(2011) Documentary (Abramorama) Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Jimmy Vivino, Stephen Colbert, John Stewart, Jack Black, Kyle Gass, Jack McBrayer, Jon Hamm, Jack White, Jim Carrey, Eddie Vedder, Scott Healey, Margaret Cho, Craig Robinson, Kristen Schaal. Directed by Rodman Flender
In 2010, “Tonight” show host Conan O’Brien was embroiled in a terrible situation that was really not of his own making. His predecessor Jay Leno had taken on what could only charitably be described as the unrealistically ambitious task of a daily show at 10pm – prime time – taking up five hours a week of valuable real estate on the NBC schedule. That experiment was an unequivocal failure and the network deemed it a better use of Leno to bring him back to late night.
However, he didn’t want to follow Conan’s Tonight Show gig with his own new late night program; he felt himself to be with some justification the headliner in the late night NBC family; after all, he’d been the host of the Tonight Show, the highest rated program in late night since Johnny Carson retired. The network then asked O’Brien to start the Tonight show later instead of the traditional 11:30pm start time it had been in for decades.
But Conan balked at this. He’d worked too hard to get where he was and now he was being penalized; in fact his ratings were starting to improve in certain desirable demographics. After some negotiation, he was released from his contract with the stipend that he not perform on television for a minimum of six months after the end of his 22-year tenure with NBC.
But he couldn’t just sit still. While his agents were negotiating a new show on TBS, he was getting ready to take his act on the road along with Andy Richter, Jimmy Vivino and the band (with which Conan, who isn’t a bad musician in his own right, often performed) and assorted guests. Thus armed, they went on a tour of the U.S. and Canada.
This documentary shows not only the show as the audiences saw it but looked behind the scenes to show you a little bit of what makes Conan tick and what motivated him to go on such a grueling tour when he had a new job already lined up. In many ways we get no closer to the man himself – he seems to keep people at a distance as far as I could tell but that might be more a sense that he is protecting his privacy as well.
In all honesty, I’m a big fan of his late night show. I find him to be a really funny guy, but not everybody does so that will definitely color your decision as to whether to check this out or not. It’s not an earth-shattering topic after all – your life will pretty much go on as it is with or without Conan in it. Fans of his show who haven’t already checked out the movie will probably want to do it because its more of the same.
However, the backstage content is fascinating and seeing how they pulled a pretty ambitious tour together in a remarkably short amount of time is interesting. While the situation is set up with his release from his NBC contract, he really doesn’t say much about how he feels about the way things ended with his long-time employer (quite possibly for contractual reasons) and it’s a shame because the movie could have benefitted with a little more insight into Conan the man and into the situation that spawned the tour.
But it’s still pretty damn fun.
WHY RENT THIS: The concert footage is funny; the behind the scenes stuff is fascinating.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Conan O’Brien you won’t like this much. Also you really don’t get very much into who he is as a person.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of good ol’ fashioned foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The tour ended just three weeks before O’Brien began his new talk show duties on TBS.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a lengthy interview with O’Brien but you’ll want the Blu-Ray for the commentary track which is one of the funniest you’ll ever hear.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $267,965 on an unreported production budget; I’m not sure if this is just box office receipts (I believe so) but it’s debut on On Demand probably doubled that at least; I believe the movie was solidly profitable.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Tour
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: A Late Quartet