“President Obama announced that we were going to try and warm up relations a little bit with Cuba and I thought, ‘This is my chance! I want to get in before The View,” Conan O’Brien told Jon Stewart last night of his recent visit to the island nation where Conan shot an episode of his TBS late-night show.
Cubans did not know who he was, but the Canadian and European tourists who’ve been coming to Cuba for years did recognize him, Conan said. “I wanted to go and do my now-tired schtick for these people and see if it is at all amusing to them.” The episode, he said, will show him learning to roll a cigar at a cigar factory, visiting a rum factory, and learning to dance the rhumba.
“I didn’t want it to be comedically snarky. I wanted it to be, the joke’s on me – I’m the fish out of water. I wanted to try and make them laugh and really get to know them. They were fantastic.”
And then, this happened:
Conan stole the spotlight from Tonight Show’s trip to Los Angeles, when word got out he was in Havana, filming for a March 4 special broadcast of Conan, becoming the first American late-night host to film in Cuba since the U.S. embargo began in 1962
Jack Paar famously interviewed Fidel Castro for the Tonight Show in 1959, for which Paar got criticized in some circles. (Castro was a big “get” that year, for obvious reasons, and also was interviewed by CBS’s Sunday Beltway show — and Ed Sullivan.)
O’Brien’s show is known for its road trips, having previously filmed in Ireland, Finland, and Toronto as well as New York, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta.
In December, President Obama made news when he announced he would normalize relations with Cuba. Scott Pelley also made news that day when he anchored the CBS Evening News from Cuba, detailing for viewers the new rules loosening trade and travel restrictions that are part of the normalization push after a half-century of isolation and sanctions against the communist country. Pelley also talked about conservatives who complained about Obama’s use of presidential executive authority to achieve his policy goal. NBC’s Brian Williams and ABC’s David Muir followed Pelley to Cuba the next month.