With video games growing more popular each year, it’s no surprise that the medium has combined with other forms of entertainment. Clueless Gamer, a YouTube series and a segment on Conan, is a perfect example.
Since its debut in 2012, Clueless Gamer has become one of the most popular bits in Conan O’Brien’s 20+ years on television. Created by Aaron Bleyaert, who has been working with the red pompadour’d host since the Late Night era, Clueless Gamer generally begins with Conan’s admission that he has no gaming skills and, further, that he really has no interest in gaming at all.
Thus the series highlights Bleyaert’s attempts to guide Conan through the world of gaming while reviewing popular new releases. I spoke to Bleyaert about the conception of the series, the revolutionary online tactics of Team Coco, and the fascinating future of video games as a medium.
Innovation & Tech Today: You were the one who came up with Clueless Gamer. What gave you the initial idea?Photo Courtesy Of Aaron Bleyaert
Aaron Bleyaert: Well, part of my job is to come up with bits, and I just thought it might be fun. Reversal is such a great comedic tool. To be like, “What would the opposite of this be?” And Conan is so smart – he went to Harvard; he spent his life reading books. And I’m an idiot and I’m a dumb-dumb, and I was lucky that Michigan State accepted me. And I spent most of my life playing video games and I was like “What’s something that Conan would be stupid at that I would be smart at?” And video games are the answer. It turned out that it really struck a chord with people, and it wasn’t something that Conan had ever really done before [i.e., playing video games). To this day, I’m not sure he’s played even Super Mario. He really did spend his life being smart and doing smart things. Not that people that play video games aren’t smart. But he spent his life reading books and being a huge…different kind of nerd than me. So we combined our nerdiness to make something great.
I&T Today: Finding a leg up on the Harvard grad has to be a good feeling.
Aaron Bleyaert: Absolutely. You know, Conan had done so well over the years, over the decades actually. Even with shooting remote pieces and being put into something new….Any time you put Conan in a situation with something new he hasn’t experienced before he just gets off to the races. He’s just so brilliant and quick on his feet that the jokes come fast and furious, and so it really was amazing when it first happened. We shot the first two as a digital bit. I think it was Michael Phelps: Push the Limit and Kinect Star Wars. I was hoping to get an hour for each episode and they were like, “No, you have 40 minutes to shoot two.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.” So the first two we shot in forty minutes. And he just took to it immediately. He saw the comedy in it immediately. Again, he makes it easy because he’s so great and brilliant. You could put a block of cheese in front of him and you’d have thirty minutes on how hilarious cheese is.
I&T Today: “The Cheese Block Special.” I’d definitely watch that episode.Photo Courtesy Of Aaron Bleyaert
Aaron Bleyaert: Honestly, if you took him to a cheese factory you’d get a great remote out of it. It’s a combination of natural talent and just having done it for so long. He knows all the tricks. He’s just really a great guy to work for. Even sometimes if we’re headed into a “Gamer” and I’m like, “I don’t know if we have it. I don’t know if we have it,” he always just blows it out of the water – gives us options and comes up with things we’d never think of.
I mean, when I come up with “Gamers,” I work with this writer Kyle Levitt who’s also very smart, funny, and stunningly handsome. And part of the thing is that I like to not show Conan the game. The first time he sees it it’s kind of on the air. In most instances, that’s the case. So it’s kind of like, “Oh, what would Conan do in this situation?” And just kind of letting him run free and putting him in funny situations or situations that would be fertile for comedy. So, yeah, it’s really fun. It’s easy for Conan because we shoot it in the office in our crappy-looking conference room. Sometimes we’ll shoot it down on an actual stage, but it’s literally just that he walks down the hall, sits down, we play video games, and then we get a funny bit out of it. It kind of works out well for everybody.
I&T Today: I don’t think I cracked up so hard as when you reviewed Final Fantasy XV and there were actual developers outside watching him criticize their game.Clueless Gamer on Conan, June 04, 2015
Tiffany Roohani/Conaco, LLC for TBS
Aaron Bleyaert: That was 100% real. A lot of the developers, now that Clueless Gamer has become more popular, will help us out sometimes and bring in a dev box so we don’t have to stay up for a week beating this game. We can skip to different points, which makes my life a lot easier.
That was just something that happened. You hope for those things. There’s a lot of instances of that. The most famous one would be the Lara Croft spike through the neck. That was a total accident. What I thought would be funny: there’s a part right after that where you’re parachuting through the trees. And so I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, we’ll beat this guy and we’ll just go down the river and it’ll be really funny where he’ll try to get through the trees and not be able to do it. But we didn’t even make it that far because he’s so bad. He just kept killing her. And that was just one of those really funny instances where we play. We shoot loose; we shoot everything, and that just kept happening, and it became sort of magical. That’s the kind of thing you hope for…And that’s really the magic of video games to me, that’s why I love them. And it’s fun to see someone who hasn’t experienced that like Conan and to watch him experience that firsthand is pretty cool.
I&T Today: Outside of Clueless Gamer, Team Coco is definitely a trailblazer when it comes to having an online presence for a talk show. Why do you think that’s so important to expand outside of TV, especially in late night?
Aaron Bleyaert: Well, I think…for you and I…we are living our lives. We’re out here hustling. We’re going to consume our favorite types of media in the way that’s easiest for us. And so, with Team Coco, we just want to give our fans what they want and make it easy for them to watch the things that they love to watch. That’s why it’s important to go to them and be like, “Oh, you like watching stuff on your phone?” Here’s a site optimized for mobile and here’s an easy way to watch all of our clips. Here are all the platforms we’re on. We’re programming specifically for different platforms to make you guys feel good because we appreciate you following us on Snapchat and Facebook and YouTube and all these places. I think it really comes down to – and I’ve said this before – but the reason I have a job, the reason we are employed to do a show, is because of fans. Because people like to watch what we do. And we’re lucky enough to have that.
Featured Image Courtesy Of Aaron Bleyaert