audience. I have known people like this in my life and it is virtually impossible for them not to attempt to attract attention. The film is almost like seeing someone whose air is about to be cut off and he is grasping at the final straw to survive. Conan looks like he is willing to do just about anything he can to keep his audience. Even when he has a night off, Conan still goes out and meets fans, signs autographs, and performs somewhere (like the Harvard talent show).

I did not dislike Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, but I was hoping the documentary would have been inspired by Conan’s ambition and drive to succeed rather than present us with a sloppy assemblage of footage that is really strictly for Team Coco fans. There is much I admired about Conan such as his work ethic, but at the same time, I could not sympathize with someone whose ego and sense of entitlement have completely taken him over.

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