“Do you think you could have fun without an audience in front of you?”
-Rodman Flender (Director, “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”)
That question becomes the central theme of Conan O’Brien’s new documentary, “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop.” The movie centers on the tortured artist as he tries to regain his confidence and perform while being “legally prohibited to be funny on television.”
I’m sure that by now most of you know all about the “Tonight Show” fiasco that put O’Brien out of a job after a five-year promise from the NBC execs that Leno would step down, making O’Brien the eighth comedian to host the legendary show. He was fired after only seven months due to disappointing ratings for both his and Leno’s 10 p.m. show. O’Brien was let go with a comfortable $45 million settlement for him and his staff, keeping $32.5 million for himself.
The movie begins with a description of Conan’s situation and his idea to turn his six months of idle time into a national tour (“The Legally Prohibited to be Funny on Television Tour,” to be exact). There was almost instant success when the tickets went on sale; the first few shows sold out within 30 minutes of announcing the show via Twitter.
This success, however, did not come without unease. As the movie follows Conan through auditions, rehearsals and performances, he demonstrates a particular lack of confidence, especially when dealing with coming up with new material for his show. He demonstrates an intense anger toward the entire situation, which makes it difficult to truly enjoy the movie. There are a few chuckles, but as someone who was expecting two hours of laughter, I was a bit disappointed. It seems to me that even beyond NBC’s unjust treatment of him, Conan’s sometimes-grim perception of his failure is largely a product of his own disruptive state of mind. I don’t mean to say that he should not be upset about what happened to him, but O’Brien seemed very bitter at times, and rarely does one see him truly laugh and enjoy himself when not onstage.
Nevertheless, the one thing that this movie does do very well is provide an uncensored glance at O’Brien’s life. Throughout the movie, the audience gets to experience and understand what this man is feeling. It is apparent that Conan almost needs to be in front of an audience in order to function. When watching the movie, one gets to see O’Brien’s true genius as he shows himself to be a dedicated performer who truly takes pleasure in making people laugh.
A snapshot into six months of O’Brien’s life, “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” tells the story of a man deeply affected by his circumstances, taking control of his life while dealing with an inner battle between failure and success.