Conan the Destroyer

27 Jun

Last year, when Conan O’Brien was (unfairly) fired as the host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, he didn’t take it very well.

Viewers saw that in the days and weeks leading up to his last show, as he piled on the jokes at his soon-to-be-ex-employer’s expense.

And those of us who saw O’Brien’s Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour got a taste of that too, as each show included a few jabs at NBC and a bunch of self-deprecating jokes about the situation.

But behind the scenes was an even angrier person, and in the new documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, we get a chance to see a little more of that side.

Thankfully, though, Conan — who says at one point early in the film, “Sometimes I’m so mad I can’t even breathe” — decided to funnel his emotions into something positive.

As it turned out, the 32-city tour was not so much about Conan venting and getting his fans to rally behind him (unlike a certain former Two and a Half Men star’s tour was). It was more like live therapy in front of his fans, and a way for Conan to laugh and exorcise his frustration and disappointment (in himself as well as NBC).

In Can’t Stop, we get to ride along as Conan’s mood and outlook change, and he sees just how much love there is for him across the country.

Of course, like any comic, there’s a constant need for approval. That’s nothing new. But in Conan’s case, there’s also a never-ending need to entertain.

Here, we watch as Conan and team put together the tour, and then take it from Eugene, Ore., to Atlanta, going practically nonstop for those few months.

He does his show. He doesn’t take actual days off. He greets hundreds of fans along the way, even at times when making pleasant chit-chat is the last thing Conan feels like doing.

No, Conan doesn’t stop, and the film seems to imply that he just doesn’t know how to stop.

You may get whiplash from the speed and quick editing employed here; there are lots of quick cuts and no long scenes. That means you get to see a lot, but you don’t see much of each thing. Thus, as a document of the tour, this is hardly comprehensive.

On the other hand, there are some really nice, and revealing, backstage moments.

I particularly enjoyed watching Conan interact with his assistant, Sona. Despite her being constantly put-upon, and often the butt of Conan’s jokes (including when he makes her speak into a banana during a meeting), it’s clear there’s a great deal of mutual affection there, and that’s really fun to watch.

And it’s cool to see Conan give so much of himself to his fans, even when they turn him off (as in the anti-semitic fan who drove for hours to a casino to see Conan, only to be told he was too young to get in).

Conan deals with nearly every situation with a laugh — after all, that’s the best defense.

That means that even though Conan’s quips often do carry more meaning, there’s maybe not as much of the “off” Conan as we may want.

But I’m not complaining: This entertaining collection of raw footage shows a man going through a real professional rough patch, and coming out smiling. As someone who’s been through similar (though not identical) frustration, I felt a kinship with Conan at the time, and watching Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop I have to say I like the guy even more now.

This is a film for (and in many ways, a tribute to) the fans, but I suspect those who don’t watch his show will like it too.

I’m giving Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop a B+.

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