DID YOU READ

Conan O’Brien Really “Can’t Stop” Rodman Flender

Conan O’Brien Really “Can’t Stop” Rodman Flender (photo)

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As the line that stretched well around the Paramount Theater in Austin finally filed into to see “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” attendees were asked to pull out a photo ID in addition to their badges, perhaps out of fear former NBC chief Jeff Zucker might want to sneak a glimpse of what very easily could’ve been one last parting shot over the late night fiasco that left “The Tonight Show” tarnished and O’Brien without a desk job. Ultimately, Zucker’s name isn’t mentioned once in the documentary, but O’Brien’s legion of fans is ever present just as the history books will likely reflect, especially since director Rodman Flender was there to capture the 32-city tour that bridged O’Brien’s unceremonious departure from NBC to eventually finding a home at TBS.

One of those rare portraits of an artist that’s as entertaining as it is insightful, “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” could hardly have been made by anyone else than Flender, a college pal of O’Brien’s at Harvard who since went on to make darkly-tinged comedies such as “Idle Hands” before finding a steady career in television where the breakneck pace of production surely helped him keep up with the fleet feet of O’Brien once they hit the road on the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television” tour. However, it was Flender’s friendship with O’Brien that got him in the door for what O’Brien joked at SXSW “a record that patients around the world could use,” detailing the painful days of putting “The Tonight Show” to rest and coming up with a live variety show from scratch within weeks.

03242011_RodmanFlenderConanOBrienCantStop.jpgA stoic O’Brien is able to toss off one-liners like “I didn’t want to be the first to take ‘The Tonight Show’ into the next day,” but it’s quickly apparent Flender’s lens is going to catch some of the very real frustration behind the scenes of creating something while the entire world’s watching, greeting an endless parade of fans and dealing with the fallout of not getting a fair shake. As O’Brien says during a particularly brutal stint at Bonnaroo, “Nobody’s thinking of burning me out,” which while feeling true at the time runs counter to the other fascinating aspect of “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” — the real Team Coco that props O’Brien up during this marathon run including his longtime executive producer Jeff Ross and his assistant Sona Movsesian (who steals the film as an able foil for her boss’s quips), among others. Add in special guests such as Eddie Vedder, Jim Carrey, Jack White, and a dressed down Jack McBrayer, not to mention variants on O’Brien’s usual carousel of characters like the self-pleasuring panda, and you’ve got an incredibly good time that just happens to be an remarkable time capsule as well.

While at SXSW, O’Brien stopped by the IFC Crossroads House to talk about the film during the festival and I got a chance to catch up with the film’s director following the film’s debut in Austin.

At what point did you find out about Conan leaving NBC?

I found out like everybody else. There were rumors swirling around and I heard those rumors and it all happened very quickly — for Conan as well. It all happened, as you see in the movie, in a very short space of time.

How quickly did you have to mobilize?

Everything happened very quickly and this wasn’t a documentary where I wanted where I had an agenda or I wanted to depict a terrible political situation and hope for change. This was about an incident and something that was going on right then and there and I had to start shooting. It wasn’t like a scripted film where you could say oh, let’s wait a week or let’s push or wait till we get this financing. I had to pick up a camera and start shooting or I was going to miss it.

You’re friends with Conan as well, so what was it like to capture this person at what was perhaps his lowest professional moment?

I’ve always said a bet against Conan is a sucker’s bet. Don’t bet against Conan. Even when he was at his lowest point, I’ve always said that. Something good will happen. He’s just too talented and too genuine and good a person and that combination leads to good things. He was at a terrible time professionally and emotionally and he wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen. Hopefully, one of the joys of the film is seeing that process of discovery of finding the show and figuring out what that show is. And that seemed like a rare opportunity to capture.

This film was obviously put together very quickly, were you thinking about structure continually as you were filming?

I knew this was a movie about a process and about how an individual works through some very strong feelings and some setbacks using his art and using comedy. So structurally, I never wanted it to be like a road movie and I certainly didn’t want it to be a concert film. It is more or less chronological and I think emotionally, it’s true. As I was editing it, that was always in the back of my mind was always trying to answer those questions I was setting up for myself and not just tell an episodic “here’s what happened in Boston” and “now we’re in Las Vegas and this city…”

You’re really able to tie moments from the live show thematically into the film.

I’m glad you caught that because my editing process was I edited that stuff last. I really cut the bones of the documentary together first and that was the first cut that Conan saw was the movie without any of the performance footage in it. [slight laugh] That was difficult for him because he basically saw 90 minutes of him yelling at people. I said, “just wait, people will see what you’re working towards,” but I needed to show him structurally what I was going towards. Once I had that skeleton down, I could look through the performance footage and find moments that I thought spoke to what was happening thematically.

Do you think Conan really needed a camera in front of him in some ways to just keep up his routine?

Right, that’s one of the central questions of the film. It’s early on in the film I ask him, “can you have fun without an audience in front of you?” That’s very explicitly point blank asked of him and hopefully the next 90 minutes tries to answer that question. Was he performing specifically for me? I think that’s who he is and I know people talk about comedians, “Are they always on?” He’s a naturally funny person and one of the nicest things I’ve heard about the movie from people who’ve seen it, a guy came up to me and he said, “wow, it felt like I was just hanging out with the funniest people I know and we were all just riffing together. It felt that intimate to me.” That meant a lot to me – that kind of intimacy that came through the screen and the fact that this guy who had never met Conan felt like he was just hanging out with his buddies.

This isn’t just a film about Conan, but the team that helps propel him. Was that something you knew you’d focus on from the beginning or were you simply present for it?

I was just present for that and Conan and I had been friends for a long time, but we’d never worked together. Never worked together before. So I had never been in a comedy writers’ room, so that was all new and very interesting to me and I wanted to see how that worked. And I figured okay, if I want to see how this works, maybe somebody else will too.

Now that the project is done, do you feel this had a different kind of energy than other films you’ve made since it came together so quickly?

I knew I had to get it out quickly. I knew this was a timely issue and even though the movie is not about what happened a year ago with NBC, it’s about what happened after that, so nevertheless, I still wanted to get this out there while it was still fresh in people’s minds. I knew this couldn’t be a documentary where I take five years to edit it, which is what I did with the last documentary [“Let Them Eat Rock”] I did 10 years ago. This was more pressing. So I cut it very quickly. Very long hours.

Were you tired out by the process? Did your experience mirror what was going on onscreen?

It was difficult because [Conan’s] a hard guy to keep up with and I’m trying to keep up with him and also trying to keep things in focus – I was a one-man crew most of the time. I had to make sure I got it all. In terms of the editing process, it was tiring and the tour itself was so whirlwind, I’ve had other people come up to me after seeing the movie and they just sat there for 90 minutes and said, “I’m exhausted.” To me, that’s a compliment. That means I’ve done my job. That means, I think, it adequately captures what a whirlwind the tour was and how hard Conan worked at it and how driven he was.

“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” will be released later this year on a variety of platforms through a distribution deal with AT&T U-Verse, Abramorama and Magnolia Pictures.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.