Tears of a Clown, by Jack Fleischer
In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to note that I’m related to someone involved in the production of this film. But, that’s just one thing that makes me biased. I am also firmly in the Conan camp. While the heat of “The Tonight Show” controversy has died down, for some the strong feelings live on. So, let me say, Coco loyalists will most likely love this flick. The question is, if you didn’t care one bit about Jay vs. Conan, will you care about Can’t Stop?
The film starts in the weeks immediately following one of the biggest controversies in modern comedy. The story we know is told in brief, we meet his wife and two kids and glimpse into his private life for a moment – then we leap into the preparation for Conan’s summer of 2010 live show, the Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour.
If you missed the live show you’ll get a feel for it here with some musical numbers, a sketch or two, and a glimpse into the show’s wide array of cameos. But, this is not a concert film. If you saw the live show, this is not a repeat. Instead, this is a great supplement for those who saw the show, as well as uniquely entertaining and informative for those who didn’t. From the very first test show in Eugene, OR, to a secret show held at Jack White’s recording studio, to a performance at his 25th college reunion, you see many different iterations of Conan’s live performance. Everyone gets something.
It’s important to note that this documentary is not a screed against NBC, Leno, or anything else that was obsessively covered during the coverage of Conan’s loss of “The Tonight Show.” As you’ll see here, “60 Minutes” covered most of that. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is really just a slightly unvarnished examination of O’Brien the performer.
I say only “slightly unvarnished” because Conan never seems completely “offstage.” It’s obvious that he’s less in control here than when he’s behind a desk, but rarely does it feel like he’s not aware of the cameras. What comes to life here are the aspects of his personality that are parodied on stage: his obsessive nature and his near constant frustration with himself. There are even a few moments where Conan may come across as … unlikable.
But this is because the film lives up to its title. We meet a man who seems to want to pull back, but can’t until it’s too late. The tour appears to make him both ecstatically happy and amazingly miserable all at the same time. Is it because the tour is grueling, or is it a matter of circumstance? I don’t know that we get an answer here, but there is a lot of insight.
But, is it funny?
Yes. Perhaps it begins slow, but it ratchets up as the tour progresses, and by the time the show gets to Canada it’s hard not to laugh hysterically at times.
While this is absolutely Conan’s show, one of true highlights is Conan’s “off camera Andy,” his personal assistant Sona Movsesian. Also notable are the silent shrugs from his long time producer Jeff Ross, the muffled chuckles from his head writer Mike Sweeny, and the positive and funny affirmations from the one and only Andy Richter.
In the end, this one is mostly for the fans, but if you smile when you hear the worlds “masturbating bear” you can’t miss Can’t Stop.