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The Latest Episode of ‘Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend’ Exemplifies Everything We Love About Him as a Host

Conan O'Brien salutes, standing alone on a stage holding a microphone.

The Oscars had me missing Conan O’Brien more than ever. Jimmy Kimmel … well, he made of it what he made of it. By comparison, Conan has only ever brought a sense of levity and fun to everything he does, and while his humor might not be everyone’s cup of tea, what I’ve always admired is that he nails that perfect mixture between genuine wit AND an ability to read the room.

That’s why his podcast, Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend, is such a delightful career pivot for him: it’s allowing him to continue sharing his charm and talents as a host, while also creating a more natural atmosphere for him and his guests to play in. A case in point is his most recent episode, which featured Michelle Zauner from Japanese Breakfast (whom y’all already know I adore). You can tell that Conan is really impressed by Zauner, which is reflected in the fantastic questions he asks her about her career. One such question, however, brings up the topic of video games, since Zauner composed the soundtrack for the game Sable.

Video games have always been a funny subject for Conan: on his old show, he had a segment called “Clueless Gamer,” where he’d fumble his way through various games from the perspective of an older guy who was, as the name implies, clueless. The segment, co-hosted with Aaron Bleyaert, was a fan favorite, not just because we’re nerds, but because Conan’s angry engagement with the games (juxtaposed with Bleyaert’s earnest commitment to them) was incredibly entertaining. Since retreating from television and entering the podcasting world, he’s actually added a gaming podcast to his catalogue called “Good Game Nice Try.” This podcast features Bleyeart and Sonja Reid as hosts, with Conan and other guests (including Kevin Smith) occasionally popping in.

However, as fun as it is, this is just one of the tertiary podcasts, with “Needs A Friend” being the big boy. Therefore, I found it very interesting that Conan was so curious about Michelle’s video game thoughts, and the conversation that followed was pretty delightful to listen to. Like a lot of mixed kids growing up small towns (well, maybe I’m projecting, but still), Zauner was a self-described “indoor kid” who spent a lot of time gaming. Throughout the years, she’s continued to scratch that itch, and has found the ways that games have evolved to be really interesting.

To emphasize her point, she brought up Stardew Valley, which we of course know and love, but which Conan seemed fascinated by, since it’s not what most people would imagine when they think of video games. Michelle describes her interest in the moral quandary of the game, which is whether or not you support the local economy, or you support the corporate buyers, Joja. Initially, she seems embarrassed, as she probably thinks Conan won’t care about a farming game, but he instead sparks a larger conversation, however brief, about how games have evolved to this level. Conan talks about what he’s learned from his son, and Michelle talks about her experiences versus watching her husband play a game like Red Dead Redemption, and it’s all just so seamless and fun to watch.

What really stood out to me from this segment, however, is how goddamn professional Conan is, and how he hasn’t lost his talents as a host even after all these years. If anything, he’s gotten better. I feel like most people, with a guest like Zauner, would stay within the comfortable realm of what they already know about the guest. But Conan allows the conversation to flow with humor and genuine interest–with a topic he’s previously disliked, no less!

If this is how most episodes of his podcast are, I don’t know why the hell I haven’t been listening to it. I only tuned in this time because I love J Brekkie. So, if you find yourself in my position as well, let’s collectively start listening and remember why we fell in love with Conan O’Brien in the first place.

(Featured Image: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.