SXSW 2011: ‘Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop’ is just downright hilarious

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“This documentary not only selflessly allows its audience to peer into the aftermath of NBC’s late night catfight, but is just downright hilarious”.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop had its world premiere today at SXSW and it kept its 1200-person audience rolling with laughter. Even in the pauses between laughter, I had a lingering smile on my face in anticipation of Conan’s next quip. But the honest scenes in this documentary by director Rodman Flender, were welcome too and they added layers to the film that kept it from being a one dimensional concert doc or a Conan love-fest.

The documentary chronicles the 32-city U.S. tour Conan decided to embark on after losing his slot as The Tonight Show host on NBC. We get a glimpse of Conan during his low points, in which he admits to sometimes being so angry at how he was treated in his departure from NBC that he can’t breath. We also get to watch his face, tense with nerves and excitement as tickets for the tour go up and start selling out one city at a time. According to Conan, someone who loves firing ideas around with writers, putting the show together is the easy part, and after that all that’s left is the nausea, the self-doubt and the fear.

But the crowds came, Conan conquered, and he was side-splitting on stage and off.  He lost 15 pounds throughout the tour, probably from all the jumping around under strobe lights, but also from all the laughing. He tells his audience that there are 8 stages you go through after losing your own television show. Stage 1 is of course, denial, and stage 2 is blame yourself. “So I blew right past stage 2,” he says, “because what the hell did I do?”

Off stage, whether watching him make his staff talk while holding a banana like a phone, or getting off the plane in Eugene, OR and yelling to an empty airfield, “Lets push these people back! Everybody back! No photos,” Conan is always on. He literally can’t stop. Watching his relationship with his staff was another enjoyable layer of the film, especially the one he had with his young assistant Sona, who has clearly learned not to take any shit from Conan. She’s the last one to talk into the banana, after much refusal, and another time, while Conan is swearing she’s going to lose her job for bringing him fish with too much butter, someone walks in and she just crosses her arms and says it’s no big deal, Conan’s just threatening to fire her, it happens all the time.

After weeks on the road, Conan has worked through much of his anger at a situation that was out of his hands, and has reconnected with a fan base that he seems to both love and hate. He’s tired and ready to go home “so I can drive my kids to school,” long pause, “or have my agent drive my kids to school.” This documentary not only selflessly allows its audience to peer into the aftermath of NBC’s late night catfight, but is just downright hilarious.

Alice Gray

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