Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, the documentary about O’Brien’s standup comedy tour, premiered at South by Southwest. The film shows that O’Brien put his humor to work in between “The Tonight Show” and his new TBS show. It also shows that he approaches every daily situation with humor, even when he gets angry and lashes out at people.
I got to speak with O’Brien and director Rodman Flender on the red carpet before their South by Southwest premiere screening. Flender left in all the juicy moments of O’Brien ripping on visiting celebrities and joking around with Hollywood tour busses.
Q: I’m not quite clear. Can Conan stop?
Rodman Flender: Well, you’ll have to see the movie and find out.
Q: How personal does it get?
RF: Well, he gave me incredible access, inside of the writer’s room and the whole creative process. I think it gets pretty close, it gets pretty intimate.
Q: What’s one of the most intimate moments you capture?
RF: I think any artist showing the world the creative process is incredibly intimate. What painter will allow someone to see a work in progress or a pencil sketch of something.
Q: Was there anything so raw it was a little uncomfortable to be there?
RF: I think the situation itself was very tense. I think it was a tense situation for everyone involved. Hopefully I captured that.
Q: I know Conan to be very grateful now. Did you see him in an angrier place?
RF: Yeah, I think the movie is a journey but we all have angry moments. I think what I captured was a human being who gets angry, who gets happy, who has moments, is ecstatic, he’s thrilled to be performing, gets short tempered, gets frustrated. That’s what it means to be human. He’s not a robot.
Q: You saw this act 46 times. Did you get numb to the jokes?
RF: Not really because he changed it up. He really kind of tailored the show from city to city. He had writers along with him that made local references and for himself he really kept it fresh from city to city.
O’Brien was generous with his fans in Austin. He stepped out of his car in the middle of the street and greeted fans before the red carpet. You didn’t have to be camped out overnight to have a prime spot with him. For a film that shows him berating the lovable Jack McBrayer and teaching a fan not to say anti-Semitic remarks, O’Brien was in good spirits to debut the movie.
Q: I’m still not quite clear. Can you stop?
Conan O’Brien: No. Look at me. This is my day off and my wife and I are here in Austin. I can’t stop.
Q: Is the lesson here that there is an opportunity wherever you make it for yourself?
CO: It sounds like a fortune cookie but I do think this movie, a lot of it is about taking something everyone thought, “Oh, this is a wipeout.” It looked to a lot of people and it was like a car crash or something, but being able to turn it into something I hope creative and a little bit interesting would be useful to people, and to me. Mostly to me.
Q: And now you’re a movie star.
CO: Well… I’m not really the star of the movie. I think my assistant’s the star of the movie. [She is!]
Q: You come across as very grateful today. Will we see you in a darker, angrier place in the movie?
CO: Yeah, yeah, you’ll see that. I don’t think it’s that big a part of the movie but it’s certainly the most tantalizing to people. You’ll see that side of me, you’ll see me get very hard on myself, I get down on myself, I get panicky sometimes before a show. I’ve had the same people working for me for 18 years and they all just roll their [eyes]. They’re pretty good at giving it back to me but you’ll see that side.
Q: What was the most raw, intimate moment they captured?
CO: I think when I shower.