Having settled into his role as the “grand old man” of late night, Conan O’Brien now does some of his best work out of the studio. The host of TBS’ Conan began his televised international travels in 2015 with a trip to Cuba — the first by a late-night host since 1959 — and since then O’Brien has turned Conan Without Borders into a mini-franchise, journeying to Armenia, Mexico, Berlin, South Korea, Qatar and beyond. On Wednesday night, the host heads to the birthplace of pizza, Michelangelo, and the Sprouse twins for Conan Without Borders: Italy (TBS at 10 p.m.). O’Brien joins his associate producer Jordan Schlansky, who’s traveled to Italy more than 30 times, on a road trip through the country. The duo follows the same route Schlansky always uses on his trips (“like a migrating, anal-retentive swallow,” O’Brien notes), from Florence to Naples.
While there’s a lot of humor in these global adventures — O’Brien, a master improviser, excels in fish-out-of-water scenarios — the Without Borders specials are also surprisingly moving. The host, a proud Irish-Catholic guy from Boston, clearly loves his homeland, and he uses these trips to embrace other nations, their people and their cultures as only a true American patriot could. Ours is a country of immigrants, and O’Brien’s genuine curiosity about the world around him is particularly refreshing and curative in these often-antagonistic times. Before Conan’s Italian escapade tonight, take a look back at five of the show’s best international moments.
Finding inner peace with Steven Yeun in Korea (2016)
A sojourn to the Bogwangsa Buddhist Temple in the mountains of South Korea proves less than tranquil for O’Brien, who is driven to distraction by the temple’s wind chimes. As his travel companion, The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun, explains to one of the monks in Korean, “He has lots of issues.”
American nincompoop warrior: Conan trains with women of the Israel Defense Forces (2017)
Humiliating himself is one of O’Brien’s go-to comedy moves, and he achieves peak mortification when he attempts to run an obstacle course with soldiers from the IDF.
Raising money for Trump’s wall in Mexico (2017)
Ever the multi-tasker, the host uses his time in Mexico city to drum up some funding for President Trump’s proposed border wall — act now, and you’ll get a tote bag!
Drinking (and eating) alone at a family restaurant in Cuba (2015)
O’Brien enjoys a delicious-looking meal at a paladar (family-run restaurant) that’s been visited by such A-listers as Beyoncé, Jack Nicholson… and Rob Schneider? “So I’m literally the last celebrity to come here,” sighs the host.
Winning over the people of Haiti (2018)
Like many Americans, O’Brien was dismayed when President Trump described several foreign nations, including Haiti, as “s—hole countries,” so in January he brought the show to Haiti “to explore and make some new friends.” Not surprisingly, he and his camera crew were met with skepticism, but after O’Brien explains his purpose for visiting their country — “I wanted to come here and show positive, great, beautiful things about Haiti” — and reads a speech he wrote in Haitian Creole, the crowd embraces him, literally and figuratively.
Conan Without Borders: Italy airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. on TBS.