I am usually in bed before any of the late night talk shows come on but you don’t have to watch late night television to be aware of the melodrama that ensued during NBC’s Conan O’Brien / Jay Leno debacle from last year. After walking away from “The Tonight Show” after just a few months, O’Brien took to the road with the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour”, a trek that forms the backdrop for the new documentary, CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP. They aren’t kidding around with that title either. This often hilarious behind-the-scenes look at the madness of O’Brien’s life and mind shows us a humbled man grappling with rejection, appreciative of his admirers at first, but seemingly irritated by the attention he himself demands as the tour nears its close. This portrait is nothing if not honest, but simply left me feeling just as annoyed as O’Brien eventually comes across.
Not watching late night television also didn’t prohibit anyone from taking sides in the debate, myself included. My not being a Leno fan, it was easy to throw my support behind O’Brien. I’ve never admired O’Brien with any consistency by I do find him funny and I did feel that he got the shaft when NBC decided to move the Leno show into “The Tonight Show” time slot. CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP essentially picks up with O’Brien shortly after he is let out of his contract. One of the stipulations for letting him break that contract was that he was not allowed to make any television appearances for a certain number of months following. His not being able to “stop” though would make this forced hiatus to be rather difficult and so he decided to put the tour together. You can feel O’Brien’s nerves on the screen. He has never toured before and is genuinely struggling with no longer having a televised platform to make people laugh in the way that he’s always known. Is it a need to entertain though that he must feed or is it really more of a need for attention?
As the tour takes shape and the dates start passing, O’Brien’s drive is noticeably falling off and it isn’t long before he begins to do nothing but complain about the demands that are being made on him due to this tour. Now, to be fair, I have never been on a multi-city comedy tour before and therefore do not know how taxing the experience is. In that same vein, I am not a celebrity of any sorts and do not know the hardships that come with that lifestyle. That being said, it is difficult for me to sympathize with O’Brien when he spends the first half of the film telling us how much he needs to entertain to live and then spends the second half complaining about his wish coming true. CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP is still funny but if you listen closely, you will hear the contempt and irritation in O’Brien’s tone. It is masked in humour though and therefore somehow supposedly not as hurtful. O’Brien may not be able to stop but he might consider actually trying. I’m thinking a little rest might make him a little less cranky.