Conan O’Brien took his TBS show to Armenia for a special edition and it was everything we dreamed it would be: ridiculous and hilarious without insulting or diminishing the culture, and even emotionally moving at times.
For all this we can thank Sona Movsesian, O'Brien's longtime Armenian-American assistant. She was his travel partner and inspiration for the episode, which aired Tuesday on TBS and marked the first time a late-night host took a show to Armenia.
O’Brien and Movsesian kicked off the trip with a visit to her parents and grandparents in the L.A. area, which is home to one of the largest populations of Armenians outside of Armenia. Her family seemed pretty excited about the journey, especially since they were promised all sorts of souvenirs, from dried apricots to Cognac to — most importantly — a nice Armenian groom for their daughter.
During the five-day jaunt to the motherland, O’Brien and Movsesian visited a licensed matchmaker, herded sheep, celebrated the 2,797th anniversary of capital city Yerevan and stocked up on “Armenian Viagra,” which O'Brien later enjoyed in his hotel room (alone). He even made his Armenian soap opera debut as a gangster on Other Souls and totally nailed his one line.
But there were other, more reverent moments as well.
The host was visibly moved by a visit from young fans who turned out to be Syrian refugees, as was Movsesian, who succeeded in keeping her cool as her boss acted like a fool, licked rugs and yelled “I want to eat your liver,” an Armenian term of endearment, to innocent bystanders.
This year also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. In April, thousands of people participated in a six-mile march to the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles, protesting Turkey’s refusal to recognize the genocide of millions by the Ottoman Empire. Before their visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial, this text appeared on the screen as O’Brien narrated:
Any visit to Armenia must include an acknowledgement of the country’s tragic history. One hundred years ago, the Ottoman Empire launched a wave of violence that killed or displaced 1.5 million Armenians. To this day, the genocide is a painful scar for Armenia and the Armenian people worldwide.
Movsesian’s grandparents were among the orphaned and displaced, and she broke down while recounting her family’s connection to the tragedy. In an interview with NPR on Monday, Movsesian, who'd never been to Armenia, said, “I grew up in Los Angeles [but] I’ve learned a lot about my community throughout my life — the language, the culture, the history. … And then to see them in person was really cathartic.”
It was also cathartic for the large population of Armenian expats who've made L.A. their home — and enlightening for those of us with a Wikipedia knowledge of the warm lively culture.