'Conan': Taking a road trip with the carrottop comic

Before Conan O'Brien grabbed the brass ring of Tonight Show host and then surrendered said ring to the previous host, Jay Leno, a reporter described the goofus carrottop as "optimistic and fatalistic in maddeningly equal proportions."

His bungeelike mood swings, from downbeat to up, supply the rhythms to Conan O'Brien Can't Stop. It's an antically entertaining chronicle of his "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour," embarked upon after NBC bought out his contract and returned Leno to Tonight. O'Brien's payout was in the neighborhood of $33 million, plus an additional $12 million distributed to his writing staff.

In the absurd position of being one of the highest-paid unemployed men in America, O'Brien needed outlets for his creative energy and his white-hot anger. He kept his staff on payroll and announced a 42-city tour that kept him busy and out there. His take-this-job-and-love-it act had the added advantage of giving his fans, the so-called Team Coco, a way to show their love for the funnyman cruelly seduced and abandoned by NBC.

Directed by Rodman Flender, who culled 89 minutes of expertly prepared documentary from 140 hours of raw footage, Conan is substantially more than a vanity project if less than a three-dimensional portrait of the human stick figure with the shock of orangey hair.

Like the Jerry Seinfeld documentary Comedian, Conan offers a glimpse of the host's restlessness and creative process. O'Brien is an illustration of the saying that genius favors the prepared mind. He prepares hard and is ever ready with the ad-libbed quip.

A professional passive/aggressive, he needles his staff as he demonstrates his deep need for them. Sona Movsesian, O'Brien's supremely patient assistant, deserves double whatever she's making for serving as such a genial pincushion for her boss' affectionate barbs.

The film demonstrates its subject's intuitive understanding of the social media and how he used them not only to sell tickets for his traveling show, but also to demonstrate the breadth and depth of his fan base to prospective employers.

As almost everyone knows, within months of leaving NBC the guy dubbed the Ginja Ninja for his loose-limbed dancing got a new berth on TBS. This gives O'Brien the opportunity to make a "When one doors closes, another opens" speech that neatly wraps up the movie and the uncertain episode in his career.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/flickgrrl/.


Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Directed by Rodman Flender. With Conan O'Brien. Distributed by Abramorama.

Running time: 1 hours, 29 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for language).