Would you take a $32 million severance payment from your current employer and agree not to work for a competitor for at least the next seven months?
Conan O'Brien did (estimates of the undisclosed package run higher), but he wasn't happy about it. The amount of the fee isn't mentioned in Rodman Flender's documentary Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, and maybe that's a telling omission. The film is very funny, or at least viewers likely will find it as funny as they found O'Brien's late-night show and brand of humor (which they can now watch on TBS). But behind the behind-the-scenes documentary, there is an amusing look at celebrity. O'Brien has to face something he finds insufferable: being denied a place on TV. So victimized that he'd compare himself to Anne Frank? Well, yes, even if he knows that's an outrageous joke.
NBC canceled O'Brien's show in 2010 after some failed program changes that involved Jay Leno, who stayed on the air. O'Brien wasn't happy about the whole deal, so he did what anyone in his entertainment world shoes would do — he assembled a large team of writers, producers and musicians, including sexy backup singers, and scheduled a 32-city tour. The film follows the tour and features stand-up bits, characters lifted from the show (the masturbating bear remade as the self-pleasuring panda), a host of celebrity guests (Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Pearl Jam) and something people may not know about O'Brien, his musical side. He's a talented guitarist, and the film is loaded with songs, from O'Brien singing "Poke Salad Annie" to "Seven Nation Army" and he jams with Jack White on other tunes.
O'Brien is very comfortable in front of a camera, which makes many of the backstage antics both candid and funny, but he also always seems to be performing. Much of his running commentary seems tailored for the film audience. It starts with an endless stream of jokes about being jilted by NBC, but by the end of the film, he's offering an ongoing testimonial about how much he loves his fans and how hard he works to please them. Perhaps he protests too much. In the bubble of celebrity, however, this all seems to be part of the lifestyle. But he's likable and funny enough for you to finally plunk down a few dollars and pay to watch him perform. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 seniors/students, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday-Thursday (5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. July 9)
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net