Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Directed by Rodman Flender
Opens June 24
Despite the multimillion dollar contract buyout (and similar if significantly less sweet position landed a few months later), Conan O’Brien’s battle with his bosses seems uniquely resonant in our current financial moment. Though the majority of people outraged by NBC’s treatment probably couldn’t quote one of his jokes or cite a character that’s been on his show in the past five years, the betrayal felt universal. Thankfully, so does the pleasure to be had in this documentary.
Very little of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop‘s briskly paced 89 minutes dwells on his departure from the Tonight Show or the motivations behind the nationwide tour he launched immediately after, film crew in tow. It turns out the answer is in the title, but O’Brien’s compulsory need to create, perform and be funny rings true in the sweetest, most unpolluted sense. Be it in a room with his writers, demanding that everyone speak into a banana or have their comments ignored, or in some weird Midwestern concert hall in front of thousands, he brings the same blend of absurdist and incisive humor, all the while transmitting a great deal of kindness and intelligence.
Like in any good roadshow movie, there’s a lot of musical performances, and peeks behind the scenes with assistants, friends, fans, and fellow celebrities, hearkening back to verité classics like Gimme Shelter in self-contained snippets that beg to be shared with the uninitiated. (Though they’re far too numerous to mention, a particularly choice moment is when he plays “Dueling Banjos” while making fun of Jack McBrayer.) There are also frequent instances where the frustration and exhaustion of such a commitment becomes evident. But in an age where cynicism and puerile irony runs unchecked, it’s kind of beautiful to see someone love something so much he could do it until he drops dead.