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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Blu-ray Review)

7 Sep, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 9/13/11
Box Office $0.27 million
$26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language and adult material.
Stars Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter.

What drives Conan O’Brien?

At one point early in this chronicle of the comedian’s 2010 road show, an interviewer asks, “Do you think you can have fun without an audience in front of you?” Conan stares at him, blankly.

What we have here is a portrait of a man who yearns for the cheers of the crowd, and will do whatever it takes to earn every laugh he gets because he still can’t believe he’s made it this far in show business.

To say Conan had a roller-coaster year in 2010 would be an understatement. In 2009, Conan transitioned from his popular “Late Night” NBC talk show after nearly 16 years to replace Jay Leno as host of “The Tonight Show.” What happened next is infamous. NBC stuck Leno at 10 p.m., and by January the show had completely bombed.

So NBC wanted to put Leno back at 11:35 p.m., but Conan refused to let “The Tonight Show” move to 12:05 a.m. to accommodate Leno in his old time slot. So Conan and NBC parted ways in a deal that barred him from TV appearances for several months. He eventually debuted a new show on TBS in November.

In the interim, Conan took his act on the road with the 30-city “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.” At heart, Conan is just an old-school song-and-dance man, a throwback to the kind of performers who would do anything to entertain their audience, whether it’s a comedy bit with sidekick Andy Richter or busting out a guitar for a rockabilly jam. This is a range we don’t often see from Conan on TV, and brings to mind his “Late Night” show during the 2007-08 writers strike when it was just Conan, the camera and the crowd.

Presenting the tour in documentary form is certainly more interesting than just a straight compilation of the various stage shows. We see plenty of the performances, but spend most of the time behind the scenes with Conan and his entourage, many of whom are familiar faces from his talk shows. Such invaluable access to Conan the man makes Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop a must-see not only for fans of Team Coco but also for anyone who wants to pull back the curtain of the industry and see what makes it tick.

The film captures the mindset of Conan at a crossroads. For the most part, Conan seems pretty much the same guy off stage as he is on, even if he’s just performing for his friends. But we also get a glimpse beneath the façade, and the frustrations of a man who paid his dues to achieve his dream only to have it ripped from under him by the vagaries of the industry. It’s hard to tell where “show” Conan ends and “real” Conan begins, as he spends half the movie annoyed at his assistant and you’re never quite sure if he’s serious or it’s all a put-on for the camera.

The tour turned out to be therapeutic for Conan, as he admits to still feeling a lot of rage against how he was treated by NBC. Driving his frustration is a belief that too TV executives simply lack the creativity to make good decisions about what to put on their air.

Of course, the business side of things are not lost on Conan, emerging from each show drenched in sweat to remind his team that beyond Conan the Performer, he’s also Conan the Brand, and that if he burns out and there’s no more show, a lot of people will be out of work. That’s why he’d rather focus on the actual performances and not meet-and-greets with VIPs and random appearances his producers keep booking for him.

Conan clearly is addicted to the adrenaline rush of performing live, and he knows it, and even if it causes problems in other aspects of his life, you get a sense he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This is the most satisfying thing I’ve done in show business,” he says. “But you can see the sickness of it, too.”

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