MOVIE REVIEW: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
If you missed his live show in town, see this movie
I’m a big fan of Conan O’Brien, and was thrilled to catch his show live in New York. My girlfriend surprised me with tickets to his live show at the Civic Theatre in San Diego, though I was really disappointed with that show. His band did a bunch of songs, and so did O’Brien, sounding great singing Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, and Brian Setzer tunes, but so what. At least when he did On the Road Again, he changed it up at an attempt at humor. I wanted to laugh more than I did that evening.
Watching Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, a documentary one of his Harvard friends (Rodman Flender) made, one would assume that it would be just a combination of all those live shows with some backstage shenanigans. I didn’t envision this being as entertaining as it actually was.
I’ve always found backstage scenes to be fascinating. We get to see him quickly discuss a bit with Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart just minutes before they’re hitting a stage, or telling Jim Carrey he has to leave because he’s doing a meet-and-greet. The meet-and-greet thing was baffling on a number of levels. When we got tickets, we were told we could do the meet-and-greet for an additional $250. A lot of bands do this. It kind of rubs me the wrong way, and O’Brien also seems to despise doing them. He’s still funny and pleasant with the fans when he is meeting them (even one that is anti-semitic).
It was surprising that even with O’Brien having say in what is shown, who knew he could be nasty at times? Getting angry with his manager for an appearance at the Bonnaroo Festival that had him doing work he wasn’t told he’d be doing (introducing bands). He also tries to avoid Margaret Cho while there, and there are times O’Brien seems to snap in an unnecessary way at his writing staff. As a former writer on The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, surely he knows how frustrating a job like that can be when the "talent" isn’t happy with the jokes provided. When he makes one woman backstage talk into a banana before addressing him – it’s hysterical. She doesn’t want to do it, and he insists. You realize that things happening in show business would probably result in lawsuits at regular jobs.
I would’ve liked to have seen more of O’Brien talking about the Jay Leno/Tonight Show incident. He talked more about that on 60 Minutes (we see some backstage stuff when 60 Minutes has a crew there). I wonder if Jay Leno will wear a disguise and go see this movie; he admitted to watching all the other late night shows to know what they’re up to.
Many won’t think this documentary is as funny as they had expected, but I can’t imagine anybody watching it and not being entertained. What an unusual time to capture in a persons life – the time they are fired and what they do immediately after that. When that person is famous, it makes the interactions so much more interesting. Pizzas are sometimes delivered with messages of support written on the box – or spelled out in pepperoni. When O’Brien stepped off the tour bus for the first show in Eugene, Oregon, it looked like a ghost town. As he looked down the street he wondered aloud “Should I be worried that we’re opening in a town where nobody lives?” Anybody that’s ever done a road trip and stopped for gas in some strange town can appreciate that. It looks like O’Brien planned this tour a lot better than Charlie Sheen did, but it also helps that he’s a thousand times funnier. We can listen to somebody on a stage rant about losing a high paying TV job – but we need reason to laugh and have sympathy. O’Brien got a $40 million paycheck to walk away, and yet you watch this still feeling bad for him. That’s because we realize he’s not doing all this for the money, but his love of writing and performing comedy. If that meant him performing for 50 people at a theatre in Barstow for $100 bucks, I’m sure he’d do it. He really can’t stop.