I’ve been a fan of Conan O’Brien since around 1997 when I would occasionally venture into the latest hours of the night to catch a big celebrity on Leno or Letterman. These were the early golden days where Andy Richter was the co-host. I tuned out after a while but my interest returned when Comedy Central started rerunning episodes daily when I was in high school. I’ve pretty much watched him religously since and charted every moment of the rise to The Tonight Show and the final settling at the network of TBS.
But most importantly I was in attendance at the 2010 Bonnaroo Music Festival where Conan O’Brien performed as part of his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour. Conan did two shows of his act at the Comedy tent which I was unable to get into because 1.) the tent is much too small and 2.) people had been camping out since 5am to get a seat. Luckily I was able to hear LaBamba and the show’s band performing from inside (very exciting) and the show was displayed on a big screen near our campsite. However the Conan encounters continued as throughout the weekend he introduced Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Tenacious D, The Dead Weather and Damien Marley & Nas. By far one of the coolest celebrities I’ve seen in person.
Considering my long standing love for CoCo, I was quite surprised at the release of a documentary on Conan’s exploits post-Tonight debaucle and chronicling the summer of 2010 and his tour. There’s some great footage of the shows I had heard about like the secret show at Jack White’s studio in Nashville and the collaboration with Eddie Vedder in Seattle. The footage of Bonnaroo is hilarious due to the heat exhaustion everyone seems to be going through and the sudden realization that the crew has been duped into performing the entire weekend.
What really makes this documentary so compelling is the candid and sometimes harsh look at what being a celebrity is like. I’ve known for a long time that with stardom comes constant meet-and-greets but, through the eyes of one of the nicest celebrites in Hollywood, you really feel a true sympathy. The title of the documentary comes from Conan’ persistence to keep going…and going…at all times. The planning for the tour starts immediatley after the final hosting of The Tonight Show. The tour itself consists of several back-to-back shows. All the while we see Conan entertaining his wife and kids, celebrity pals like Jon Hamm and Jack McBrayer, his large staff and every autograph seeker who comes his way. Following a performance in New York, Conan realizes there is a mob of fans being gated across the street from his hotel and with a faint hesitation steps out and agrees to do a few signings. He looks to his manager and says “How am I suppose to continue my night with people standing out there, what am I supposed to do go back and read a Kindle?” Later in the film, one of the Cocettes (back-up dancers in the style of The Rockettes) comes back stage with her family of what appears to be 15-30 people. Conan greets and chats with each member and takes endless photographs. Once the family leaves we see an exhausted Conan on the couch damning any more encounters with strange people.
But Conan O’ Brien really can’t stop. Despite his demands for no more interviews, signings or meetings immediatley before a show we still see Conan chatting up the staff, calling his wife or hanging with Jim Carrey. The entire flight following the long and hellish weekend of Bonnaroo’s heat Conan is constantly goofing on the experience of introducing Damien Marley & Nas. You see more and more that this is a man of great comedy timing and he never runs out of interesting things to say. Its actually quite inspiring the next time your obligated to do something, hang out with someone or drag a smile across your face to satisfy a customer at work. It presses you to just give a friendly nod or gesture to the next celebrity encounter you have and not bum rush the poor bastard. And most of all its comforting to know that whether TBS ratings soar or the show goes bust, Conan O’ Brien will continue on.