Conan O’Brien’s podcast with Will Ferrell is perfect for comedy nerds

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: Conan O'Brien speaks onstage during Conan O'Brien In Conversation With Jake Tapper at Sony Hall on November 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: Conan O'Brien speaks onstage during Conan O'Brien In Conversation With Jake Tapper at Sony Hall on November 8, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images) /

The debut episode of Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend was released today and offered a behind-the-scenes looks at what makes Will Ferrell so funny.

Conan O’Brien famously can’t stop when it comes to comedy. Whether it is with his show Conan, his Twitter feed, or his cross-country stand-up tour, the man has an obsessive need to be in front of people making them laugh. It’s part of the reason that Will Ferrell was the ideal guest for the first episode of O’Brien’s podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.

The podcast was announced last month along with news that Conan would be on hiatus until 2019. When it does return, it will have a new format and be cut down to a half-hour production. This will allow O’Brien to focus more on his particular idea of funny and execute it as he sees fit.

To hold over fans until Conan returns, it was also revealed that an online archive of O’Brien’s career in late night would be made public. High definition episodes and clips from his 25 years hosting Late Night, The Tonight Show, and Conan all in one place is something long overdue. On top of that is the podcast which recently revealed a lineup of guests that will include Bill Burr, Kristen Bell, and Marc Maron.

The first episode featured one of the best guests Conan has had during his 25 year career in Will Ferrell. Ferrell’s bits on O’Brien’s shows have always been a little out there but very much in line with O’Brien’s comedic stylings more than any other host. The actor admitted to as much during the podcast.

Podcasts should rarely be judged on their first episode. Most need a little time and feedback to figure out exactly what works and the tones/themes that will be carried forward. The other episodes of Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend may not be like this one. But if you’re an obsessive comedy nerd like O’Brien and Ferrell, then this was your kind of podcast.

There was the possibility that O’Brien’s podcast could get too caught up in his signature self-deprecating tangents. These are almost always funny, yes, but the podcast format gives Conan a chance to be a bit more earnest especially considering the guests list is handpicked and not filled with random celebrities looking to plug a project.

Those concerns were put to rest once O’Brien and Ferrell got to talking. O’Brien acted like a genuine fan appreciative of Ferrell as a comedian. It was almost an hour of Conan recalling his favorite Ferrell bits and Ferrell providing the behind-the-scenes notes on the how and why.

The clips that they discuss are pretty easy to find on YouTube. There is the Mark Twain acceptance speech, the pretaped bit of Ferrell trying stand-up, and his performance as Harry Caray at the ESPY Awards.

It was interesting to hear that Ferrell and O’Brien, both seemingly so addicted to making people laugh, can’t bring themselves to read reviews or feedback. While they suggest it is because they are thin-skinned it could also be a confidence that comes from 25+ years in comedy.

If you’re into comedy on a deeper level then it was probably intriguing to hear Ferrell discuss what goes on in his mind when he’s off on long bit punctuated with staying “stay with me!” to the audience. He’s not digging and waiting to find something to get the audience back on his side or laughing. Instead it is something much more self-satisfying in that he gets a kick out of seeing how far he can take it while watching the audience reaction go up and down.

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Overall Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend is off to a strong start. In even the briefest of absences, Conan’s voice has been missed. In a time when so much of late night and comedy in general is focused on politics, it’s refreshing to hear from people like Conan and Will Ferrell who want to be silly and absurd for the sake of comedy. Fans of Conan and comedy should look forward to more from the podcast.