Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Conan Can't Stop

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert -

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (directed by Rodman Flender) is a documentary which followed Conan O’Brien on his nation-wide comedy tour after his having been been first promoted and then 6 months later deposed as host of NBC’s Tonight Show

Much has certainly been written about his drama involving the transition of the hosting of the Tonight Show from Jay Leno to Conan O’Brien and then six months later back to Jay Leno.  However, what interested me first in the story and then in this documentary is that the Conan-Leno-Tonight Show saga doesn’t appear to me to be an isolated one but one which has played out in other areas in contemporary culture.  Indeed, I noted and wrote about this battle of the old vs new (and the apparent triumph/restoration of the old) in my review of this year’s Academy Awards show where I found this phenomenon repeatedly playing out from the triumph of The King’s Speech at the awards – a film about a stuttering dead English king from the middle of the last century to the blasting by (mostly older critics) of this year’s show’s new and very young hosts.

So I do believe that what had happened to Conan is not really an isolated incident but indeed a manifestation of an age-old battle between generations (old vs new) that even Sigmund Freud wrote about as the point of origin of war, civilization and even "Father/Patriarchical religion:"  A jealous father drives his sons away to keep his power / women to himself.  The exiled sons organizing themselves a band of brothers eventually overwhelm the father killing him.  But feeling guilty about this, they eventually deify the now dead/murdered father (S. Freud, Moses and Monotheism [1939], pg 130-131, Totem and Taboo [1950], pg 140-41, Civilization and its Discontents [1961], pg 47-48).  Interestingly enough, with the advent of diminished numbers of births due to the wide use of birth-control, this inter-generational conflict could actually have tilted in favor of the older generation (The older generation doesn't have to find excuses for wars anymore to cull the numbers of the younger generation.  The younger generation's numbers are now controlled at conception).  So expect more Conan O"Brien-like sagas in the future and more tear-jerking movies / miniseries about long dead white English kings (or even about long-dead corrupt Popes) and other symbols of Order and Stability.

So then, what could one say about this particular documentary?  First and above all, it is a movie about someone going through a fairly large disappointment in life.  Whether or not Conan “really was right” for the Tonight Show, whether he felt he entitled to it (after many years hosting NBC’s Late Night Show after it), whether or not he was promised it by NBC and then had that promise ripped away from him, it was clear that Conan was wounded by the experience.  So the documentary was largely about Conan making his way through that experience of disappointed and woundedness to something new.

In the process, a number of other things became rather clear.  First, Conan really is an _authentically funny guy_ and one capable of laughing at himself.  Promo “Where has Conan been these days?” shots for his comedy tour included him donning a _huge_ fake beer-gut, and lying passed out among empty pizza boxes and beer bottles.  As a __quite good guitarist_ in his own right, the blues song that Conan played for his audiences while on the tour – “I was born upper middle class” (“My ma, worked every day of her life – as a tax lawyer.  And my no good, no good dad was microbiologist, studying infectious diseases I believe ...”) – was hilarious.  Noting that NBC “probably still owned” the rights to the “Masturbating Bear” character on his old show, he unveiled a ever so slightly different “Self Pleasuring Panda” character to his cheering audiences.

All this is goofy, silly stuff, that made him such a hit among young people at the time-slot following the Tonight Shot.  Still, as he went through these very, very funny routines, it also reminded me of why this couldn’t have possibly worked on the Tonight Show whose viewers generally have been rather heavily stocked with seniors including seniors from my own parish.  Funny, yes, but would you imagine your grandma watching this stuff?

Finally, I was left wondering if all that many college aged young adults really care about the Tonight show either, especially since they can view and share clips from any of a large number of “late night comedians” (George Lopez, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and yes Conan O’Brien) any time they wish anyway.  So I was left wondering if Conan’s “tragedy” had been that tried and failed to become the “Captain of the U.S.S. Missouri” (or perhaps even the U.S.S. Arizona) in an age of Twitter, flash mobs, WikiLeaks, remote control Predator drones and cyber-warfare

So Conan, yes, you sort of got screwed.  But get over it.  The Tonight Show is going the way of network news and the Radio City Rockettes.  Just remember your friends, your fans, and yes you probably staged the best damn end to any talk-show on American TV with Will Farrell joining him playing Free Bird ;-).

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