Conan O'Brien: 'I enjoy being the butt of the joke' on travel show

Conan O'Brien enjoys making friends in his travels in "Conan O'Brien Must Go." Photo courtesy of Max
1 of 5 | Conan O'Brien enjoys making friends in his travels in "Conan O'Brien Must Go." Photo courtesy of Max

LOS ANGELES, April 17 (UPI) -- Conan O'Brien said his new show, Conan O'Brien Must Go, premiering Thursday on Max, makes fun of him as "the ugly American."

O'Brien, 60, visits fans who have appeared on his podcast, Conan O'Brien Needs a Fan, in Norway, Thailand, Argentina and Ireland.


"I enjoy being the butt of the joke often," O'Brien said during a panel at the Paley Center for Media in New York, viewed via livestream. "I like people to laugh at me."

In Norway, O'Brien visits a rap duo. He said he hopes the show helps E.D.A.'s career, and it just might if the behind-the-scenes crew are any indication.

"All the editors, everybody's been calling me up saying, 'I cannot get that out of my head,'" O'Brien said. "It's not good, but a lot of music isn't good. It just gets stuck in your head."


While in Norway, O'Brien learns about knitting and visits a re-creation of a Viking village. He has an insult battle with a Viking performer, whom he encouraged to let loose on the host.

"He's a nice man, so I let it sit for a really long time. and then he comes up with, 'You diabetic poor excuse of a ...,'" O'Brien said. "Oh my God, there's a really mean guy in there who hates America."

In Thailand, O'Brien visits an athlete and tries to keep up with her.

"She's just looking at me at my age and letting me have it in the most delightful way," O'Brien said.

Conan O'Brien Must Go writers put O'Brien in those situations too. A Thai boxing sketch wore him out but he's happy with the results.

"Their idea is Conan O'Brien boxes very hard using his arms and legs outdoors in 108-degree heat with 100% humidity at the age of 60," O'Brien said. They're going to be helivacing me out of one of these, defibrillating [my heart]."

Some fan favorite characters from O'Brien's talk shows join him in his travels. Producer Jordan Schlansky still takes everything seriously while O'Brien jokes around.

"We brought him to Argentina because he is so persnickety and such a know-it-all about culture," O'Brien said. "So he knows all about tango and all about the food and how you need to appreciate it."


Travel has been a part of O'Brien's oeuvre since his NBC show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien. It began when he visited Finland after being told he looked like its incumbent president, Tarja Halonen.

O'Brien visited Cuba, Italy, South Korea and other countries on his TBS show. He says he still makes friends because of those episodes.

Finnish people still walk up to him, he said, "and they hug and we talk about Finland. I love that. I can't get enough of that."

O'Brien and his crew took a risk visiting Cuba without papers during the Obama administration, when they believed friendly relations with Cuba might resume.

Now, O'Brien said he would love to visit Russia, but does not believe it is feasible with the war on Ukraine ongoing.

"I just always picture Putin watching at home and going, 'That one, get him, the tall red-haired lady," O'Brien joked.

Still, getting to know regular people around the world gives O'Brien hope for the future. He says he is only 51% to 52% optimist, but his experience with individuals is encouraging.


"We are in a very scary time that approaches the late 1930s in terms of totalitarianism, impatience, intolerance and groups trying to destroy each other," O'Brien said. "Governments, institutions [and] movements could be very problematic, but individual people usually make me feel better about things."

New episodes of Conan O'Brien Must Go stream Thursdays.

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Conan O'Brien appears backstage with the Emmy he won for work on "Late Night" at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on September 16, 2007. Photo by Scott Harms/UPI | License Photo

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