“This is the first time in my twenty-year television career that anyone has paid to see me… Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’ve paid to make me go away…”
We all know the story behind Conan O’Brien’s beard of sorrow, est. 2010 — the result of his falling out with NBC over refusing to move “The Tonight Show” past midnight to make way for the flagging Jay Leno. While he reached a $45 million settlement with the network, Conan was momentarily unemployed. He also became more popular than ever.
Millions of viewers rallied for Conan on Facebook and Twitter. Protesters lined up outside NBC buildings with picket signs. Two Asian guys staged a Conan vs. Jay brawl in the streets. The Shepard Fairey-esque “I’m With Coco” sign was circulated endlessly through cyberspace in support of the redheaded late-night talk show host who had suddenly become a beloved underdog (barring, of course, the $45 million).
In the summer between the early 2010 “Tonight Show” conflict and his November 2010 start on TBS’s “Conan,” during which time he was legally forbidden from hosting a television program, O’Brien embarked on the 30-city Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour. Flanked by his sidekick Andy Richter, Conan traveled coast to coast, reaching such venues as Radio City Music Hall, Bonnaroo and the Hult Center of the Performing Arts in Eugene, Oregon (his inaugural show).
Director Rodman Flender (awesome name) joined Conan on the road to document the tour. The end product was Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, now on Watch Instantly.
The documentary emphasizes the effects of the tour on Conan, who for the first time is able to embrace his audience en masse without the medium of a television screen. The venture also appears to eat away at him slowly, as he performs his energetic song-and-dance routine for 44 sold-out performances across North America with very few rest days and sans the company of his wife and children. He clearly isn’t cut out for the rock star life, and it shows.
Despite the clear appreciation he has for his following, O’Brien grows increasingly frustrated with the meet-and-greets he is compelled to give after each show. He laments that one of his Coquettes (the name he gives to his back-up singers) brings a seemingly endless line of family and friends backstage to shake his hand. As fans waiting outside a show beg him for pictures, he hops in his car and orders his escort to “shut the fucking door.” The film does not shy away from these details, but rather embraces them — Conan is somewhat beleaguered by Team Coco, all the strangers that constantly want to explain to him that he didn’t deserve to get the shaft from NBC. He doesn’t get a break. By the conclusion of the tour, the funnyman looks withered.
At one point behind-the-scenes, he channels his anger into mocking poor Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock.” Jon Hamm watches on laughing as Conan does a piano rendition of his song for McBrayer, titled “You Stupid Hick.” Afterwards, he asks him if he has “any cocaine” and then makes him dance to the Deliverance banjo theme. While Conan and Kenneth the Page are longtime friends, it’s still wildly mean-spirited (and fucking hilarious).
All in all, though, the film portrays Conan as the super-likable guy that America knows and loves. He also rags on Harvard during his twenty-five year college reunion, depicted in the movie. He turns to his buddy as the bagpipes blare and asks, flatly, “Why do I feel like a fireman died?”
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is absolutely worth your time, especially if you consider yourself to be a proud member of Team Coco. Or at least did so in 2010, like everyone else that’s probably not watching him regularly on TBS nowadays.