Published on August 14th, 2020 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Listen to This: Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
In an effort to make new friends, Conan’s podcast is good company in the car, the kitchen and right in the earbuds during lonely times.
I was still in elementary school when Conan O’Brien started as a writer for Saturday Night Live and barely out of high school when he started as a writer and producer for The Simpsons. Conan’s brand of humour – quirky, clever and bizarre – has been infiltrating pop culture for a long time, and he still continues to evolve his platforms and influence presentation style.
Conan’s newest media format is a podcast on Spotify where he holds conversation with celebrities, most (but not all) of whom have a direct connection to comedy in some form. Even after twenty-seven plus years with SNL, The Simpsons, Late Night, The Tonight Show, and Conan, the schtick for his podcast is that he desperately needs real friends. The thin and cheeky premise is enough to get the ball rolling.
Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend began its weekly broadcast in the late autumn of 2018 and was well stocked with episodes before I discovered the show during the onset of the covid lockdown. At that point, I tuned in because I needed a friend. I was cleaning the house and working in the yard to keep myself busy but, as you know, there were some lonely days during social distancing that felt more like social isolation. I desperately needed some company, and these episodes rewarded my desire for human intimacy.
The beauty and danger of hosting a podcast are cut from the same fabric: simplicity. Let’s face it, if you have a podcast, you basically have a radio show on a station that might be difficult for listeners to find. It’s not like these things are broadcast on your local fm station at the exact time you’re making a one hour commute to work. Like working from home, hosting a podcast does not necessarily require pants or combing your pompadour. Physical humour, hand gestures and surreptitious winks are rendered useless. It’s just voices and content, but Conan makes it work so well you feel like starting your own podcast because, well, it sounds pretty easy. I doubt that it actually is as effortless to create as Conan makes it sound. So, how does he do it?
First of all, Conan isn’t alone in his hosting duties. His long time assistant, Sona Movsesian, and producer Matt Gourley are both on mike to absorb the barbs of Conan’s wit and keep him on track, or to provide reactions to his rants and runaway bits. Conan’s vocabulary and perceptions are quick and agile. He thinks fast, collecting and arranging words that spill out as smooth as maple syrup on pancakes. Sona has a rich, delicious and infectious laugh that plays like music when Conan gets on a roll and it adds exactly what is needed.
With well over 70 guest interviews recorded and posted, there are hours of entertainment available to any listener. If you’ve never tuned in before, you have the instant luxury of choosing your own order of discovery based on your interest in the featured celebrity. I’ve now reached the point where I’m hearing interviews with people I don’t know, or am not particularly drawn to, because I devoured the segments that feature people I already like. Some episodes are better than others, and it becomes pretty obvious when the two parties are truly enjoying a conversation as opposed to merely engaging in something that is simply better than a regular, dull job.
I’ve listened to various podcasts over the past few years and I think it’s pretty undisputed that – strictly on celebrity interview ability – Howard Stern is the paramount master. Joe Rogan and Marc Maron host shows but neither create an hour of entertainment that doesn’t require you to skip through big chunks of each segment. Rogan interviews can ramble on for hours, whereas Maron struggles to be interesting and pertinent, sometimes fumbling in interviews to really connect. Conan, a brilliant and practiced writer, creates structure that leaves little need for the 15> skips. Even while promoting ads, he’s hilarious. I don’t want to buy any of the stupid products (because they’re stupid), but I sometimes consider it based on Conan’s unconventional and irreverent delivery of the message.
Conan is warm, funny and sincere. The guest list is without boundaries and Conan know how to create an environment for them to tell stories, do impressions, or invent bits through experimentation. Conan collaborates without getting in the way. The six part deep-dive with Dana Carvey is probably the best example of this, while the episode with Keegan-Michael Key had the most surprising laughs and on-point impersonations.
Nearly every guest on the show has made some remark about how far Conan has fallen to be relegated to a mere podcast show. It comes across as jest-in-fun, but I think the underlying insinuation from the relentless dry quips is that people honestly believe it’s bullshit that Conan has no place on late night tv anymore. But I don’t care. I appreciate this podcast enough to let his lack of current television production slide. Take it for a spin and decide for yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised to hear the voice of an old friend introduce you to some new ones.