“I’m very angry, and I have to be honest about it. Sometimes I’m so mad I can’t even breathe.” So says an unsmiling Conan O’Brien, still stewing over his unceremonious dismissal from NBC’s “Tonight Show,” mired in the season of his discontent and planning a 32-city tour to serenade fans inflamed by his ousting.
That was last year, before O’Brien made his well-documented return to late-night TV on TBS, where he plays to some million viewers a night, one-third of his audience during his final six months on the Peacock.
Whether the ginger-haired giant is still seething over the breakup is anyone’s guess, but in Rodman Flender’s “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” the wounds are still fresh.
For those who missed O’Brien’s “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour, which visited The City in April 2010, “Can’t Stop” offers a Cliff’s Notes overview, showcasing snippets of stand-up from the show, as well as musical numbers featuring the host on guitar and lead vocals.
Whether O’Brien took to the stage to reconnect with fans or to satisfy his own seemingly compulsive need to occupy the spotlight remains unclear.
Flender takes a largely observational approach, capturing his subject in the environment to which he’s most accustomed — in rehearsals, decompressing backstage, good-naturedly berating his underlings and signing autographs for Team Coco disciples.
Because of that, “Can’t Stop” is revealing only to a point: It’s hard to tell when O’Brien is being serious and when he’s deadpanning. He seems motivated as much by anger as by an overwhelming need to work again.
Reminded that he’s scheduled to meet with TBS executives — then just a blip on a long list of suitors — O’Brien is dismissive. “We’re not going on TBS,” he snaps, sarcastically wondering if he’ll be meeting with the Oxygen Network next. Is he kidding? Who knows?
“Can’t Stop” is a snapshot of a performer on the rebound, taken at a precarious moment. It’s not always funny and it’s not always pretty, but for the Coco-nuts of the world, it’s at least more intimate and honest than anything they’re likely to find on basic cable.