In past years, Conan O’Brien has taken his TBS show to Cuba and South Korea for his Conan Without Borders special, which he’s always insisted is not meant to be political. This year, that assertion was difficult to make with a straight face, as Conan took his show across the much-disputed southern border to Mexico City.
The production had an entirely Mexican crew, and Conan — looking conspicuously casual in dark jeans and a jean jacket over a shirt and tie — made an effort to connect with his audience, which was also made up of Mexican nationals. He delivered his opening monologue in Spanish, and in one segment where he took audience questions, he seemed to try to make up for the hostility to Mexico and its people that kicked off Trump’s presidential campaign and has continued into his nascent presidency.
In remote segments, Conan made himself the butt of the joke, making a cameo as a cheese monger in a Mexican telenovela, training with lucha libre wrestlers, and roaming Mexico City with a collection box for the wall. Later, Conan told the studio audience that he’s interested in “comedy as diplomacy,” explaining, “You go and you humble yourself in other cultures. I’m very comfortable being made fun of,” he added.
He also advocated for one-on-one connection with people from other countries and cultures. “So much fear just evaporates” when people confront each other as individuals. Without explicitly mentioning Trump, Conan talked about the people chanting “insensitive things at rallies,” insisting that if they were face to face with actual Mexican people whose lives aren’t so fundamentally different from their own, their minds would change. “That gives me hope,” Conan said.
It may be an eye-rollingly-simple solution to the intractable problem of racial discrimination and xenophobia, but at this point we should applaud any attempt to mend relations between America and the many countries that the Trump administration has so swiftly alienated.