I’ll admit it: when Carson left The Tonight Show, I sided with Leno. I was in high school. I think I was. I’m cribbing this from memory, so I want to say this happened back in 1993. It could just be that I thought Leno was funnier than Letterman, or that since most of the network TV I liked was on NBC I was happy to like whoever they were implying I should like. I do have the firm memory of thinking that I should videotape some of Leno’s monologues since that, clearly, was the highlight of the program.
Flash forward a few years, and I would watch Conan O’Brien. I don’t always remember what I was doing up so late, or why I would regularly be watching this show. I can only think that I was primarily focused on other things – surfing the web, drinking, whatever – and O’Brien was on in the background just to have someone on in the background. I’m not sure. I remember when he first began doing his show, Letterman critiqued him after appearing as a guest. Letterman said something like, “Well, he missed some easy marks, but he’ll grow into it.” Yada-hoodle. Whatever.
I was delivering pizzas back in 2004. I was at someone’s house – I can even picture the house – and they were off trying to find their money, and the TV was on and a newscaster was talking about how O’Brien would take over The Tonight Show in a few years. Flash forward those few years, and I still don’t understand why people aren’t prepared with the money when their ordered out food arrives. But, whatever.
So Conan O’Brien took over The Tonight Show and a few months later, NBC said “Never mind”, gave him a ton of cash, and put Leno back. By this time, it had been years since I’d seen an episode of The Tonight Show. I was working 7-3 five days a week, and a part-time job at The Bookstore several nights as well. By 11 my body was in full “Hey, let’s go to bed!” mode, and even on weekend mornings my internal alarm was screaming “AWAKE! AWAKE!” by six.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a ninety-minute documentary focusing on the man (the myth, the legend!) after The Tonight Show has been taken away from, when he and his creative crew decide to do a live tour across the United States (the “Legally Prohibited From Appearing on Television” tour), following through the development of the act, and the tour itself.
While I can’t say I’m a Coco-head, I can say that my post-high school/college self is totally Conan > Jay. Sorry, Jay.
I saw the film at the Cinecave in the afternoon, before working my evening shift there. There were maybe about six other people in the audience, and I have to think it’s one of those shows you want to see with a full house. Like, Snakes on a Plane in an empty theater? God awful movie. Snakes on a Plane in a full theater? It’s kind of amazing it hasn’t caught on as a midnight-movie somewhere (hint, hint guys). I will state that the opening animated sequence on the movie is awful: the one where they briefly recap the Conan/Jay kerfluffle? The movie itself …
Conan is a very gracious guy. This comes across in the movie. When he’s with his fans he’s nothing but smiles and kind words and a willingness to sign anything and a usual willingness to pose for photos. In his trailer, van, home, whatever, he’s not a grinning ear-to-ear fellow: he’s vocally angry about the demands on his time and upset that the people filling his schedule seemingly have no time for him – at Bonnaroo, he’s informed he’ll be introducing all of the acts that day when he thought he’d only be doing one. And yet, Conan O’Brien just can’t stop. On a day off, he performs at the Talent Act for his 25th College Reunion (he went to Harvard). Dismal about having to participate in pre-show party meet and greets, he invites a bunch of NBC actors – including Ron Swanson’s mustache! – into his suite, and later signs posters for fans, all while weighing a basic dichotomy: he enjoys touring, and the reactions, but knows the time away from his family is far, far too much.
If you’re a Conan fan, it’s worth seeing with a crowd. Heck, if you’re not a Conan fan, it’s still probably worth seeing with a crowd.