Mark Reviews Movies

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Rodman Flender

MPAA Rating: R (for language)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 6/24/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 23, 2011

It's safe to say that leaving "The Tonight Show" might have been the best thing to happen to Conan O'Brien's career. Before then, he was just that comedian who filled David Letterman's shoes on the show that came on after the decades-old, late-night staple, inherited the show from Jay Leno, and was at the helm when ratings started to slide. A mere seven months after his first night as host, O'Brien was unemployed, losing his dream job.

As a result of the network essentially canning him (The two parties arrived at a settlement for O'Brien to leave after much back-and-forth over time slots) and the drama that led to the restoration of the host he was replacing in the first place, O'Brien became a household name; he was a symbol of, well, something. Maybe it was his role as the casualty of his former employer's impatience and short-sightedness. Maybe it was that he was a high-profile person whose status of unemployment reflected that of so many others during tough economic times. Maybe his fans were just really, really loyal. It's probably a little of all of the above with a very healthy dose of the third, based on footage of a rally in support of the comedian in Chicago that includes two men dressed as O'Brien and Leno wrestling each other.

The other evidence that fan fidelity played the biggest role in O'Brien's comeback from what should be a career low-point is the subject of Conan O'Brien Can't Stop. From what we see in this documentary chronicling the summer after his departure from network television, Conan O'Brien legitimately cannot stop performing. Immediately after leaving the show, he and his team of writers are assembled to discuss a nationwide standup comedy tour featuring sketches, musical acts, and a self-pleasuring panda (Since he's still unsure whether or not his "Masturbating Bear" character is legally his property). For a man who's accustomed to working from a central location night after night in front of a studio audience, the idea of traveling across the country to venues of varying sizes and acoustics is a daunting task—not to mention the fact that he only has less than three months to put the entire show together.

There's some genuine attraction to watching the early stages of planning the tour. Meetings are held with half-seriousness, as O'Brien insists people can only be heard if their using a banana as a telephone, and comic concepts are explored. Throughout these encounters, O'Brien leaves the impression (and, at one point, flat-out says when he jokes that his wife is making too much noise in the background during an interview) that he is a controlling perfectionist who uses humor as a way to deflect criticism that he is a controlling perfectionist. When his assistant messes up his lunch order, he jokes that she's fired, which is an odd joke coming from a man who just lost his own job.

This leads us to the other possibility for the surge of popularity after O'Brien's very public break-up with his employer: That he is a representative of others who have lost their own jobs through no fault of their own. During one creative gathering, he brings this up as a point of how his audience at the show will relate to him. Most people, of course, are without a personal staff to aid in mounting a live résumé across the country. Odder still is that director Rodman Flender glosses over how another network hires O'Brien just as the tour starts, giving just one scene in which he jokes about the a job offer from a basic cable network—the one he currently has.

Finally, there's that lingering aftertaste of the spectacle that immediately preceded what led O'Brien to the point in his life that the movie covers. He's quite frank about his distaste for the whole situation. "I'm really, really angry," he rightly says early on, though—since this is "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour"—some of O'Brien's more pointed criticisms are either cut away from (As he's about to mention the name of a specific executive, there's a rather violent jump cut) or perhaps said off-camera.

Overall, O'Brien comes across as a dedicated performer, a caring family man, and a guy who knows that he would be nowhere without his fans (He says he'll rest after shows only to go out and sign autographs, take pictures, introduce musicians for an entire day at a music festival, and meet his backup singer's family). Conan O'Brien Can't Stop serves as a fine character reference, but, in overlooking the controversy and much of the actual show, it downplays its subject as well.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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