Conan's Mean Side Exposed in New Film: 'I Physically Fight My Writers'
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans Posted Mar 11th 2011 04:30PM
O'Brien, 47, says his colleagues think he's even funnier when the devil within is unleashed. But he's also nastier. When he slumps into one of his black moods, he becomes harsh, biting and cruelly sarcastic, not the amiable, chatty guy we see on his TBS show 'Conan.'
"I'm really hard on myself," he told The New York Times this week when asked to describe the sinister part of his personality. "I tease people constantly. I physically fight my writers, and they fight me back."
O'Brien says Mean Conan has also been described by his co-workers as "the funniest Conan, which is weird." And now that the many faces of the late-show host are the focus of a new documentary, 'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop,' he figures he has nothing left to hide.
"Might as well let people know he exists," he told the Times.
Directed by Rodman Flender, the film premieres Sunday night at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. In it, we not only are introduced to Mean Conan, but also his other personalities -- revealing him to be at various times cranky, vulnerable and exhausted, the Times says.
The documentary focuses on one of most draining times in his life: when he left his brief stint at 'The Tonight Show' and began a grueling travel schedule for a 32-city tour. He described that side as "Conan in extremis," according to the paper. It was a phase that saw little sleep and lots of weight loss: 15 pounds, to be exact.
"I certainly won't go through anything like this again, because if I do, I'll kill myself next time around," he said. "I thought, this is going to come but once, let's record it, and what's the worst that happens?"
Unfortunately, the worst did happen -- from O'Brien's point of view, anyway. The worst being going through a difficult time publicly, on camera.
"It turns out the worst that can happen is that it can be seen by people," he told the Times.
But didn't O'Brien ask for the attention? After all, in January 2010 he wrote the "People of the Earth" an open letter proclaiming his refusal to comply with NBC's plan to move 'The Tonight Show' he was hosting even later, to 12:05AM, bumping it for Jay Leno's show at 11:35PM. He ultimately severed ties with the network, reportedly walking away with a cool $32 million, and did his final show later that same month.
As part of his agreement, he wasn't allowed to do TV appearances until the following fall, so he decided to go on tour and do a live act instead that he called the 'Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour.'
And though it was a cathartic experience for him to be able to take his comedy -- and his gripes about NBC execs -- on the road, he told the Times that he was also in a state of rage.
Calling himself "the least entitled person you'll meet in the world," O'Brien says in the film that he is "very angry about the way that I was treated" by the network.
That's when Mean Conan's claws come out, and he lashes out at his wife, Liza, and assistant, Sona Movsesian, as well as leveling some of his cruelty at '30 Rock' actor Jack McBrayer with a song he sings to him that O'Brien calls 'You Stupid Hick,' according to the Times.
The director, Flender, and O'Brien have known each other since their Harvard days in the '80s. He told the paper he wanted to portray his friend honestly, rather than sugarcoating him or smearing his name.
"I think everyone around him is in on the joke," said Flender.
O'Brien, for his part, seems like he's still trying to make peace with exposing his raw, less appealing sides to the public.
"That's real fear you're seeing," he told the Times. "It's the flip side of performing. When I finally get out there, the cerebral side of me and the worrying side of me and the Catholic side of me just turn off, and I just go."
He plans to mail a copy of the documentary, which doesn't yet have a distributor, to his shrink.
"I said, 'I'm sending this to you because it's everything we've ever talked about,'" he said.
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