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Hot Docs 2011: ‘Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop’ – the personal odyssey of a terribly funny man

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

Directed by Rodman Flender

2011, USA, 89 mins.

Conan O’Brien doesn’t just turn lemons into lemonade; he turns bile into ambrosia. Accordingly, this isn’t a documentary about his very public firing – although it does contain the briefest of recaps. Rather, it is about the months between shows, which he spent on the road performing a stand-up comedy and musical extravaganza, The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. Shot by a college buddy, director Rodman Flender, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is the story of a man possessed, doing what he loves.

Better than TV

The first thing that needs to be said: this movie is fucking hilarious. There is not much that is bittersweet because Conan turns all of those feelings into comedy. Footage of the stage show is obviously very funny – and those of us who missed the show get the feeling that we missed out on something truly incredible – but the funniest moments are behind-the-scenes, which the bulk of the film consists of: writing the show, going on tour, and the occasional moment where Conan speaks introspectively directly to the camera. Watching this film isn’t like watching an extended episode of Conan or The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien – it is a different beast entirely. It is like watching a man undergo a strange sort of comic therapy. It is a visceral experience.

A Bit of a Transitional Period

Initially, we get the sense that Conan is always ‘on’, always performing. Eventually, we come to realize Conan isn’t performing – this is just who Conan is. Flender was given extraordinary access and films Conan everywhere, even following him into the shower. He also takes a ‘warts and all’ approach to editing that lends a great deal of honesty to the film – we see Conan angry, exhausted, complaining, but because we see everything in context, we feel like we understand more about Conan than an audience possibly can.

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This isn’t a fans-only film. It is the personal odyssey of a terribly funny man who invited along everyone he could with just one tweet. This is Conan at is best.

–       Dave Robson

Hot Docs runs from April 28th through May 8th.

Visit the official website for the festival.