Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (USA, 2011)

Directed by: Rodman Flender. I doubt that this movie would hold any interest for someone who isn’t already a fan of Conan O’Brien. Like everything, his is a style of humour that’s fairly particular—either you get it, and you like it, or you don’t, and you don’t. So, as a fan of his brand of absurd, off-the-wall, self-deprecating humour—which even for me, can be a bit too Robin Williams at times—this doc is a good way of seeing him do his shtick for a couple hours. However, as a fan of his legendarily-axed late night show, I was also curious to get an inside peak at that whole affair, and this is where I think the non-fan might be at least tempted to take a look. Like him or not, Conan is one of the premiere working comedians of this age, and the situation he was in was a pretty interesting example of the old establishment undermining the new, the current—a fairly neat microcosm of the studio system and corporate mentality demonstrating its obsolescence in the age of the internet. Following Conan on his Legally Barred From Performing on Television Tour, it was interesting to see how he took the TV format and simply transplanted it onto the format of a big rock show. Without the ability to do a single show each night that was simultaneously broadcast to all of his fans at once, Conan’s circumstances forced him to both go forward and go back in time, using the current technology of social media to promote what was essentially a travelling vaudeville show: a little song, a little dance, some skits, some standup, some videos projected on the screen. Conan was showing that, like musicians, comedians don’t need the promotional power of corporate media. The modern artist only needs to have a quality act in themselves, bodily, in different cities as a touring show, and a good use of internet (ie: free) promotion. Zach Galifinakis, Louis CK and others have already shown how a comedian can use these tools to build a popularity that can then lead to film and TV roles, but Conan is historic in showing how it works in the other direction. As a figure who attained all of his initial momentum and fanbase from 20th century corporate power, Conan showed how he is now truly free of that. As the film shows, the road life of a vaudeville performer is hard to start suddenly for a 40-something TV comedian like Conan, but he is unique for bridging the gap between those two models. His fanbase now is almost entirely independent of anything he does on television: if he never appeared on TV again, he could still do a touring show every year for the rest of his life and do okay for himself. And that’s pretty interesting.

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