Fasten your seatbelts folks, Conan O’Brien is playing tour guide. If you’ve followed the career of the late-night funnyman, you’re aware that he’s willing to go there—or anywhere—for a laugh. In his latest travel special, “Conan Without Borders: Berlin,” the 53-year-old host of his eponymous talk show travels to the German capital to soak up a variety of fish-out-of-water experiences, which include a scenic excursion to a nude beach, a fairly explicit session with an ultra-serious dominatrix and a rather grisly segment in which O’Brien learns the fine art of sausage making.
Over a lunch of enormous Bavarian pretzels and pale white sausages in the quiet backroom of a Hollywood restaurant, the comic kept the jokes flowing as freely as the pilsner as he entertained questions about his special, which debuts Wednesday, December 7, on TBS.
Apart from the nauseating sausage-making lesson—which caused more than one attendee to stick to the oversized pretzels for lunch—the most provocative segment of his program involves a behind-closed-doors visit to a leather-clad fraulein who cracks a whip as Lady Velvet Steel. “Going to a dominatrix seemed like it would be compelling,” O’Brien said. “It turned out to be more compelling because she didn’t treat it like a joke. She wanted to put things inside me and do things to me.” According to O’Brien, keeping the segment’s comedic tone while not breaking his marital vows proved to be a challenge.
To those wondering whether he dropped trou during his first-ever visit to a nude beach, the answer is an emphatic no. “I have not just body shame, but well-deserved body shame,” he shared. “I don’t want to be naked, and no one wants me to be naked.”
O’Brien did reveal that when deciding on locations for episodes of “Conan Without Borders,” he’s always looking for places that offer a certain sweet spot “where there’s enough cultural differences [that] the idea of me being there is funny.” He went on: “But maybe it’s a culture that we don’t understand completely, or maybe they have some suspicions of us and then they spend some time with me, and we feel like we’ve made some friends. At this point, with everything that’s going on in the world, I feel like I’ll take that.”
After bringing his brand of comedy to such overseas destinations as Cuba, South Korea and Qatar, O’Brien admitted that he’s contemplated paying a visit to America’s Rust Belt region. He’s spoken to his friend, Nick Offerman, about accompanying him because “in addition to being an incredible comedian and terrific actor, he grew up on, like, a soybean farm and builds furniture with his hands and comes from that culture and is not condescending about it.”
The conversation took a slightly less light-hearted turn when O’Brien was asked if late-night talk show hosts like himself might cut back on political humor, or change the tone of their jokes, as a new presidential administration takes office. “Right now, every single comic is finding their way, night after night,” he insisted. “The audiences—no one has settled yet. People need to settle in order to figure out where the comedy is. Right now, everything is so new, so raw, such in a state of flux. People don’t tend to laugh when they’re worried. If you joke about our new Secretary of Defense might blow up the world, they’re not going to laugh.”
O’Brien wants fans to know that when he does do political comedy, it will be his own terms and will likely be very silly. “I try to find the silly in it and let people make up their own minds,” he states. “I’m well aware, in the world we live in now, there’s a lot of people who want political commentary, and they want that from their show. I think that’s great. I completely respect that. If I do anything that’s remotely political or remotely about me having an opinion, I want it to be organic. I don’t want it to be something that I’m trying to do. To quote The Situation from Jersey Shore, ‘You do you.’”
All images courtesy of Team Coco