O’Brien excels at improvisational wisecracks, and the new film captures him rising to one of the most challenging moments of his career. The tour sells out as soon as it’s announced, thanks to a legion of fans dubbed members of Team Coco (as opposed to being members of the dastardly Team Leno/NBC) and suddenly O’Brien finds himself given a very public forum to work out his private feelings on a public stage.
He also finds himself having to pull what he calls a “half-assed” show together quickly, now that the seats have been sold.
Working with O’Brien, you won’t be surprised to hear, is not like working for a typical employer. For one there’s his seriously offbeat sense of humor, which enjoys exploding any and all forms of authority (another Irish impulse). This keeps his both his audience and his staff on their toes.
“One of the funniest things he did,”director Flender told the press, “was a full crew meeting. The tour manager gathered the entire crew together and Conan decided to sit in, which was a little odd.
“After a few moments of weird silence and awkward glances Conan announced in a complete deadpan, ‘I’ve been called here because we know two of you are stealing.’ The panicked look on their faces was priceless. Then he burst out laughing.”
O’Brien’s keen sense of absurdity spills over into his attitude to his own treatment by NBC heads.
“Not only am I prevented from going on television,” he tells the audience during the film, “but people who look like me are prevented from appearing too. So that’s bad news for the Wendy’s mascot girl and for Jimmy Neutron and of course for Oscar winner Tilda Swinton.”
Cracks like these cause the audience to erupt in laughter but they come from a place of real anger and defiance, which make them even funnier.
Longtime fans also know that although O’Brien is the funniest man on the nighttime talk circuit, he’s a singer and musician of real talent. One of the surprises of the new documentary is the time it gives to O’Brien rocking out.
For a white guy, he has – it must be said – more funk than many. It’s just one more revelation about a man we thought we knew in a film that’s filled with them.
“You had 40, 000 people in the palm of your hand tonight,” O’Brien’s personal assistant gushes after his final live show in New York. “You were like Hitler,” she adds, “only a nice one.”
In Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop O’Brien emerges not only as a stand up comedian, but also, very clearly, a stand up guy.