Yet again, Conan O’Brien takes comedy to a place its rarely been before. After his highly publicized ordeal with NBC, who handed the reigns of The Tonight Show over to him after the announcement five years previously. It was generally understood, and planned, so that at this time Jay Leno could retire and go back to his car collection. However, not wanting to lose, up to that point, the most popular Tonight Show host, they had a brilliant idea: Invent a new show, and put Jay on that. It aired before the local news, and then after the news, came the new, revamped Tonight Show starring Conan O’Brien, who started the show in epic fashion, running from New York to Los Angeles to start his new show. This represented a new area for Conan, who had a strong, loyal following at the 12:35 am Late Night Show spot, The Tonight Show being his ultimate goal during the entire course of his career.
So the show debuted, new sets, new stage, and he started successfully bringing his own special brand of humor to the earlier time slot. However, ratings were not as high as when Jay Leno was the host, and NBC executives quickly got cold feet. Fearing for their jobs in an industry where people making six-figure plus salaries are fired more casually than retail workers, it’s somewhat understandable. On the other hand, Leno’s new show was doing particularly terrible, with no signs immediate signs of improvement. Feeling the fans still wanted Jay Leno, and that it was only the time slot that affected his ratings, they hatched a brilliant new scheme: Give Jay’s show a start time closer to his original one (with The Tonight Show), at 11:05 p.m., directly after the local news, and then push Conan a simple half hour back to 12:05 a.m. No problem right? Unless you consider the fact that 12:05 is “tomorrow”, thus voiding the entire name and legacy of the long running, hugely successful The Tonight Show. Like any American, he made a stand against ratings, and refused. The ensuing uproar had everyone talking: What will happen to Jay Leno? Will Conan stay? After some very publicly voiced opinions, it was revealed that Conan would end his run of The Tonight Show after only 7 months, taking a large ($45 million) cash settlement for himself and his crew to walk away. Part of taking the severance package were terms stating Conan couldn’t appear on TV, internet, or radio broadcasts for 6 months, as part of his no-compete clause.
With that said, what is a TV host to do without a TV show? Can’t Stop answers these questions, and many more, mainly: Why exactly does Conan feel the need, or rather, the compulsion, to host a TV show? What about him makes him need that crowd response? Conan’s longtime friend, and filmmaker, Rodman Flender grabbed a camera to find out just what is driving this madness. With a cult that quickly branded themselves Team Coco, and took a strong stance in what they saw as Conan Vs. NBC. A viral campaign across Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook quickly caught on, netting the entertainer millions of loyal followers, in addition to celebrity supporters and friends such as Jack McBrayer, from NBC’s 30 Rock, who Conan gave his first break as a bit player in skits. Tom Hanks spoke strongly about his feelings for Conan, branding the nickname “Coco” inadvertently, and Mad Men’s star Jon Hamm is seemingly always around.
Considering he couldn’t be on TV due to his contractual obligations, Conan decided to take advantage of his immense following and hit the road to do a live show across the country, figuring if he can’t come to his fans’ TV’s, at least he can come to the fans. After much anguish planning and rehearsing the show, Conan still has his doubts, even after the first tickets that become available sold out in minutes. The rest of the film follows him on his stressful, tiring journey across the US as a stage performer, singing and playing guitar every night like he has never done before.
Can’t Stop is as much a documentation of Conan’s feelings on comedy, and his career. He feels the compulsion to perform. When asked pointedly, “what would it be like to stop?” he can’t even properly consider the question. “Stop?” he asks. “What does that even mean, stop?” Such is the man, he is only comfortable making large crowds of people laugh, and when he’s not doing so, he feels like something is wrong. His anger over the NBC debacle is also touched on throughout the film, where he admits that sometimes he gets so upset, so mad about what happened, that he can’t breathe.
So he walks on stage, guitar in hand, amazing guest stars like Jack White of The White Stripes, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, along with the usual Conan regulars like Andy Richter, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart, often improvising as soon as they’re available. A classic workaholic, Conan gets fatigued and only wishes for a day off. Upon getting one, he books a secret gig specifically for Team Coco die-hards in Nashville.
With a good mix of on stage rehearsals, performances, and behind the scenes anguish, Can’t Stopgives you an in-depth view in the psyche of a comedy genius. The catch is, Conan can never stop himself. He needs to elicit reactions from other people as a form of his own evaluation. Rarely before have audiences seen the quieter side of Conan, which does exist. However, when he’s in front of a crowd, he’s in his element, and therefore the quiet moments take a back seat. It is these quiet moments that really power Conan, though, he’s very hard on himself, never fully happy with anything he does, using the quiet moments to reflect and edit his material to always be making it funnier.
With a group of his friends and trusted crew members, Conan manages to stay alive the entire summer tour, while at the same time prepping his brand new show for TBS, the last place he really wanted to be. He took it in stride, though, and has created one of the best late night shows around, with constantly rising ratings, and steady growth of his cult Team Coco online. He has used social media like very few entertainers before him, putting his shows online very soon after their initial airing, giving fans multiple options to watch his show, and making it that much easier for new fans to join in.
Overall, Can’t Stop is an interesting story of one very famous man’s struggle to keep his place in the world while constantly questioning his past choices, and using negativity to fuel his positive output of comedy. Can’t Stop is the ultimate story of Hollywood success, because even though he got paid $45 million to go away, Conan could not just do that. He had to come back to audiences, because it’s the only place he feels truly at home, even after the live tour really kicked his ass physically. Can’t Stop is currently in limited release currently, but expanding week by week based on ticket sales.