Review: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

Sunday, June 26, 2011
By Rick Duran

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a  fascinating portrait of an entertainer‘s exhausting journey, both in distance and in spirit.  Even in unflattering tense moments, O’Brien has allowed cameras to capture his 3-month tour in the wake of his much-publicized Tonight Show meltdown.  The film is not a pity party, truthfully any direct talk of the NBC exit amounts to maybe 3 minutes, but rather an observation of the manic energy that has created O’Brien’s onscreen persona.

Director Rodman Flender, a longtime college pal of O’Brien, was given unrestricted access to capture O’Brien’s sold-out tour, which we learn was immediately planned on the day of his final Tonight Show taping. We see O’Brien’s team announcing the tour on Twitter, and their reaction as dates sell-out within minutes, even before they’ve figured out what the tour will consist of.  From writing sessions in his backyard, to rehearsals and backup singer auditions, we witness the process of putting together O’Brien’s first live tour, and his initial shock at realizing the physical demands of performing it each night. Viewers of his talk shows have often seen O’Brien’s penchant for awkward, self-deprecating dances; what’s new in this documentary is seeing the actual physical toll that can take on him.

The documentary’s title is very accurate in describing O’Brien’s personality. We learn that when Conan is frustrated, he often reveals it in the form of passive-aggressive jokes. His assistant, Shauna, is often the receiver of such jokes, but in quiet moments, it’s clear that the two have a mutual respect for each other necessary to get both through such a  grueling schedule. O’Brien will sign just about every autograph, take as many pictures as possible, even when he doesn’t necessarily want to. Even though constant talking wears out his voice, he’ll spend just as much time in post-show chats with stars like Jim Carrey, Jon Hamm and Jack McBrayer, as he does in meet-and-greet sessions with fans. In fact, even when he should be saving his voice, he can’t help but sit behind a piano AND pickup a guitar just to mock McBrayer.

The unrestricted access to his tour not only showcases much of his actual concert performance, but also the creation of improvised segments being inserted into the carefully-scripted show. We see that an on-stage sketch with Stephan Colbert and Jon Stewart was hatched just nine minutes before taking place. Another candid moment is O’Brien’s frustration with the absence of negotiators with scheduling his live show (in an un-air-conditioned tent) and introducing all acts at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. But despite his private tension, he never loses cool onstage, never backs down from his commitments. He soldiers on scripting jokes before introducing acts like Nas and Ziggy Marley, improvises an awkward face-to-crotch greeting with Tenacious D, and entering the stage in large cowboy boots. Conan O’Brien can’t, in fact, stop during this tour, even scheduling performances at his high school reunion and a private show in Jack White’s studio.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a very interesting look behind the curtains. Even at the film’s premiere at the South By Southwest Music Festival, it’s clear that O’Brien was at odds with showing the film and its private moments to audiences. But like his ambivalence to Bonnaroo and long backstage photo sessions, O’Brien is committed to giving people what they expect of him. The very existence of this documentary is a testament to that fact.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop opens in limited release June 24th


3 Responses to “Review: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”

  1. Nathan

    Too bad this won’t be as big as that Bieber movie.

  2. tom P

    Nothing will ever be as big as that Bieber movie.

  3. Kevin Crossman

    I definitely want to see this film!


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