Conan O’Brien visited Cuba over four days in February, filming a double episode of his eponymous late-night show on the island nation, which aired March 4.
This was an historical event and a coup for the one-time (though famously short-lived) host of NBC’s “Tonight Show.” This was the first time a late-night talk-show host has broadcast from Cuba since Jack Paar interviewed Fidel Castro for the “Tonight Show” back in 1959, pre-embargo. (Too bad for NBC that they ditched Conan—they could have bookended the embargo, owning rights to both the last and first comedy episodes aired from Cuba.)
“Cuba is a country with many complicated social and political problems, so this process won’t be easy,” O’Brien explained in the opening segment while strolling the streets of Havana, “which is why I kept the purpose of my visit simple: to meet the people and try to make friends.”
The episode included classic-Conan skits. His self-deprecating humor included desperate come-ons to Cuban women, a disastrous Conan-rolled Cuban cigar, a tipsy tour of a rum distillery, an attempt to learn Spanish (which included such nonsense as, “Yo soy Nutella”), salsa lessons, and a failed attempt to convince a group of Cuba kids that he was a famous celebrity in the United States.
Conan managed to steer clear of any significant political punchlines or commentary.
“Despite the differences in our governments, at a human level, there’s so much we share: laughter, music, the love of good food and the sheer genius of rum in a box,” O’Brien concluded. “I’ve been in Havana for four days. It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. The people here are talented, they’re funny, they’re vivacious, they’re warm. I can’t say enough good about the people of Havana and Cuba, and I can’t wait to come back.”
Following the historic agreement reached between Cuba and the United States in December to resume formal diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of isolation, barriers are coming down with regularity. The Bronx Museum of Art and Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts announced in January a large-scale art exchange between the two countries.