On Wednesday, Conan O'Brien made history with a special episode of his TBS talk show, "Conan," filmed over four days last month in Cuba.
As the first American late-night host to broadcast from the island nation since Jack Paar interviewed Fidel Castro for "The Tonight Show" in 1959, O'Brien had quite a task ahead of him. Would O'Brien's self-deprecating humor do for U.S.-Cuba relations what Ping-Pong once did for America and China? Or would it be the comedy version of the Bay of Pigs?
Based on the evidence in the 75-minute episode, which was more of a humorous travelogue than late-night talk show, he succeeded -- and then some. O'Brien steered clear of politics and focused on comedy, making himself the butt of the joke whenever possible.
"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 as he wandered through the streets of Havana, "which is why I kept the purpose of my visit simple: to meet the people and try to make friends."
There was a visit to a rum museum where he sampled a bit too much of the local spirits and elicited some dramatic eye rolls from a tour guide named Gretl. There was a jam session with a salsa band and nonsense lyrics ("Yo soy Nutella"). There was a Spanish lesson in which O'Brien asserted the superiority of English tongue-twisters. And there was a brilliant, seemingly improvised dispatch from a Havana rooftop where, Anderson Cooper-style, O'Brien provided a constant stream of updates about a barking dog.
Speaking of dogs, it seems the canines of Cuba are not fans of O'Brien. Wherever he went, incessant, angry barking ensued. The people, however, seemed charmed by the floppy-haired comedian -- and vice versa.
"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 wistfully. "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."
And we can't wait for him to return.
You can watch clips from the episodes, plus outtakes, here.
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