YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—From herding sheep in ancient traditional clothing to experiencing the modern trends of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, American television host and comedian Conan O’Brien says he’s taken a dive into Armenian culture head first while on a trip inspired by his ethnic Armenian assistant.
The 52-year-old TV personality best known for hosting popular talk shows is regarded as the longest-working of all current late-night talk show hosts in the United States, at 22 years.
A writer and producer for The Simpsons for two seasons, O’Brien later took over David Letterman’s position as host of Late Night in 1993. Since 2010, he has hosted Conan, a talk show, on the cable channel TBS.
Since last week the American TV host has been in Armenia filming an episode of his show that is going to air in November.
O’Brien, who shot an episode of his show in Cuba a few months ago, says it was his longtime assistant who prompted him the idea of visiting Armenia.
“This all happened because I have an assistant who I’ve worked with for five years, Sona Movsesian, and she is always very active on behalf of the Armenian community of Los Angeles in the United States, and she is always talking about Yerevan,” O’Brien said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) this week.
“A few years ago she asked me to wear a Yerevan T-shirt and she took a picture of me wearing this Yerevan T-shirt, and she put it on Facebook… And a lot of Armenians saw it and were very excited. And I finally said to Sona: ‘Why don’t I take you to Armenia?’, because she has never been there before. And so, that was the story behind the trip.”
O’Brien says they’ve had a lot of adventures all around Yerevan and Armenia during the four or five days of filming, getting very involved in the local culture.
“I went to a lot of different places and had a lot of really fun interactions. We tried to explore as much of Yerevan and Armenia as we could in the time that we’ve been here…So I think people will be surprised at how much we actually accomplished while we were here. They’ll see that we really did dive into the culture head first.”
The American comedian says he noticed a few things that seemed funny to him, such as the presence of Kentucky Fried Chicken, KFC, an American food chain, in Armenia.
“When you get to a place like Armenia you’re so excited to be on the other side of the world, away from all the Western influences, all the stuff that we think maybe not the best thing for the world, and then you see a KFC and you think: ‘Oh my God, why, why did they let the KFC here?”
O’Brien says watching Armenian men interlock their arms when they walk was also very unusual: “You don’t see that in the United States and so when you first see it here you think: why are they doing that? But then, I think, that’s a great idea. So, I started walking with one of my producers. We started linking arms and I actually thought: ‘This is fantastic’. We should adopt this in the West. It’s time for us to catch up.”
The American television host says the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide that Armenians marked this year wasn’t the reason he came to Armenia. “But it certainly has a lot of importance to the visit,” he adds.
O’Brien says that while trying to note funny things and make Armenian people laugh, they also address “some of the serious aspects”, too.
“I know that it’s very complicated because of Turkey’s relationship with the United States and the whole geopolitical set of questions that are beyond me. But I take it from the very human, simple level, which is, I wanted to bring Sona here and I wanted to experience her culture with her, and meet her people with her. And you cannot come here and not go and visit the Genocide Memorial. It is an integral part of this country’s history and Sona’s history… It was very moving to go [to the Genocide Memorial]… I just thought I don’t know what politics are, but I’m not gonna worry about that.”
While not noticing anecdotal gold iPhones in Armenia, O’Brien says he did notice the trait that he also sees with Armenians that live in the United States, especially in Los Angeles.
“They [Armenians] are very intelligent people, but they are also very strong, and I don’t just mean physically strong, but spiritually very strong people,” the popular TV host says.