By Ara Khachatourian
Last month, comedian Conan O’Brien announced that he would be taking his late-night talk show on the road to Armenia. After a five-day trip, the episode will air on Tuesday, November 17 on Conan, which airs on TBS.
Ahead of Tuesday’s show, in a phone interview Friday, O’Brien discussed his experience in Armenia and producing the episode saying: “I’ve been making television for 22 year and this episode is one thing I am most proud of.”
He explained that the genesis of the show dates back six years when he moved to Los Angeles and hired Sona Movsesian as his assistance. She said she grew up in Montebello, where she attended the Armenian Mesrobian School, learning the language, culture and history of Armenians. She had never traveled to Armenia and said that she was able to experience what she had grown up hearing about from her family, school and community.
“It was amazing,” said Movsesian. “I felt a stong sense of appreciation and the people remind me of my uncles and aunts.”
“She [Movsesian] has been a big part of the show—and my life. She’s a very funny and colorful person,” explained O’Brien who said that over the years Movsesian had spoken about Armenia and being Armenian, so after the success of an episode from Cuba, which aired earlier this year, he decided to travel to Armenia to do his show from there.
In preparation for his trip to Armenia, O’Brien visited Sona’s family in their Los Angeles home.
“I wanted to talk to them and say that Sona misbehaves and watches too much American television… I am concerned about her and want to take to Armenia,” said O’Brien, adding that her parents had a long list of things that they wanted him to bring back, such as dried apricots, cognac, paintings and rugs.
Sona’s grandmother, who O’Brien said spoke very little English, told him, ”Bring back a man—I want her to marry an Armenian.”
Describing the trip as an “adventure,” O’Brien said that he took an Armenian language class with Anahit Keshishian, who taught him some words and phrases that he could use while in Armenia. He said people thought that it was funny when he spoke Armenian. He was surprised and impressed that young people in Armenia spoke English very well and recognized him, because they watched his show on YouTube.
He called Tuesday’s episode a “travelogue and a little bit of a scavenger hunt,” describing his experiences in the Armenian countryside of mingling with shepherds and trying his hand in herding sheep. He also learned how to weave a rug.
“I got her [Sona’s] parents a rug,” he said, adding that “you have to watch” to see whether he brought a man back for Sona.
The Dizidzernagepert Genocide Memorial Monument, O’Brien said “was the most powerful part of the show,” saying it was very moving to walk up toward the memorial.
“I haven’t quite done television like that. I thought it was very real. I am proud of the whole show,” said O’Brien. “It’s a very human story.”
Seeing Mount Ararat was another emotional experience that O’Brien and his team experienced. “It was like a painting,” he said recounting how the deeper they drove into the countryside the more powerful the image of the mountain was.
He thought Yerevan was a big city with buildings that clearly reflected the Soviet era, with the traditional churches and modern constructions adding to “the different textures” of the city.
While in Yerevan, O’Brien was a guest on a local comedy show and also made a cameo appearance on a locally-produced soap opera, playing a gangster with one line of dialogue: “Herika—enough.”
He also learned traditional Armenian dances. “There were these very beautiful professional Armenian dancers who were laughing at me,” said O’Brien, who learned the dances at the foot of the Garni Temple, where afterward the dancers performed.
“Trust me. No one makes a worse Armenian man than I do. It was really fun to do that,” he said adding that the episode has already aired in Armenia.
He said he would “definitely go back and hang out” in Armenia again because the five days he had there were not enough. “I was very impressed with how people were in Armenia,” he said, discussing his encounters with young people, including some Armenians who had settled there from Syria who knew of him and his show, because they followed him on YouTube. “The Armenian people were great. Very friendly.”
O’Brien said he wanted Armenians and non-Armenians to watch the episode to experience the “humor sweetness and solemn moments” that he had in Armenia.
The Armenia episode of Conan airs on Tuesday on TBS.