the title conan o’brien can’t stop may be the most literally named of any movies ever made. it charts the period between conan’s parting with nbc and before he got his current show on tbs. as part of his january 2010 settlement with nbc, he was not allowed to appear on television for three months and not be able to work for another network until september.
conan o’brien can’t stop is a combination of a tour film and a behind-the-scenes look at his legally prohibited from being funny on television tour in 33 cities, 42 shows within a two-month period. we see clips of him at home, in his office, with his writers, but mostly on the road as he travels from city to city.
though i consider myself a conan fan, i never quite feel intensely about that whole incident as a lot of people. i’m glad there were such strong support for him in different social media. good thing it didn’t happen during a presidential election year.
but at the same time, nbc behaved as any corporation would, making decisions based on rating and profit. it’s also kind of hard to feel too bad for (and maybe partly jealous of) someone getting somewhere between $30-$40 million dollars to do nothing.
and that’s where the title comes in. in the documentary, the idea of doing a tour came about the last day, or maybe the day after, his last tonight show. if there is one thing that conan o’brien can’t stop illustrates, it’s that conan is not the type of person who could just take the money and stay home. he has a deep need to perform and to entertain.
we also see him not really wanting to deal with all the other aspects of being on the road outside of the actual show. he repeatedly whines and then proceeds to give out autographs, pose for pictures, entertain fans. and it doesn’t stop with the fans. we also see him complains about the lack of security while on the road, where he endlessly feel the need to entertain anyone who shows up in his green room while on tour. anyone from family members and friends of background dancers to celebrity guests (yes, jon hamm shows up as does jim carrey). when he has a day off on his tour, we see him volunteers to perform at some hollywood function and his college reunion.
some of the more memorable scenes for me includes conan teetering on being mean using 30 rock’s jack mcbrayer as a punchline to entertain other guests; two memphis fans giving him cans of pbr to autograph; the bonnaroo section where his part keeps getting bigger and bigger with his producer/manager nowhere to be found. he also runs into a group of teenage fans one of which uses the word “jew” as a verb, and surprisingly this is in canada, instead of the southern u.s., where i expect things like that.
as someone who was lucky enough to get to see him on the tour (not eddie-vedder-covering-the-who-lucky, i got dave fucking matthews), conan o’brien can’t stop is only moderately successful. the behind-the-scenes footage are interesting to watch mostly because i’ve seen him on tour. for non-conan fans and people who didn’t get to go to see him live, conan o’brien can’t stop doesn’t really stay on any one thing long enough to show how good his tour was. it’s also unlikely to gain him new fans. it feels overall more like a special feature on the unreleased prohibited from being funny on television tour dvd than a documentary that can stand on its own.
conan o’brien can’t stop is very much a product of its time. it kind of works for him as a process to get the public meltdown out of his system and he gets to do things he didn’t get to do on a network show like saying the f word and his love of guitar and rockabilly. there are plenty of ironies here. in one early scene, he scoffs at doing a show on tbs (“what’s next, the usa network?”). the film mostly shows that he has a need to perform and entertain, regardless of venues and audience. in turn, it makes him similar to leno in that they are both workaholics and not in it for the money (conan did not take any profit from the tour, according to wikipedia and tmz). except only one of them has moral, passion, respect, and a spine…oh, and able to be funny, i’m no expert on the subject but based on my quick research, i think being funny is important if you’re a comedian.
i can kind of relate i guess, some of us do things we love for free, without the $32 million severance package.
p.s. there’s a pretty good book about the tonight show fiasco titled the war for late night by bill carter. his earlier book the late shift chronicles the leno vs letterman tonight show fiasco in the 90s and is the basis of the pretty great hbo movie the late shift. hopefully we’ll get the late shift ii.