At the beginning of Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, there are a couple of brief clips of protests held outside NBC offices when it was announced that O'Brien would leave the network — and Jay Leno's late-night slot would be restored. Of all the things worth protesting, this one had not occurred to me. But it's consistent with filmmaker Rodman Flender's take on O'Brien's comedy tour following the comedian's separation with the network. In all fairness, the outcome seemed unfair to O'Brien. He had a two decade relationship with the network. But the network paid him a hefty severance package ($32.5 million, plus another $12 million for his staff), and what comes through about the backstory seems mostly to be about hurt feelings.
The film spends a lot of time backstage with O'Brien and his large team of writers, producers and musicians. It's not a portrait of hardship, or scraping together a living. O'Brien is very comfortable in front of the camera and constantly clowns for it. The film could have used some longer segments from the touring show. But there are entertaining extras — it is jammed with guest appearances by Pearl Jam, Jack White, Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, etc. (Film review here.)
Flender's film lends a sympathetic ear to O'Brien, whether he's savaging NBC, lamenting the long hours of touring — even if its by chartered jet — and talking about how hard he works to please everyone. Flender and O'Brien were friends when they attended Harvard together.