I followed the whole Conan vs Leno thing closely when it went down. When I was a kid and couldn’t sleep, my mom used to let me watch Letterman with her, so I’ve been anti-Leno since he started hosting The Tonight Show when many believed Letterman was the rightful heir to the throne. As a teen, I started watching Conan who is kind of a Letterman for my generation. He even had Dave’s old timeslot. But then Conan was given a promise Letterman never received, in five year’s time Leno would retire and Conan would take over The Tonight Show. Then the day finally came and while Leno stepped down as promised, handing the show over to Conan, it was clear he was not done performing. Knowing he still was bringing in solid ratings, Leno hinted that he might go to another network. NBC freaked and tried to have their cake and eat it too, giving both hosts their own show. When that wasn’t the success they wanted it to be, they cut Conan loose and plopped Leno right back at The Tonight Show. Contractually prohibited from appearing on TV for six months, Conan embarked on a tour of the US to keep the creative juices flowing. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is the story of that tour.
The documentary focuses on the behind the scenes stuff. You briefly see him writing the show with his team of writers, then it’s on the road. You see Conan checking into hotel room, greeting fans before and after the show, getting visited by celebrity friends like Jim Carrey and Jon Hamm, but mostly you see Conan get increasingly burned out by life on tour. He admits to being a perfectionist and know his humor can get biting when things aren’t going his way. Much of life on tour is not completely under anyone’s control and you’re seeing the man clearly out of his comfort zone. Conan got flack for some of his behavior in this film, particularly his relentless teasing of his loyal assistant Sona. However, it’s clear she loves her job and admires the man she works for so I think it’s more a case of sometimes comics are dicks. He also come some crap for complaining about the meet and greets after the fact, but it’s clear he commits to being “on” for his fans regardless of the time and place, he just needs his team to allow him down time to recharge. He can’t be the one saying no to things, but he has a team who should be doing that for him. I emphasize with his plight and it’s partly why I don’t approach celebrities I see on the street.
My main issue with this film is it’s not the documentary I would have made if given the opportunity. I would have loved to see more of the actual act or even just the process of writing the material. And, hell, when people like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert stop by to do surprise guest appearances – focus a bit more on that! Not saying the film doesn’t have it’s enjoyable moments, it just wasn’t all it could have been.