Confessions of a late night martyr

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By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer

When Conan O’Brien left “The Tonight Show” he closed out his final show by giving a heartfelt speech about how cynicism won’t get you anywhere in this world.

In his new documentary “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” you can see he might not be cynical but a kind of bitterness creeps in every once in awhile. But who can blame him? The guy had his dream ripped out of his hands and given back to a painfully unfunny and boring underachiever.

The documentary, which is half concert footage half confessional, follows Conan in the months following his firing from NBC. Instead of wallowing he decides to take his vaudeville style show on the road with the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour.

People usually fall into two categories with Conan. Either you think he’s the funniest guy in the world or you just don’t get him. This isn’t a movie for the latter. It’s full of the cerebral, almost bizarre comedy that’s made him famous. What makes this such a great documentary is O’Brien’s effortlessly funny, genuinely goodhearted nature. Yeah, he can be kind of a jerk to his staff, especially his assistant, but he admits early on that is an extension of his genuine pain and anger. “I’m so angry sometimes that I can’t breath,” he admits.

You get the sense that O’Brien isn’t doing this for the money or to keep his name in the papers, he’s doing it for the fans who frequently went to “battle” for him during the entire Leno NBC debacle. During the 46-show tour, he doesn’t once complain about going out every night in front of thousands of dedicated fans. The only time you see it wear on him is the meet and greet parties afterwards. He has no patience for the behind-the-scenes games, but his genuine love for his fans is what drives him. During one meet and greet session you can see his spirits falling, but his entire demeanor changes when one fan tells him that he’s made them so happy. He makes only a few direct references to Leno but you can tell he’s guarded. He doesn’t have to say much.  The people working with him already know how he feels.  

O’Brien is a perfectionist who aims to please. He has moments where you can see the anger and sadness, but he doesn’t let the moments really get to him. You can tell he’s trying desperately to cling to the fun that the concerts are bringing to him and his audience, like the cameos by Jim Carrey, Eddie Vedder and Jack White.

“I absolutely love this, but I understand that it has to stop pretty soon,” he admits towards the end of the film. Of course, we know how the story ends. NBC has effectively swept the mess under the rug, Leno is just Leno and Conan has come out on top with his own show on TBS. But the documentary serves as an interesting view into what those few hectic months were like. Oh yeah, and Conan O’Brien can’t stop; thank heavens for that.

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