Conan O’Brien has become the first American to host a television show in Cuba since Jack Paar interviewed Fidel Castro on the Tonight Show, which O’Brien briefly hosted. Conan said to wanted to capitalize on President Obama’s declaration to open diplomatic relations with the Communist country.
The camera crew snuck into country from Canada ahead of Conan, he told CNN’s The Lead. Neither Conan’s sidekick Andy Richter nor the band could make it so Conan recruited locals to fill in to created an opening and closing segment. The show itself was edited down from 4 days of filming the sights and interacting with the people. Coco went loco to overcome the language barrier.
“I think when I behave like an idiot, it’s a universal language,” he explained. “I did not want this in way to be snarky or me being cutting about their culture.”
The gringo did make an effort bridge the language gap by taking Spanish lessons in Cuba.
“How do I say ‘I am America’s biggest star,'” he asked the Spanish teacher. “And how do I say ‘Don’t check on that.'”
Not that they could verify it if they wanted because Cubans have no internet access. Even after showing them clips from his show, they were skeptical. The only one who seemed to believe him was an intoxicated man named Rudy, who graciously shared alcoholic beverages and smokes with the reluctant host.
“Well, Rudy here, just cost me every sponsor I have,” said Conan. “I’d like to welcome my new sponsor Rum Cubay. That’s Rum in a box. It goes great with cigarettes.”
He alienated more sponsors with segments at the Havana Club rum museum and Corona Cuban cigar factory. The bender continued while dining at a Paladar, a rare in-home restaurant not run by the government. The crew later noted that the rum helped make the food more palatable as there are limited ingredients because of the trade embargo. Before departing Conan added his picture to a wall of celebrities including Rob Schneider.
“So I’m literally the last celebrity to come here,” Conan joked.