Talk-show hosts usually live a monklike existence offstage, guarding their privacy to the extent that they won't even reveal what they had for lunch. Conan O'Brien breaks tradition with "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop," a documentary that accompanies the comedian on a nationwide "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on TV" tour just months after NBC announced it was returning "The Tonight Show" to Jay Leno.
The film, directed by Rodman Flender, fails to capture the raw energy of the tour, which made a stop in Minneapolis and just about every burg with a venue larger than a VFW hall. Appearances from Jack White, Stephen Colbert and Jim Carrey are never capitalized on. Flender is more interested in nailing the raw emotions of a wounded comic reeling from a devastating career blow -- losing "The Tonight Show" after seven months -- and his inability to shake his rage.
"Sometimes I'm so mad I can't even breathe," he says in one of many revealing interviews. The result: Fans get to see a side of O'Brien that's more human and harsher than his TV persona.
It's clear that he's loyal to his staff, but his constant string of putdown jokes border on harassment. He punches writers.
He agrees to numerous meet-and-greets and autograph signings, but then almost always complains about them after he's made the rounds. At one point, he rails behind closed doors about the fact that he "had" to pose for endless pictures with the family of one of his backup singers. He worries that his team is burning him out, then keeps everyone up on a plane ride home with his bantering.
"I'm tired of talking to everyone," he says right before going ahead and talking to everyone.
He swears. A lot.
It would have been interesting to get commentary from his employees -- most notably sidekick Andy Richter and executive producer Jeff Ross -- about their boss' walking contradictions. But the camera is only interested in O'Brien, who seems to be in the midst of both a career high and a nervous breakdown.
Those of us who cover TV tend to side with Team Coco over Jay Leno, whom O'Brien really goes after only once in a bitter impression of his rival saying, "What's it like to have a soul?"
But even the most die-hard fans have cringed over the past year in O'Brien's moping and inability to get over a bad break. You lost a TV show, not a child. Grow up, crybaby.
The documentary makes the case that O'Brien is too passionate, too complex, too driven to simply snap out of it.
"I can see the sickness of it," he says.
Now, thanks to this film, so can we.
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