Things have moved quickly ever since December, when President Obama announced plans to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba—something that hasn't existed since Fidel Castro staged a coup in 1959. Pressure to lift the travel ban has grown, there's talk of building a new US embassy, and United's tentatively announced plans for direct flights from US cities to Havana, including Houston.
Perhaps that's why late night personality Conan O'Brien decided to become the first American talk show host to visit the country since Jack Paar famously interviewed Castro in 1959. TBS announced the stunt last month when O'Brien and a small crew traveled to Havana on Presidents Day weekend. Little was known about the former Tonight Show host's plans, except that the end result would offer “a rare glimpse into the daily life of a country not often seen by American viewers.”
Titled “Conan in Cuba,” the episode aired last night. O'Brien's entry, monologue, playful banter with “Cuban Andy,” subsequent segments—everything in the show was filmed in and around Havana.
“This is a very historic time. Relations between Cuba and the United States are finally starting to thaw,” O'Brien said in the cold open. “I thought this was an amazing opportunity for me to come to Cuba, talk to the people and get to know them.”
The critical response to “Conan in Cuba” has been mixed at best, but even Variety's Brian Lowry admits, despite all the comedy and distraction, that O'Brien's sentiment is true when he calls the experience “one of the greatest” he's ever had. Why? Because he's given his audience their first taste of everyday Cuba.
So consider this a little taste of what's to come when and if those travel bans are lifted and folks don't have to sneak into the country via travel loopholes in Mexico and Canada. Want more? Don't miss our June issue—Great Escapes—when Houstonia visits Cuba for itself.