With a career spanning three decades, this late-night aficionado has been a force to be reckoned with in the American TV industry and beyond. Since Spanish is spoken by over 40 million people in the US, it comes as no surprise that O’Brien is interested in learning more about their culture.
Conan O’Brien does speak Spanish. He showed his skills in two episodes of his show, Conan Without Borders. In Cuba, he practiced his Spanish with many of the locals. In the Mexico episode, he performed a monologue in Spanish, filmed skits, and played football.
When did Conan start speaking Spanish? Read on for more insights on Conan’s experience in Cuba and Mexico, and his relationship with the language.
Making History in Cuba
Due to the long-running tensions between Cuba and the US, Conan’s trip to Cuba was the first time a late-night talk show host had been there in more than 50 years.
In 2015, this episode was released as part of his series Conan Without Borders, which is part of his regular late-night show, Conan.
The episode starts out with Conan expressing interest in the local Cuban music. He states that his grasp on the language wasn’t too strong, and he speaks English to most people.
On the subject of the episode, Conan gave a hint as to when he began learning the language:
“[The show is] a lot of me walking around talking to people. … I try to learn salsa dancing, I try to learn to play authentic Cuban music” and sing using fractured eighth-grade Spanish.”
“They let me into a cigar factory where they hand-make cigars, 400 people in a room. Obviously, I’m no good at it.”
During the trip, the famous redhead made it a point to avoid any kind of sarcasm or condescending remarks.
“I felt strongly that I do not want this to be a smart, snarky American comedy take,” he said.
“I don’t want this to be political. A lot of my remotes are me as a fish out of water, the jokes are usually on me, I want to go as a comedian making fun of myself and make Cuban people laugh. In that regard, I think I was successful.”
In the dance and music segment, he attempted to sing in Spanish, but ended up with a hilarious freestyle full of broken sentences that didn’t make much sense, like “I am Nutella”, “Men have libraries”, and “Hamburger milk”.
Next, he set out to improve his Spanish and visited a local teacher. He learned some of the Cuban Spanish basics, a little slang, and a few tongue twisters.
Other parts of the show included a visit to a rum factory, dance lessons, walking through the city to converse with the locals, and rolling cigars.
Made in Mexico
Conan Without Borders: Made in Mexico came out in 2017, as part of the Conan Without Borders series.
This time, O’Brien’s Spanish language level had skyrocketed. He performed his monologue in full Spanish, cracking jokes for 2-minutes straight.
You can watch it below.
In the heart of Mexico City, you can watch Conan speak to some Mexicans as a large crowd forms. In the middle of speaking English, he throws in some Spanish here and there, plus he tells some jokes in the language.
Another part of the show films Conan playing football against some residents. Take a look at his hilarious outfit from the segment, where he’s sporting bright orange socks and ridiculously short shorts:
Not long after the Mexico episode was released, Business Insider reported about a viral letter that was sent to the star from a Mexican fan. Part of it wrote:
“Thank you for showing us as we really are. Not what some people say in political rallies, not what the narrative of some part of the US political discourse tells a part of the American electorate,” adding at the end “So, thank you Conan. As a Mexican I felt so represented today, you raised the voices of millions of us who when we view the U.S.A we view them as a friend, not as an enemy. And for that, Thank you so much.”
What Other Languages Does Conan Speak?
Thanks to Conan Without Borders, the talk show host has been able to visit many countries around the world. These included Greenland, Australia, Japan, Germany, Korea, and Haiti.
Throughout these adventures, he’s had lessons in Korean, Italian, and even Armenian. He doesn’t appear to speak any of these languages more than a few words, but it’s fun watching him discover different cultures through the way they speak.