Conan O’Brien visits a cigar factory in Cuba


One of the good things about the loosening of travel restrictions to Cuba is that more and more people from the US will get to mingle with the Cuban population and find out what the people there are really like and rid themselves of absurd misconceptions about them.

In this clip, Conan O’Brien visits one of the factories where they produce their world-famous cigars entirely by hand to see how they do it and to try his hand at making one. Note the expressions of the woman in the beige dress on his right.

Comments

  1. moarscienceplz says

    I always cringe when some American comedian goes to another country and then asks stupid questions and acts like an idiot. The native people want to convey a friendly and welcoming vibe but the comedian is doing all he can to get them to react negatively to him. I don’t think it’s fair to them and I sure don’t find it funny.

  2. Holms says

    I think it’s fine when done in a way that makes the visitor the butt of the humour rather than the locals. The humour then is not just from the locals rolling their eyes at him, but rather his own buffoonery in earning their ire. There’s a fine line I guess, but I think Conan does it well.

  3. Mano Singham says

    I agree with Holms. Conan was aiming the humor at himself and inviting the people to laugh at him, not be angry with him. I think they were trying to be polite and not laugh but sometimes could not help themselves. I thought that whole thing was good humored and he seemed to genuinely enjoy being with them and that is the important thing.

  4. says

    Yes, amazingly, Cubans are just plain old humans like the rest of us, in spite of being on the wrong side of a decades-long propaganda campaign. Sucks being a pawn in The Great Game.

  5. says

    I think it’s fine when done in a way that makes the visitor the butt of the humour rather than the locals.

    The problem is, those people are not in on the joke. They don’t know him or his persona. They’re clearly puzzled and being used. Has anybody here except me ever been to Cuba? Lived there? Hospitality and friendliness is very high on their agenda. They are clearly being insulted (as by the blatant sexual harassment of inviting them to hug and kiss him*), but their own culture prevents them from objecting so he can use that to make his joke.

    *Mind you, Cubans will hug and kiss anybody they consider the friend of a friend’s coworker. For them to react like this it shows how grossly he violated the codes of conduct.

  6. says

    Conan was aiming the humor at himself and inviting the people to laugh at him, not be angry with him.

    Again, see above. They don’t know what he’s doing. He’s intentionally violating their social norms for a laugh.

    I think they were trying to be polite and not laugh but sometimes could not help themselves.

    Yes, they were trying to be very polite. Because that’s what they are. Because they’re putting up with arrogant rich tourists every day. He was trying to get a reaction out of them and had to get more and more rude in order to do so.

    I thought that whole thing was good humored and he seemed to genuinely enjoy being with them and that is the important thing.

    There’s a serious problem when the thing that counts are the intentions and the feelings of the privileged American dude. Did those people enjoy his visit? That’s a different question and one you’re not asking.
    This is not an exchange between equals. This is a wealthy American dude with a camera team in Cuba. Those people there are under a lot of pressure to be nice and friendly and polite, because they fucking well know that every breath they take is being recorded and will be used against them. They’ve been struggling for decades against the world’s largest superpower, a superpower that has tried to conquer them once (remember the Bay of Pigs?) and is trying to squash them with their economic power at the risk of starving the population (did you know that ships that went to Cuba are banned from going to the USA for years? Bit hard to do trade as an island like that…) and who support and harbour terrorists (Possada Carriles, anybody?). O’Brien may just think himself a goofy comedian, but when he goes to Cuba he goes there with all of that in his backpack. Now please tell me again about “good humoured”.

  7. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Giliell:

    Again, see above. They don’t know what he’s doing. He’s intentionally violating their social norms for a laugh.

    You’re quite sure they don’t know what he’s doing?

    (You’re quite sure about his intention?!)

    Now please tell me again about “good humoured”.

    Your perception of it obviously differs from that of others, but perhaps that’s because they don’t share your certitude about matters. Have you actually been there?

  8. Holms says

    Giliell,
    I disagree, someone had to be in on it in order for him to get into the workplace at all, and the most that happened was that they rolled their eyes at an idiot for a bit during work; multiple of them clearly had a chuckle. Also, I’d dispute the idea that there was any sexual harassment at all, as there was no incentive to accept and no repercussion if they didn’t.

    I’m not sure if it was his explicit goal, but the fact that they were presented as having very understandable reactions to his intentional idiocy humanised them to an American audience.

  9. says

    Holms

    I disagree, someone had to be in on it in order for him to get into the workplace at all,

    So, you mean it’s totally impossible for an American guy with a camera team to get in and get through with that without detailing the company on what he planned exactly? Because they could just have called their security and kicked him out with the camera and all for something Americans obviously consider a good humoured chuckle?
    Also, even if somebody who let him do that was in on the joke, it doesn’t mean anything about the workers there.

    Also, I’d dispute the idea that there was any sexual harassment at all, as there was no incentive to accept and no repercussion if they didn’t

    Yeah, guy telling women to hug and kiss them. No sexual harassment there at all. They could just say no, right? What is it with all those women objecting to being propositioned by guys they don’t know at all. Hysterical, all of them.

    I’m not sure if it was his explicit goal, but the fact that they were presented as having very understandable reactions to his intentional idiocy humanised them to an American audience.

    Oh damn, my bad. I forgot. This is about US Americans and their feelings. Which are clearly super important. Screw those Cubans and their feelings, they should be grateful for some white guy coming over to declare them human.

  10. Holms says

    So, you mean it’s totally impossible for an American guy with a camera team to get in and get through with that without detailing the company on what he planned exactly?

    Conversely, is it totally impossible that he did tell them? For some reason, you’ve discounted that possibility.

    Cool seering sarcasm by the way.

    Also, even if somebody who let him do that was in on the joke, it doesn’t mean anything about the workers there.

    None of them were imposed upon in the slightest, other than the woman that spent time to show him the process. Since this was done in clear sight of everyone present and had managerial involvement, I think it much more likely that the people were fine with it than that they were imposed upon.

    Yeah, guy telling women to hug and kiss them. No sexual harassment there at all. They could just say no, right? What is it with all those women objecting to being propositioned by guys they don’t know at all. Hysterical, all of them.

    You’ve greatly mischaracterised that scene. The woman in pink was the one to make the request for a kiss, and his response was to confirm that she was asking for a kiss, and where to kiss her. At the end of the segment, he kissed her again in the same manner, and yes beckoned for a kiss in return. There was laughter and evident good cheer all round, so again it seems much more likely that the experience was positive rather than negative.

    I have you idea how you got the impression that he was pressuring them in the slightest.

    Oh damn, my bad. I forgot. This is about US Americans and their feelings. Which are clearly super important. Screw those Cubans and their feelings, they should be grateful for some white guy coming over to declare them human.

    I know you’re just being snide again, but you’re accidentally correct. It actually is important for an American audience to see positive depictions of Cubans. It’s completely unfair, but there it is: Cuba needs good press in America so as to reduce the undeserved enmity. This is a positive portrayal of the place and the people, and sorely overdue given the damage inflicted by American policy. This segment does not overturn that legacy of damage by itself, but it helps.

  11. md says

    Mano, Im a relatively uneducated, jingoistic American. What misconceptions do I have about the Cuban people?

    I have conceptions about the Cuban government, to be sure. I do have a conception that it will be almost certainly good day for the Cuban people when the Castros are gone. Straighten me out, would you?

  12. says

    I watched the entire episode, and it’s pretty clear that Conan really likes the people there. The jokes were always on him and I never thought the Cuban people he interacted with ever came across as hating the interactions.

  13. Mano Singham says

    md,

    I have no idea what your particular misconceptions are. You are the one who can judge that. But when people are kept isolated from each other, those are the conditions under which misconceptions breed. It becomes worse when governments are antagonistic because then the demonizing of the other people is a precursor to getting people to condone the attacks on those countries and the killing of those people. Why do you think the use of derogatory terms to refer to people of other nations and ethnicities is so common, especially during wars or the run up to wars? We would never use those terms on people whom we know personally.

  14. md says

    OK, Mano, for the sake of discussion lets let all that you assert pass. How does it apply to Cuba? Im truly curious. I can see it applied to various countries in the Middle East, I just don’t see demonization of the Cuban people (as distinct from its Communist government) in the mainstream American Media. Can you point me to some? Do you think we’re in a ‘run up to war’ with Cuba?

  15. Mano Singham says

    md,

    I am amazed that you could say this. The US has been at war with Cuba for the past 50 years! Are you not aware of the Bay of Pigs, the numerous attempts to kill Fidel Castro, the economic embargo? Why do you think that travel to Cuba was so restricted all these years if not to isolate them? why were people subjected to punishment just for the ‘crime’ of going to Cuba? It is only now that tensions are easing, which allows people to visit there and get to know the people, as Conan’s show demonstrates.

    In general, there has been demonization in the US of people who live under socialist or communist states as dour and humorless, living drab lives like something out of 1984. The fact that they were as ordinary, fun-loving, kind, generous, and hospitable as anyone else was not part of the discussion. And it is not only communist countries that are perceived this way. The Daily Show sent Jason Jones to Iran a few years back and much of the humor was Jones ‘discovering’ that Iranians are just like us. Over and over again, Americans visit some ‘hostile’ country and are surprised at how warmly they are welcomed.

    This is part of the American exceptionalism. How many times have I heard after some natural disaster in the US, when people come together and help each other at their times of need, politicians say things like “Only in America do people do such things” or “this demonstrates the kind of thing that make us unique”. You may not notice it because you have grown up with it and it is taken for granted. But it really grates on me. In reality, people all over the world are like that, helpful in times of need. Americans are not special but are encouraged to think that they are. The more we interact freely with the rest of the world, the more we realize how similar we are and the better it will be.

  16. md says

    You are conflating ‘misconceptions about Cubans’ with ‘demonization of people under socialist states’ here, Mano. Not to parse semantics, but you did say ‘misconceptions about Cubans’ in the OP talking about average Cuban people. You didn’t say ‘people in Communist countries’. Not that I agree that is even correct. Americans have long regarded many Russian people warmly, with some pity, even during the Soviet years. Look how well Solzhenitsyn or Yakov Smirnov were welcomed to America. Russian authors have been read in the U.S. for a long time.

    If anything, I think American liberals suffer from the misconception about Cuban people that they don’t actually want capitalism in their country. Awfully easy for Morgan Spurlock to visit Cuba and wax nostalgic when he’s staying in a hotel with running water. And the people that are waiting on him, how are they faring? Best not ask.

    nor did you say in the OP anything about Americans thinking themselves exceptional. You mentioned specific misconceptions about Cuban people. What are they?

    Finally, we aren’t at war with Cuba. We’ve had ineffective sanctions against the government, which isn’t war. Sanctions aren’t war. Just ask the UN regarding the sanctions they’ve mandated on Iran. The point, they’d tell you, is to punish without resorting to war.

    You may be letting your misconceptions about average Americans get the best of your emotions here.

  17. moarscienceplz says

    John Morales @#8:

    Your perception of it obviously differs from that of others, but perhaps that’s because they don’t share your certitude about matters. Have you actually been there?

    John, if you had read my post #2, you would see that Giliell is not alone in that opinion, and if you had read Giliell’s post #6, you would know that Giliell has, in fact, been to Cuba.

  18. Holms says

    You are conflating ‘misconceptions about Cubans’ with ‘demonization of people under socialist states’ here, Mano. Not to parse semantics, but you did say ‘misconceptions about Cubans’ in the OP talking about average Cuban people. You didn’t say ‘people in Communist countries’.

    md, you correctly pointed out that your argument was semantic in nature, and I believe you should have stopped there. What does it matter if Cuba is being demonised specifically for being Cuba, or more broadly because it is communist? It is being demonised either way, and this video is a step in the right direction.

    If anything, I think American liberals suffer from the misconception about Cuban people that they don’t actually want capitalism in their country. Awfully easy for Morgan Spurlock to visit Cuba and wax nostalgic when he’s staying in a hotel with running water. And the people that are waiting on him, how are they faring? Best not ask.

    Er, liberals would actually be the ones to argue for improved conditions for the low paid staff at said hotel, and are generally vastly more likely to support elements of socialism in public policy, e.g. in health care and ‘safety net’ social support programs. You may have noticed Obamacare being demonised as ‘omg communism (and therefore bad)!!!’ by the conservatives and libertarians.

  19. says

    you would know that Giliell has, in fact, been to Cuba.

    Giliell has, in fact, lived there. The rice and beans and beans and rice way of life, not the nice tourist experience. Having intimate knowledge of the culture probably disqualifies me from having an opinion…

  20. Mano Singham says

    md,

    Your comment at #17 actually supports my point.

    I am not sure what you mean by saying that I am “conflating ‘misconceptions about Cubans’ with ‘demonization of people under socialist states’”. That is not semantics, it is just basic logic as Holms points out and here are the specific steps:

    1. People in Communist/socialist states are stereotyped in a particular way.
    2. Cuba is a Communist/socialist state.
    3. Hence Cubans are stereotyped in that same way.

    That is pretty straightforward logic.

    It is also interesting that the people you mention as being treated warmly by Americans are those who were people who were highly critical of their native countries. In other words, they had to effectively repudiate their countries in order to be accepted, which supports my point. To be welcomed, they had to prove that they were not like ‘the other’.

  21. md says

    Mano,

    Id suggest a re-read of Solzhenitsyn. While he repudiates the Soviet system of government (not, I hope you’d agree the totality of Russian history and culture) he also gave the Western materialist way of life a thorough critique at his address at Harvard (his first public speech since coming to the US).

    All of this has been blown out of proportion. I really thought you had something specific in mind to Cubans in your original post. I couldn’t imagine what that might be, so I asked.

  22. Holms says

    md,
    Nothing specific to Cuban identity or history that I have seen, but rather they didn’t do as the US government wanted, therefore evil – the same sort of shit starting up with Venezuela at the moment. The fact that Cuba is also communist adds easy fuel to the fire, but the critical factor remains disagreeing with America. So, just the usual unfair characterisation of a soveriegn government exercising its soveriegnty.

  23. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Giliell @20, responding to moarscienceplz’s response to me about my response to her:

    Giliell has, in fact, lived there. The rice and beans and beans and rice way of life, not the nice tourist experience. Having intimate knowledge of the culture probably disqualifies me from having an opinion…

    Then your opinion about the character of those with whose culture you are intimately knowledgeable (“Those people there are under a lot of pressure to be nice and friendly and polite, because they fucking well know that every breath they take is being recorded and will be used against them.”) is well-informed.

    Point being, it’s your opinion, and expressed with equal certitude to such opinions as “They don’t know what he’s doing. He’s intentionally violating their social norms for a laugh.”, though those knowledge-claims are presumably less well-informed.

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