After being very publicly forced out of his dream job as host of The Tonight Show in order to make way for the return of Jay Leno (and his equally large contract and chin), Conan O’Brien was at a place most of us have been at some point in our lives — very angry, but in front of a large group of people, and unable to really express or address it. Of course, O’Brien was being paid millions of dollars not to say anything, as the final legal details of his buyout and exit were hammered out.
Still, trying to channel that debilitating rage into something more constructive was at the heart of O’Brien’s decision to launch his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” live tour, which, starting of April last year, spanned 44 dates in 33 cities. His traveling show — part high-energy song-and-dance routine, part variety sketch show, all smiling exorcism — is lovingly chronicled in the ramshackle new travelogue Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop.
A bit of brief interview footage with O’Brien sets the stage, and we see him and his team discussing and concocting details of how to roll out the announcement for his show — even before they really know what it’s going to be. After that, however, the film mostly unfolds in a straightforward chronological fashion, rolling from city to city and bearing witness to the highs and lows of creating, honing and delivering a live show, while also pressing the flesh with fans at after-show events and figuring out what comes next in life.
Director Rodman Flender’s film is an admirably candid look at the sheer amount of work that is married to this sort of high-wire creativity, and in that respect the movie is, perhaps surprisingly, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s This Is It. Regrettably, the film could use a bit more of a streamlined vision. Those early, direct chats with O’Brien that give an interesting glimpse into the gaping need for acceptance that drives so many of the most successful showbiz psyches unfortunately melt away. Flender doesn’t spend much time soliciting the opinions of the comedian’s peers and employees, which would complement the footage of O’Brien onstage and round out a professional portrait of the man.
Instead, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop kind of morphs into the ultimate backstage video, which is surely not the worst thing in the world. Fans ply the tall, exceedingly friendly, once and future TV host with “masturbating panda” pizzas and an endless stream of photograph requests. He’s only human, though. O’Brien finally does lose it just a bit, and question the sanity of exhaustive pre-show and post-show meet-and-greets with everyone and their families. One day he’ll stop, maybe — just not yet. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Abramorama, unrated, 98 minutes)