Now that Conan O'Brien's got himself a show again and Jay Leno's back doing God knows what on 'The Tonight Show,' one almost forgets what life was like just over a year ago when The Ginja Ninja started a Twitter account, grew a beautiful red beard and went on a comedy tour just to keep himself from going crazy as a newly unemployed talk show host. Lucky for us, a camera crew was there to capture that tour and now we have 'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop,' a behind-the-scenes documentary that chronicles all the ups and downs of Coco's life on the road in the wake of the biggest letdown of his career.
It ain't all pretty, but it's a whole lot of fun, so be cool, my babies, and hit the jump for the full review.
As many of you might recall, this all started back with the "Late Night Wars" that started with Conan O'Brien taking over for Jay Leno as the host of 'The Tonight Show' on June 1, 2009, ultimately ended with Leno taking back over for O'Brien seven months later thanks to a ratings dip on both their behalves, and O'Brien (along with his entire staff) out of a job. With a lot on his mind and a big cash settlement from NBC that barred him from returning to TV or talking publicly about the parting of ways for six months, O'Brien and his staff got together and came up with 'The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour.' This is a documentary that follows this 42-show, nationwide comedy tour as Conan picks himself up by his bootstraps, returns to the stage, and finally gets a chance to show the world what life's been like for the funniest guy not on late night.
How Does the Tour Translate to the Screen?
Since we were lucky enough to have gotten a ticket to one of the Radio City Music Hall shows in New York City last summer, it's great to see how much of this movie is spent onstage and how well it translated to film. The downside is that there are a lot of great bits that got left out, like a live version of the Chuck Norris lever, and it might come as a surprise that a lot of the stage footage actually focuses on Conan and his Legally Prohibited Band jamming out to rock classics with re-written lyrics about how they just want to be on TV again or the tough times Conan had growing up in Brookline, Mass. But that's not a complaint in the least, since there's nothing to miss if you haven't already seen the live show and the stuff that is here is flat-out gut-busting. It definitely helps that Conan shreds on guitar and has great taste in music, but come on: The Masturbating Bear is always gut-busting.
Then again, that's just everything that's onstage, and as brilliant as it all is, it's arguably the least interesting thing this movie has going for it. This isn't about a tour -- this is about a red-bearded Conan O'Brien giving the world a completely raw glimpse into the life he's been leading and the person he is, flaws and all.
Folks, there are lots of reasons why people love Conan and why they all got behind him at the drop of a hat when NBC screwed him six ways from Sunday. He's one of the funniest and quick-witted guys out there, he doesn't come off as some larger-than-life celebrity jerk, and more than anything, he just seems like a class act through and through -- all of which are confirmed in 'Can't Stop.'
Honestly, we don't even know how rock bands go on tour and deal with hordes of fans and groupies without going nuts or breaking up after show number three. That said, it's pretty wild to see Conan deal with it all in stride as he always goes the extra mile to please those around him, making everyone feel like they're nothing short of the head of his fan club. And once everyone leaves, he's totally up front about how exhausting and frustrating it can get. After all, he's a comedian, he's never done anything quite like this before, and we can hardly blame him for dropping an F-bomb in the car ride home after signing 100 autographs and then having to deal with some punk kid hassle him for not signing 100 more. It's not like he's putting on an act for anyone; pleasing others is what he does and making others happy just comes natural. But that kind of lifestyle would get to anybody, it very much gets to him at times, revealing a vulnerability rarely found with a film crew around.
As laid back and personable as Conan's always been, it's really something to see these newer sides of him. This is the man who signed off as host of 'The Tonight Show' by saying "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen." That's the kind of person Conan is and that's the kind of person who deserves the spotlight. The title 'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop' accurately describes a guy who'd rather spend his vacation days playing surprise shows and signing everything in sight for as many fans as possible than kicking back with a bottle of Cristal while getting shuffled into a limo by a fleet of bodyguards.
But Does He Finally Go Off on NBC?
Yes, but in his own way.
In a move that makes us love the guy that much more, you can't miss how disappointed and crushed Conan is over the whole ordeal that led him to start this tour, but he doesn't treat the camera as a soapbox either. This documentary could easily have been one big middle finger to Jay Leno, NBC and everyone else who took away what had been promised to him for years. But that's not how Conan rolls. He's not naming names, burning bridges or making himself out to be some kind of late-night martyr. He's just doing what he can to stay busy, trying to move on from the lowest point in his career, and trying to take his mind off the past while working towards reclaiming his future. Sure, some grievances are aired along the way and he's more than happy to answer all of director Rodman Flender's questions about the subject, but he takes the high road while doing so, which speaks volumes about his character.
There's a lot of fun and games in 'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop,' but there's just as much sincerity, hurt and love to match it, and that's what really makes this something special. You'd probably walk into this expecting a comedy, and even though you'll get that, it's wonderful how it ends up being so much more.
Is It Worth Seeing?
You'd be crazy to miss it.
Not only is it the best secondhand ticket you'll get to one of last summer's biggest shows and freakin' hilarious from start to finish, but considering how Conan never really got a chance to say his piece after such a public split, it's great to hear his side of the story and to see it told so honestly. Even as a member of the audience, you'll feel like part of the team, like you're in on all the jokes. You'll walk away with an even greater appreciation for the man behind the hair, and it really is a story worth hearing. It's endlessly entertaining and always fascinating stuff that had us all ears when we weren't laughing out loud with everyone else around us. Class act all the way.
9/10 Cone Zones
For a second opinion, check out our South by Southwest review from earlier this year too.