'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop' Now Playing at the Lumiere Theatre
“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’s Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium for two nights 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 (“On the Road Again,” “Rock This Town”) 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, whose previous credits include 1994’s Leprechaun 2, 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. Here, he seems motivated as much by anger as by an overwhelming need to work again. His insecurities are as transparent as his battle fatigue, whether he’s working out the kinks in his stage show or beseeching fans not to insist on taking a picture with him. (“Signing [autographs] is easier,” he explains.)
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 very specific, precarious moment. It’s not always funny – Flender highlights O’Brien’s musical chops more than his comedy – 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.
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop opens Friday at the Lumiere Theatre. For tickets and showtimes, click here.