Theatrical Review: CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP
Conan O’Brien cannot, literally, stop. He needs to perform for an audience to feel anything. His only acceptance of himself is through his acceptance by others. And at what should have been the highest, most accepting moment of his life - hosting the famed THE TONIGHT SHOW - he was rejected by those he trusted most. His network, his producers, and even his friends threw him under the showbiz bus and he walked away bruised and angry. Despite the battle cry heard round the world (Internet), Conan’s reign over THE TONIGHT SHOW ended seven months after it began.
What’s a celebrity at the peak of his popularity to do when he’s signed a non-disclosure agreement following his controversial removal? Well, he could make a series of web videos (done). He could sign up for Twitter and talk about his unemployment beard (done, and I thank you). Or he could become a hermit and never leave his home (I’m sure he spent the first two weeks in a bathrobe on the couch). But, O’Brien needs that attention; he needs to feel at the center of his fans’ worlds.
Enter a documentary crew questionably fixated on our ginger hero and the ensuing four months between his firing and the announcement of his new talk show on TBS. During that time, O’Brien was banned from discussing his prematurely-ended contract or performing on television. Never one to accept an ultimatum, the funnyman convenes with all his recently fired writers to craft a 40-city stage show meant to pay respect to all the fans who declared themselves “Team Coco” during THE TONIGHT SHOW controversy. But there is also O’Brien’s underlying need to justify himself to those who took away his job. A giant “Fuck You, NBC” if you will.
CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP is that message to NBC, if only a year too late. The documentary is often enlightening on the person O’Brien wants the audience to believe he is, but it’s more interesting in the times when he lets his bubbling ire peek through. I can’t tell you if he’s always been a little on the angry side, as this is the first behind-the-scenes footage I’ve seen of him, but his emotions often overshadow his message.
In a particularly confusing scene, O’Brien has to appear at a party in his honor before his first of two L.A. shows. He is visibily angry, complaining to his patient assistant Sona that his agency should know better, then complaining to his side-kick on screen and in life Andy Richter, and finally complaining at the party that he doesn’t want to be there. He rightfully wants to reserve his voice, but rather than just make a brief appearance, he stays for over an hour - lapping up all the attention he can get. Later, he discovers his dressing room is full of actor friends (Jon Hamm, Jack McBrayer) and again rather than exchange a few pleasantries and close down for his show, he begins ribbing a confused-looking McBrayer about his country upbringing (once an intern, always an intern). Yes, it could be argued that Kenneth the Page was in on the joke, but there are a few moments where it’s not so clear. The film is full of “I’m kidding, but I’m not really” moments from O’Brien, leading him to brashly encourage anyone to stand up to him. We get it, you’re angry. Why don’t you just go cry in your pillows of money, Conan?
Despite O’Brien’s inner struggle, CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP does offer an intriguing look into the pain and hurt he felt those months, how he used comedy to heal, and his wonderfully loving relationship with his rocks - Richter and his family. Any scene with his wife or his long-time couch sidekick infuses the documentary with much needed heart, and suggests under that ginger mop is the hero his fans look up to.