When I woke up Saturday morning, I hadn't planned to see Conan O'Brien Can't Stop that night, but when a friend told me that Conan had just tweeted that he and director Rodman Flender would be holding a Q&A at the Landmark Regent theater in Westwood after the 7:15pm screening, I snatched up my ticket immediately online.
I knew that I wanted to see this film and I kind of knew what I was in for, but I had no idea just how raw and unsettling the movie would get for me as it went on. Don’t get me wrong; the film is hilarious (Andy Richter, Jack McBrayer, and Conan’s assistant Sona provide many of the big laughs in addition to the film’s red-headed star). It wasn’t just about Conan dealing with the anger and disappointment that came from losing the coveted and once-revered Tonight Show hosting gig, it was about a man unsure of where he belonged and his constant inner struggle with whether he believed he deserved any of what he had gotten in the first place. And if that’s not accurate enough, it could have been more about him deserving to believe he deserved his status and fame. Even though he’s undeniably, incredibly talented, both musically and comically (though he would probably poo-poo that statement while replying with a humble, lowly muttered “thank you”), Conan suffers from a need to prove himself, not just to his audience, but to himself, as if to justify his existence. Yes, we all do that to some degree or another. Conan just gets a stage to do it on. And there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. It’s while on that stage in this film that you see him exorcise his demons. If you love Conan, his sidekick Andy Richter, and his vast array of crazy characters, you will watch this film and laugh hysterically from start to finish. But you’ll find some quiet moments when you realize that this man’s desire to give everything he has to entertain a crowd… the thing that gives him so much joy is the very same thing that threatens to destroy him. While it acts as a means to burn off much of the anger he’s built up from the Tonight Show fallout, as if to exorcise a whole host of demons, you see him beginning to crack in different ways that aren’t very flattering.
As I said, Conan often acts as if his star doesn’t deserve a place in the comedy heavens and often humbly cites his fans and the people around him as the reason why he’s in such a good place and has so much to be thankful for. He goes out of his way to show his appreciation and keeps giving back. Conan O’Brien just can’t stop showing his appreciation! But in those moments when he steps off stage, when there normally aren’t cameras around, a split second of resentment for all of it creeps in. There’s a moment when, in a state of complete exhaustion, after having to shake one too many studio executive’s hands, take one too many awkward photos with an overly-giddy fan or a crew member’s family, he stops trying to be the funny showman we all expect him to be 24/7 and just says what he’s feeling at that moment. I was taken aback at first, knowing that the things he said were permanently out there on film and would seem hurtful to more than a few individual folks that we get to meet briefly throughout the film, not just the faceless mobs of fans, and that he couldn’t take it back. For a split second, I thought, “how dare he?!” But then I took the whole picture into account and realized that were I in his position, I can’t say I would have been as gracious 99.9% of the time that he was. My time would have been spent being a lot more resentful about the things being asked of me and being a lot more verbal about it. Conan is thought of as the goofy, lanky, self-deprecating nice guy. But you can see through this film that even though he is undoubtedly 100% that guy, you also see that as hard as he tries, he can’t be that way 100% of the time. And in a weird sort of way, I think Conan felt he owed it to his fans to be honest with them, even though it had the tendency to sting. Of course, the audience screening the film with me took none of it to heart afterwards during the Q&A with Conan, asking for hugs, hair touching, and awkward phone calls with girlfriends in Kentucky, which, of course, the consummate funnyman spun into comedy gold. But nobody seemed to mind. We’re a weird and devoted lot, willing to block out what doesn’t interest us when we’re too busy squealing with joy.
Yes, of course, the film is edited. And I’m sure there are probably some even less flattering moments that didn’t make it to the final cut, but I’m not sure it would tip the scales for me against the guy. The man, whether you deem him to be selfishly or selflessly motivated, exists to entertain to a point that is probably unhealthy, at least at the time he was on the nationwide tour that’s depicted in the film. Is that a good thing? Is he doing it just so he can look himself in the mirror each morning to justify his beautiful home, family, and paycheck? Only he knows for sure, but this film gives us a hint at what Conan might believe are the answers.
If you’re a Conan fan, a fan of comedy, or you’re just a little curious about what that red-haired goon was up to for 6 months back in 2010, you must see this film. Directed by an old Harvard pal, Rodman Flender, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop proves that no matter how hard someone tries, nobody can be “on” all the time… but when someone tries, it can still be pretty damn funny.
Below I have almost the entire Q&A discussion after the screening at the Landmark Regent theater in Westwood on Saturday night (June 25th, 2011) posted to YouTube for your enjoyment from PopCultureGeek.com to you. The whole thing is a little over 30 minutes, but it’s the only place you’ll be able to catch this unique event (as far as I know for now).