Who wouldn’t prefer the masturbating bear to the self-pleasuring panda? Unfortunately, NBC siphoned all rights from Conan and his show for the seven months after he was shit-canned. Depriving O’Brien of his longtime comedic bits and from any television appearances. Of course this is all old news, that is the beef between Conan O’Brien and NBC over his short-lived stint as host of the Tonight Show. Yet by releasing the quasi-documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop well over a year after the fact suggests that Conan is as pissed as ever, despite taking up his own TBS show, and hitting the road for a somewhat successful post-network-breakup tour. The hype, support, and general what-the-hell sentiments brought fourth by the firing of Conan O’Brien from NBC was invigorating if not slightly annoying, and this film really doesn’t sway either way, rather it just kind of hangs around.
After seven months as The Tonight Show host, Conan received an insufferable blow from NBC and Jay Leno, not only once but twice. After the shit hit the fan, Conan found himself legally unable to appear on television. So what’s a man to do? Exactly! Hit the road in true road-dog form and do a live comedy show tour. Duh! Here we catch O’Brien and co. rehearsing with a band (complete with two luscious backup dancers, the Cocettes) and ad-libbing comedy routines. To see Conan and his team brainstorm for comedy gold reveals a painfully honest perspective of show business.
But as likeable as Conan (or “Coco”) might appear on his late night shows, he does not seem to be as friendly and likeable backstage. He’s frequently grumpy, sarcastic, mean-spirited and extremely punch-happy. But of course, it’s “all in good fun”. The first scene is of Conan cruising alongside a tourist bus in L.A. where he rolls his window down and yells at the bus declaring that it’s “Conan O’Brien from The Tonight Show!” After which he corrects himself to the camera, saying it should have been “formally of The Tonight Show.” It’s a bittersweet moment. Ha-ha funny, but with a dark undercurrent.
Conan embarks on a 44-date tour, and wears himself out pretty quick. There is an undeniable chemistry between him and his co-host Andy Richter. Also, likeable is Conan’s assistant, Sona, a 20-something, cheery hipster chick, who seems to be the only person to fully understand such a difficult person as O’Brien. And the frequent battering of all the writers and assistants provides some funny moments.
On the tour, unlikely guests stop by such as Jim Carrey, Eddie Vedder, John Stewart and Jack White to show their support. The tour makes the summer pit stop at the festival Bonaroo, where Conan wears himself out even more by performing in a “Native American sweat lodge” and introducing miscellaneous festival acts (he is particularly found of his intro for Nas and Damian Marley, whom he later fakes phone conversations with: “hey Nas, what’s up? Oh, nothing”). Eventually, the tour wraps up and Conan returns home to work on his new TBS show. But one’s left with the feeling of “what the hell was that?”
Although it’s admirable that Conan remains ambitious after the hand he’s been dealt, it’s the show that confuses. What this live show consists of is undetermined and seemingly a messy and questionable affair. From what was portrayed in the film, Conan plays guitar and sings with his tonight show band (remember La Bamba?) and from there it seems to be somewhere between a venting monologue and a improv show with frequent cameos. Sure, it can be pure and exhilarating, both for the performer and the fans. And let’s not forget why he’s doing this. It’s essentially all that he can do.
Some scenes tend to linger too long. And a lot of the humor isn’t of the same Tonight Show vein. Conan and team Coco are funny as hell, but they are also angry as hell. And exhausted as hell. And bitter as hell. The documentary itself has a quick edit style and wobbly camera esthetic. The choppy editing often provides a dizzying effect and catches the eye off guard.
Conan has had an unorthodox show-biz career the last couple of years, but mad props to the man for sticking to his dream and his job of entertaining. Although he may seem like a grouchy dick at times, Can’t Stop certainly has it’s moments and makes you feel like you’re along on tour with the gang. O’Brien and Richter have something that will never go out of style. Blistering sarcasm.
Runs 89 minutes. Rated R.