Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Review)

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is a 2011 documentary following the legendary late night host as a mounts his 2010 Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour, after being ousted from The Tonight Show in favor of Jay Leno. And wow, what a movie. I know that I should technically try to stay impartial towards that whole debacle, especially since it happened almost 10 years ago and the dust surrounding it has since settled, but I can’t help but quickly fire off my very unique, never before had opinion of it: Jay Leno is awful.

There, I said it. I’m sorry. It’s done. Back to Conan.

Actually not back to Conan because those who don’t know what happened with him and The Tonight Show is going to need a bit of a primer for this post/the film.

Basically, the TL;DR for the debacle was:

• Conan O’Brien was promised The Tonight Show when Leno retires.

• Leno retires, Conan gets the show. 

•Leno gets a new late night talk show that doesn’t do well in the ratings, while Conan’s Tonight Show doesn’t perform that well either, likely because it still needed some time to find it’s footing with The Tonight Show’s audience, and because Leno’s show preceded it on the time slot which basically cannibalized it’s audience.

•There’s some back and forth regarding time slots with NBC, which ultimately leads to Conan receiving a settlement to leave The Tonight Show, which Leno then goes on to host again.

•As a part of Conan’s settlement, he’s told he can’t appear on TV for several months. 

And now we’re all caught up. The movie picks up from there, showing Conan prepare and perform a comedy tour to pass the time until his still-on-the-air TBS show gets up and running. It also deals with Conan as he works to process what happened with NBC and, because of this, is in full comedic-catharsis mode.

As a longtime Conan fan (the guy is a comedic idol for me), it’s interesting to watch him act a bit differently than how I’m used to seeing him act on his show. This could either just be because of the change in format from late night to documentary, because of the amount of stress/exhaustion he must be going through from being on tour, or because of how genuinely hurt losing The Tonight Show was for him. But regardless, he seems a lot more on the attack than I was expecting him to be.

Conan has always been known for comedically jabbing his staff members in the name of a good bit on his show but in Can’t Stop, his skill as an improviser and goofball almost feel weaponized to the point of making Sona, his long-time and still-to-this-day assistant, appear visibly upset with being picked on over a botched lunch order.

In another bit, Conan picks on Jack McBrayer (Kenneth from 30 Rock, a show Conan had appeared on back in it’s first season) and his midwestern upbringing which, while initially funny, quickly starts to outstay it’s welcome.

Now don’t get me wrong, both of those bits have some pretty funny stuff in it, and I’m not accusing Conan of being a mean or rude person, it’s just genuinely jarring to watch after years of associating him with being the best self-deprecating talk show host on television.

As for those apparently out of character moments, it’s all up for argument as to why they’re there to begin with. After all, documentary is just one persons presentation of the truth, this could all be the result of a strange decision in post-production or a simple bad edit. Either way, it’s something I found equally perplexing and interesting about the movie.

The rest of the film, the snippets of performances, the (many) sequences of Conan forcing himself through meet and greets, and interactions with the fans are seldom a chore to sit through. Watching Conan play rhythm guitar in a replica of Eddie Murphy’s suit from Delirious isn’t something I knew I needed until now, but I am very thankful that it was something I got to watch in this movie. 

And it isn’t something Conan related if it doesn’t involve appearances from other celebrities. Some of the famous faces that crop up in this movie alongside him are Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Jim Carrey, Jack White, and Jon Hamm and watching Conan interact with them is a genuine delight. I especially loved getting to watch Conan plan a bit with Stephen and Colbert and Jon Stewart before a show in New York at Radio City Hall, which is literally right next to the NBC building. That show didn’t need an excuse to be better than the rest, what-with all the NBC drama and the fact that it was a spitting distance away, but having two other classic late night hosts there with him had to have led to a great show.

I say had to because we didn’t actually get to see much of them on stage with him. As a matter of fact, we honestly didn’t get to see much of his performances at all. While we do get segments showing him performing songs throughout the tour, I’m a little bummed that we didn’t get to see what the rest of the show looked like as… It’s Conan. I would’ve killed to see as much of those shows as possible, even if it was just relegated to the bonus features on the Blu Ray.

That omission isn’t enough to tank the movie for me, but it does feel like such a missed opportunity, especially given Conan’s rapport with… well, just about everybody. I mean, the guy could talk to a bowl of hard candies that have had googly eyes slapped on them and it would make for riveting television.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is an interesting film, and it’s one I recommend to fans of the comedian. But I honestly find it hard to recommend to people who are less familiar with his work as I feel it doesn’t really encapsulate what makes him such a blast to watch/listen to. Conan’s known for his over-the-top remote segments, his self-deprecating humor, and his charisma/chemistry with guests on his shows, which is all a bit absent in this documentary. I feel like this film was trying too hard to show us a side of Conan that we hadn’t seen before, during a time in his life when we would’ve benefited from seeing more of the guy we love, than the guy NBC had rejected.

For people curious about getting into Conan O’Brien and his genuinely incredible sensibility as a humorist, I’d recommend checking out new episodes of his show on TBS, as well as the treasure trove of material he has on YouTube. His team is also apparently working on a website that will curate and host as many previous episodes of each of his talkshows as they can possibly find which is going to be the easiest streaming subscription I’ll ever make, should they charge for it (and they should).

On top of that, Conan’s a podcaster! His show, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend is the perfect encapsulation of what makes him such a comedic legend, and it also gives us peeks into his life off the air. In a lot of ways, it’s probably the idealized version of this movie and listening to it is always the highlight of my week. He recently just completed a mini-series with another comedic idol of mine, Dana Carvey, which is available on his main podcast feed and is also a total blast to listen to. 

But what do you think of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop? Sound off in the comments below 🙂

Episode 43: The Duran Duran (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark)

The latest episode of The Media Obscura Podcast is out now on your favorite podcast player! It has Nick and Mike checking out Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, the 1988 feature that finds Elvira dealing with her worst enemy yet… Suburbia! Nick and Mike also imagine the reading of Nick’s will as a Deal-Or-No-Deal-esque gameshow which, if you think about, really makes a lot of sense.

Sorry, I need to derail this announcement post for a sec in order to think this one through. It just makes a lot of sense to me. Like, post-funeral, people are going to be sad. Someone close to them died, they miss them. and now you want some bland, I-have-sex-with-my-socks-on lawyer to read a will? That’s bleak…

But, if will readings were like Deal Or No Deal, or what we in the biz call “the greatest thing ever,” that wouldn’t be a problem! There would be a little bit of much needed pageantry to things and, while I totally understand how some may view this as being insensitive, it would definitely liven up a (pun intended) decidedly un-lively circumstance!

And think about how that vaudevillian gesture could improve lame things left behind by loved ones? Take the example of this that I gave in our latest episode: I imagined what it would be like if a gameshow-host-type allowed Mike to decide what I left him based off of choosing a briefcase and, after finding out that all I had left him was worms, Mike was delighted by how strange the entire situation was.

Now call me nuts, but I think that if the depressing and soul crushing eventuality of my own impermanence can be momentarily forgotten through a gameshow host giving Mike a bucket of worms, then there may be something worthwhile to this idea.

I mean… they’re worms!

Anyway, for all things worm-funeral and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, be sure to check out our latest episode on your podcast player of choice, or via the RadioPublic embed below:

Who exactly IS Elvira?

In preparation for our Elvira: Mistress of the Dark themed episode of the podcast, I decided to draw up this handy little retrospective about America’s favorite horror hostess. If you’re left jonzing for some more info about the iconic TV horror hostess, be sure to check out some of the sources for this article, which are nested at the bottom of the page!

Cassandra Peterson, better known around the TV landscape as Elvira, was born on September 17th, 1949, which makes her 70 years old at the time of writing this. After becoming a Las Vegas showgirl, having a rumored appearance in the 007 feature “Diamonds Are Forever,” and creating/taking her own variety show across the country, she rose to prominence in the 1980s with her highly self-aware and kitsch character Elvira, as well as her show, Elvira’s Movie Macabre.

Elvira’s inception was a simple one, Peterson took clear influence from the TV horror hosts of years past, with Elvira’s look clearly being modeled after the likes of the 1950’a horror hostess Vampira, who many remember for her now iconic appearance in Ed Woods’ Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Morticia Addams from the seminal television series The Addams Family.

Elvira’s purpose as a horror hostess was as simple as the job title implies it would be; all she had to do was host the movie. At the start of the program, as well as between commercial breaks, she would interject with some light comedy about the film, while also engaging in some pretty sharp wordplay. It’s a bit like those podcasts that revolve around people bantering about movies either while they’re watching it, or immediately after they’ve finished it… Hm… Was I just meta?

Before long, Peterson/Elvira’s star rose and her show, which was then based and aired locally in LA, began to be known around the country. She’d go on to appear on talk shows, beer commercials, comic books and even have her own line of videocassettes.

Then it happened. In 1988, Peterson got to write and star in her own campy horror comedy, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. Almost mirroring the fate of the films she would cover on her show, the film underperformed at the box office, but found its audience on the video circuit, eventually becoming a cult hit and spawning a sequel in the early 2000’s.

As for Elvira herself, she’s still out there being her best self! Movie Macabre came back in 2010 using public domain movies and basically returned again, albeit with a different name, in 2014 as the Hulu original 13 Nights of Elvira. That was actually my introduction to the character, after only seeing her in random YouTube clips for a couple of years.

Oh, and the Vampira resemblence was totally noticed by Maila Nurmi, Vampira herself, who famously sued Peterson in 1988 for basically slapping a new coat of paint on Vampira and creating a career out of it. It’s hard not to see where Nurmi’s coming from with the claim but at the same time, Vampira was only locally broadcast in LA for a year, while Elvira has been around for what’s rapidly approaching 40. Suffice to say, I think there was a bit more to Elvira’s success than essentially being an 80s version of Vampira.

Sources:

If you dug this little write up on the Queen of horror TV, be sure to let me know in the comments! Also, consider checking out our episode of our podcast on Mistress of the Dark!

Until next time, unpleasant dreams!

Cult Sirents: Elvira – Cassandra Peterson

nwi.com: Vampira, aka actress Maila Nurmi’s passing rekindles memories of Elvira rif

The Origin of The Media Obscura Podcast

Need I say more?

I probably should. It’s just that I’ve always wanted to start a presentation/post of some kind with a smug, self-indulgent, closing statement. It’s just the way I am.

Anyway, hey everyone. So you wanna hear the story of The Media Obscura Podcast, eh? Weird flex, but okay.

My name is Nick and I’m a content creator that has, for the longest time, suffered from a lack of contentment in what he’s creating. I have a degree in Media Production and have tried to express myself through storytelling, comedy, acting, and directing for as long as I can remember. After I got my degree, that ~holiest~ of slips of paper, I ended up taking a number of jobs that pulled me away from creating the kinds of content that bring me sweet, sweet emotional sustenance. Why? Well… I had bills to pay, man.

Without trying to bore you with the details, I worked for a couple different teams for a bit over a year; I was writing and editing a ton of videos that were, for lack of a better term, gave my decidedly right-brained noggin a minimal level of satisfaction. I liked the work. I liked the people I was working with. I just didn’t like how formulaic and inexpressive the work was for me.

But that all changed in early November 2018, when my childhood best-friend Mike and I decided to start a podcast! It was an idea we had been toying with for years; I had done a very short-lived and ragtag podcast back in 2011 with some other friends and had always thought that the medium would be a great fit for the two of us. Throughout the years, we always found our on-set improvisation and banter to be one of the best parts of working together and, after a friend told us one night that she thought a podcast featuring the two of us in our element would be a blast to listen to, I decided to stick a pin in that idea until I felt the time was right.

Suffice to say, the time was eventually right. After taking a job that would afford me a much stabler schedule than my freelancing as an editor for multiple clients could ever afford me, Mike and I started The Media Obscura Podcast. Explicitly, the show is about the two of us bantering and reviewing strange, forgotten, and retro movies and television shows. But implicitly (for any schmuck with a film degree must always consider the explicit), the show is about friendship and friends staying in touch.

I know, I know. What a tearjerker. I’ll be sure to send some Kleenexes your way. I really do mean that though. For all of my narcissistic vamping on the show, I really do think the best thing to come out of the podcast has been the privilege of getting to riff/do improv with one of the most effortlessly funny people I know. And like I said earlier, that had always been one of my favorite parts of getting to be creative so like… it’s a total win! I get to have fun with my buddy making each other laugh and I don’t have to stress myself out with scripting and editing dozens of takes! Our recording days are genuinely the highlight of my week, with getting to listen to the improv while I’m editing the episode in a close second.

The podcast has done a lot of good for me, I think. I’m still not doing the kind of creative work I’ve always dreamed of doing but, for the first time in my life, I’m actually pretty okay with i!. I’m finding creative satisfaction in doing and editing the show, and I’m getting to share that process with a person who has been around since I started creating content. What else could I guy want?

Anyway, that’s the story of how The Media Obscura Podcast got started. I hope you dug it and that it becomes a well-worn fable that will be passed down from generation to generation. In summation, this podcast is so much more than dumb jokes and movie references. It’s about expressing yourself and being creative through dumb jokes and movie references.

I guess creativity can be fun, smart and dumb, all at once. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

– Nick