In 2010 talk show host Conan O’Brien and NBC had their much publicized falling out, which saw the former Late Night host leave the network to be replaced by the idle Jay Leno. The television staple known as The Tonight Show had changed hands from Leno to O’Brien, all at the behest of NBC, and then in seven months subsequently changed back.
All of this drama — the backstage politics, the perceived betrayals, the disgruntled affiliates — is for the most part left out of the new Rodman Flender film Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, and for good reason. The film opens with a brief explanation as to how O’Brien got to the point of planning a nationwide touring show that included more than 45 different live performances over the span of two months.
There is no belabouring the point of his exit from television or even, later, his return because more than anything Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is about a touring show, not a television show. In many ways this is what makes the material so appealing: the viewer gets to see O’Brien and his cast act and perform outside the limited scope of the talk show format.
The film follows Conan and company from the inception of The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television tour all the way to its final date, making a few surprise stops at places like Jack White’s Nashville studio and even O’Brien’s own 25 year Harvard reunion. As may be expected there are a fair number of celebrity cameos along the way ranging from well wishers Jack McBrayer, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally to surprise performances from Jim Carey and Eddie Vedder. Of course, like in all the great comedy shows of the past year or so, Jon Hamm also makes an appearance. Does that man ever sleep?
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop may well follow a fairly predictable plotline but the real appeal, the real draw of the film comes through the portrait of the film’s titular character. Conan O’Brien is shown throughout as an honest person — one who at times can be very tired, very hurt and very frustrated. Early on, even before the tour launches, O’Brien confides to the camera, “sometimes I’m so angry I can’t even breathe.” Far from the ramblings of a perturbed, entitled star, O’Brien comes off as an extremely humble person, sometimes even to a fault. All of these, though, are elements of the talk show host’s personality that are at times completely dwarfed by his most prevalent, pervasive trait: Conan O’Brien is extremely funny. Here audiences get to witness a great comedic personality almost completely uncensored and unedited. You get the feeling that in this environment O’Brien really is one of the funniest people on the planet, he truly doesn’t stop.
For longtime fans of Conan O’Brien’s late night shows, this is as close as you’ll ever come to a must see, can’t miss movie. If Conan has never really knocked your socks off then it’s unlikely you’ll be swayed by Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop. For the rest of us, the casual fans who like to tune in from time to time, this is a film that is genuinely funny and equally charming.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop will be in Canadian theatres for a special one night only event on July 7, 2011.