Positioning itself as a portrait of Conan O’Brien’s tireless dedication to entertaining and pleasing his fans (as well as his consuming need for audience-applause approval), Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop nonetheless can’t mask that, at heart, it’s merely a trifling tour doc that gives further excessive attention to the late-night star’s 2010 ouster as The Tonight Show host. O’Brien’s contentious split from NBC, which included an agreement that he not appear on TV, radio, or the Internet for six months, is the guiding motivation behind his cross-country “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour,” which O’Brien uses as a vehicle for expunging the still-burning anger he has at being forced out of his former job.
In the abstract, O’Brien’s sudden and unmerited termination resonates as a high-profile example of the unexpected unemployment faced by so many Americans during these tough economic times. But in reality, there’s something disagreeably narcissistic about his need to continually harp on his recent troubles, given that he remains a happily married, father-of-two multi-millionaire whose tour (and subsequent gig on TBS) confirms that, relatively speaking, he’s still on top—circumstances that relegate his on- and off-stage references to his firing as more than a tad perspective-challenged.
Consequently, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop comes off as a vanity project aimed at giving O’Brien another platform to express his frustration and fury over the NBC fracas. Even so, it’s also a passable on-the-road travelogue, one full of pedestrian rehearsal, performance, and backstage footage that captures O’Brien’s workaholic side. Driven not only to perfect his material (which is part stand-up, part musical), but also to engage with any and every admirer or colleague he encounters, the comedian proves a mildly endearing figure who recognizes the value in hard work and (frequently scathing jabs aside) treating people well.
However, since there’s very little humor during these vignettes (most of it coming via impromptu visits from celebs like 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer, and riffing with sidekick Andy Richter), this home video-ish material feels like PR fluff designed to show that, despite his bitterness, O’Brien is a really good guy who cares for his staff, his audience, and his kids. That may very well be true, but never amounting to more than a celebration of “Team Coco” fandom devoid of drama or insights into the industry, the creative process, or the “therapeutic” nature of the tour itself, it’s a documentary portrait that makes one wish O’Brien’s woe-is-me harping about his faux-tragic The Tonight Show fate would finally stop.