The circumstances behind Conan O’Brien’s departure from NBC have been so well-documented that it’s tiresome to hear about it anymore, let alone go into detail about it in writing. The former Tonight Show host was certainly given a “raw deal”, as fans acknowledge throughout the film, wherein O’Brien was forced out of the television landscape for six months. This temporary exile would prompt him to take his show on the road and is the basis for Rodman Flender’s documentary.
At a lean 89 minutes, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop isn’t much of anything. For a film based on such a prolific comedian, it’s surprisingly light on laughs. Perhaps indicative of the thin material, Flender rarely allows his camera to hold for prolonged periods of time; the film sporadically cuts from dress rehearsals, to backstage segments, to the show itself without there being much weight to any of the images. In terms of the production of the show, Flender doesn’t seem to have much to say about the dynamic process, and instead records the event for just long enough as to not expose the limited material.
Not even the film’s focus has much to say; Conan O’Brien comes across as a petulant child whose dismissal from the Tonight Show has embittered the comedian. He’s certainly a hard-working man, but his general disposition tends to lend itself to a prima donna. In an early scene, he toys around with his assistant, claiming that she’s fired for having brought him a butter-soaked grilled fish; the whole situation plays out as some sort of cruel joke.
Yet this is countered by his dubious relationship to his fanbase; Flender insists upon having a multitude of scenes where fans address their admiration for O’Brien. It all comes across as very self-congratulatory and off-putting. O’Brien’s smugness and bitterness tends to emanate through most of the picture; having so many scenes of fans gush over him just feels unwarranted.
I admire O’Brien’s work ethic. I think of him as one of the better comics out there. But the emptiness and general tone of bitterness coming from Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is simply too overbearing for me to tolerate. I recall on what I believe to be O’Brien’s final episode as the Tonight Show host, his discussion on cynicism; you gathered the man was prepared to take that step forward. Based on Can’t Stop, he really could use his own advice.