Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend

Most likely you’ve heard of the comedian Conan O’Brien, most well known as the host of the late night TV show Conan, where he puts his abrasive yet endearing personality on display in sketches and interviews. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed late night talk shows; I usually find them to be overly political, extremely shallow, or just thinly veiled advertisements of celebrities and other entertainment. Most of the hosts are too dramatic, as if they were trying to entertain children, or they are just clearly bad at conducting interviews. Conan is no exception: a few of his skits force a laugh, his personality is unique and comical, and his interviews are no worse than any other late show, but I have never been able to sit through an entire episode. Whether it be a lack of interest, or a failure in the talk show formula, I’ve never been able to consistently watch any late night show, let alone Conan. However, I was recently told that Conan hosts a small podcast, which is widely praised and quickly gaining popularity. The name of the podcast is Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, and each week Conan interviews one of his celebrity contacts in a search to find out who is actually his friend and who is just a professional acquaintance.

Image result for conan o'brien needs a friend"I’ve tried podcasts in the past but they never caught on; I couldn’t be bothered with downloading them, finding them, or finding time to listen to them, so I eventually gave up. Recently it’s been different, ever since I started listening to Conan. It’s the one podcast that I can listen to from beginning to end and still wish there was more, that’s how impressive and unique his podcast style is. First, I find the concept of the show interesting, which considers how famous celebrities often struggle to make authentic friends just like the rest of us, humanizing them and painting them as regular people with extraordinary experiences. Second, I think this is the ideal format for Conan; he can rely on entirely verbal comedy, not childish antics as often seen in his TV show sketches, and I think his interview style is much more suited for the intimate setting of a podcast. When he interviews in front of an audience, both him and the guest are putting on a trained persona, crafted to create a positive public opinion and maintain a certain reputation. On the podcast, Conan becomes authentic, and in doing so he is able to draw out the authentic personalities of his guests.

Some of my favorite podcasts so far have been interviews with Ben Stiller and Stephen Colbert, both amazing and inspirational celebrities in their own right, but also fascinating people with complicated histories. It was so strange hearing Ben Stiller give a genuine recount of his childhood and cracking jokes, not promoting some new movie or TV show. I got caught up in how normal and hard-working he was, hearing about how he got into comedy and paved his way in the industry. The interview with Stephen Colbert was very similar, as Colbert talked about his rough childhood and related to Conan about the power of suffering to produce comedy. It was something you would never see on TV, since it would be considered too dark and not entertaining, but I found myself more intrigued than I had ever been watching a TV interview. Overall, I think Conan is in a unique position with his podcast: not only does he have the ability to interview other celebrities, he also has a talent for leading sincere and thoughtful conversations through his personality and comedy. I highly recommend giving it a listen, even if you aren’t one to listen to podcasts; Conan O’Brien needs a friend is the gold standard for the power of podcasts.

No Other Art Forum Does What Video Games Do

Video Games, unlike all other art forms, deny you access to the art form when you are bad at it. The below sketch certainly made me stop and think about it for a second.  (Warning! There are some crass terms/imagery in the video.)

I like video games but I am generally very bad at them unless it’s something like Simms where you just live the life of a person and the goals of the game are what the player decides.  Art does not deny the viewer in the same way video games do. Games in general produce this frustration for many. Dancing adequately for an album to continue or understanding a books metaphors is not necessary to finish or enjoy the content.

To me there is no doubting video games as art. I do wonder if the idea that gaming is the only art form that blocks certain people from joining it is true. People often talk about easter eggs and homages in content that others might not understand or notice. While a book may not spontaneously shut down on someone who can’t list the main themes, a particular reader might not fully appreciating a work because they lack the skill to think deeply about the content.

Perhaps this exclusion might be something that helps define art in comparison to crafty endeavors. Art not only needs a particular amount of skill to create it also needs a particular amount of skill to be understood. There are so many people who scoff at various modernist pieces and say that they could have made a piece or that it isn’t art. In a way there scorn might be something that helps define what art is.

This is not to say that all art is of the same quality and needs deep thinking to be understood but that many art styles may exclude viewers in the same way that video games do in a less obvious way.

Funny People

I generally think of myself as a funny person – at least I laugh at my own jokes and tell my dad that I am SO funny even when no one else laughs. But then I get on YouTube and find myself stuck on an endless loop of videos of actual, certified funny people doing incredible things and feel like more than a little mediocre. It’s hard to pretend I’m not in awe or envy when I watch something that seems like a stroke of genius but also like the most natural and obvious thing in the world. The “Why Didn’t I Think of That” moment – crushing so many dreams and putting so many people into their place.

How many fat guys have put on little coats…ever? Probably an unimaginable number. And yet, Christ Farley was the one to make it his bit, to drive David Spade up the wall (and back down again) doing it in the offices of SNL, and then to slip it into the film Tommy Boy. It will never get old, even if you’re living in a van down by the river (another Farley reference – Matt Foley, motivational speaker).

I eventually stumble upon comedians with impressions so exceptional that they make my fake British accent sound like the glibbering of a one year old child learning to talk. Even when Jimmy Fallon was just a fresh face auditioning for SNL, he was pulling laughs, and Jay Pharoah can do an impression of just about every rapper ever.

Then you have comedians like Mitch Hedberg, whose jokes might make you scratch your head until you give them a little bit of thought, but with one-liners like “I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it” and “is a hippopotamus really a hippopotamus or just a really cool opotamus?” it’s worth taking the time to let them sink in. If you haven’t heard his stuff before, here’s a long cut of some of his best jokes:

I usually finish off this session of worshipping those who are infinitely funnier than me with a little improv. Some of the best comedic actors made improv stages their home early in their careers, and I just love watching some of my favorites in the middle stages of their careers – trained in the art of improv but not polished by the lights and cameras of the television set. My favorite to watch is a long-form called Asssscat, a show done by the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. Here is an example of this improv…you might just see a few people you recognize.

With that, I ask you, what is your favorite type of comedy? Who is the funniest person you’ve ever seen? Are my funny people the same as your funny people? I’m dying to know.