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Conan O'Brien Can't Stop From Making You Laugh

Updated on September 18, 2011

Conan O’Brien has an addiction. He has to perform in front of an audience. He literally cannot stop. For almost 20 years, O’Brien has hosted late-night talk shows with his own brand of absurdist and wacky humor. However, his dream of hosting NBC’s “Tonight Show” came to an abrupt end after only eight months on the job due to a falling-out with network bosses. In January 2010, O’Brien was legally prohibited from appearing on television for six months. How would he survive six months without the opportunity of entertaining television audiences? Solution: he went on the road to perform live in front of them on a 30-day tour. “The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” was the subject of the documentary film “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” directed by Rodman Flender.

The film covers the time period from the tour’s inception to its rehearsal and its grueling 30-city tour. The opening briefly explains the much-publicized January 2010 conflict O’Brien had with NBC over their decision to bump Jay Leno to the 11:35 pm time slot and pushing The Tonight Show to 12:05 am (essentially airing after midnight into the next day). O’Brien, who wanted to protect the legacy of The Tonight Show, decided to quit the show and he and his staff walked away with a multi-million dollar settlement. However, not only was O’Brien and his staff out of the job, O’Brien himself was legally prohibited from appearing on television (hence, the tour’s namesake).

With no clue on how he would spend the next 6 months, the idea for a live tour came to O’Brien the day of his final Tonight Show taping on January 22. By the end of the NBC debacle, O’Brien came out on top with huge public support from fans (dubbed “Team Coco”) and was able to parlay this momentum into a live tour. With no idea in how he would structure a show, O’Brien announced via Twitter the tour schedule in March and within an hour, several venues were already sold out. While O’Brien has always remained humbled by all the fan support he’s received over the years, a more earnest and honest O’Brien is seen in the earlier footage taken in his home. At this point, O’Brien struggles with his professional status after his dream job was taken away and he has no clue how this new ambitious venture will be received.

O’Brien worked with his staff of writers and his Tonight Show Band (led by Jimmy Vivino after former Tonight Show band leader Max Weinberg declined to tour due to a recent heart operation) crafted a comedy and music variety show. Filled with pre-taped sketches, on-stage banter, and musical performances with O’Brien on guitar and lead vocals, fans in attendance were treated to a unique show. Prior to the start of the tour, O’Brien speaks candidly about his thought process in creating the show and his motivation to tour the country. He makes a point in saying he is not doing this for the money but simply he “can’t stop” performing for audiences. It should be noted that this was a quite an undertaking for O’Brien. His entire professional career were writing jokes and hosting television shows. The tour would prove to be quite exhaustive for O’Brien and his crew over the next several months away from their families. O’Brien made sure to put as much effort into each show but the backstage footage is a look into his weakening physical and mental state.

Over the course of the tour, clips are shown from various shows that featured O’Brien interacting with the audience, playing music, and bringing out special celebrity guests on stage. Musician Eddie Vedder joined the band on stage in Seattle, Jim Carey shows up for the two Los Angeles shows, and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert delight audiences at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Near the end of the tour, O’Brien plays alongside musician Jack White at White’s Third Man Studios in Nashville and then O’Brien heads to a two-day stint at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. At the end of the tour, O’Brien and crew were ready to had back home to rest. The film ends with a brief epilogue on O’Brien’s new late night talk show on the TBS Network.

“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” is a thoroughly entertaining look into an ambitious project. Definitely a must for fans of O’Brien’s sense of humor and for any one (such as myself) who were unable to make it to any of the shows. As a documentary, it does not shed too much insider information on O’Brien (not that it was its intention) but really a terrific behind-the-scenes look at O’Brien’s leap into a touring live show. Despite the exhaustiveness of the tour, O’Brien still remains relatively upbeat with witty exchanges with his crew. By the end of it all, O’Brien comes out as one of the hardest working entertainers in show business who will stop at nothing to entertain his audience.

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