Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Here’s something fun: The director of the new documentary “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” Rodman Flender, aside from his prolific television career, is known for his work on some campy horror flicks like “The Unborn,” “Leprechaun 2” and “Idle Hands.” I admire that.
“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” purports to be a film about how Conan O’Brien, the famously spurned late-night television host, has a compulsive need to continue working, to the point of exhaustion, doubt, and working peers to their brink. And while I do feel that NBC, who infamously gave him Jay Leno’s job, only to shunt him later into the night again after ratings proved unsatisfactory, I’m not sure if I got the same compulsive urge to hang on and keep going as I did from other films about comedians like “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” or “Eddie Izzard: Believe.”
Essentially, the film traces a live show that O’Brien used to fill the six-month gap between his departure from “The Tonight Show,” and the beginning of his new show “Conan.” O’Brien used the show to patch his ego after the suits told him he wasn’t allowed to appear on TV for six months. I understand that this can be damning to someone whose livelihood rests with being on TV, but I felt that O’Brien only concocted the show to show up the suits and to lick his wounds. I didn’t get the sense that he “couldn’t stop.”
Which is not to say that this film isn’t entertaining. O’Brien does seemt o be “always on,” and even when he’s planning events, or just crunching numbers, he’s ready with a wry quip, and some immensely smart, ironic statement. O’Brien is one damn funny fellow, and seeing him orchestrate his stage show is a pleasure. He writes funny songs, dances with sexy women, and plays his guitar with his traveling band. The wide-eyed, joyous, “Hey gang! Let’s put on a show!” vibe is in full swing, and the people involved are funny and a delight. Andy Richter returns as well, and I’m one of those critics who has implored studio heads to give him more work.
We do, however, get the distinct sense that Conan is, well, kind of a dickhead. Like many comedians and performers, he reveals that he’s wildly insecure, and he’s constantly looking for validation, to the point where you can see his assistants getting impatient. He also has the obnoxious habit of, when he’s nervous, punching the people around him. I understand that it’s intended to be playful, but he really lays into some people, pummeling them with perhaps a bit too much glee. It feels distinctly like bullying sometimes. His stock in trade also seems to be shock tactics, so he’ll say some pointedly racist things at points. O’Brien is not racist, but his jokes don’t always come across very well. He’ll yell at people and make humiliating demands at time, mostly to be funny, but seeing the expression on his poor assistant’s face made me feel badly for her. Conan can also be a whiner at times, complaining that he doesn’t want to do another damn meet-‘n’-greet, but persisting in them anyway, clearly high on the attention it gives him.
It’s not exactly a deep, probing warts-and-all type of documentary, but we do gets a sense of O’Brien’s personality, his perhaps overbearing managing style, and his endlessly funny sense of humor. Anyone who has ever contemplated the phrase “Team Coco” may want to check out this film, detailing this little footnote in pop culture history, when “The Tonight Show” tried to get rid of its old host, and quickly fired its new one.