EXCLUSIVE: Sona Movsesian Tells AIWA-SF about upcoming Conan O’Brien feature on Armenia
By: Christine Soussa
In early October 2015, comedian Conan O’Brien traveled to Armenia to produce a full episode. Conan O’Brien has shared that his Armenian assistant, Sona Movsesian, was the inspiration and motivation for the trip. In an AIWA-SF exclusive, we had the opportunity to interview Sona about this experience. The short 4-day trip encompassed her first time in Armenia, where she also celebrated her birthday and was an experience that she will forever cherish.
How the trip came to be?
It was Conan’s idea. He knows I’m Armenian, everyone in the office knows I am. I share my Armenian-ness with the team regularly and Conan knew I had never visited Armenia. In March 2015 Conan filmed an episode in Cuba, which got wonderful response, so he wanted to do another travel feature and thought Armenia would be interesting.
You and Conan seem to have a wonderful relationship, how is he as a boss?
Conan and I are very close, not only is he my boss but we are friends. We have a great rapport and I have tremendous respect for him; I am very lucky to have him as my boss. Conan is also wonderful person, he does an incredible job of creating a great culture among the team. A testament to this is when Conan moved from New York to Los Angeles, many of his staff members, most whom have been with him since day 1 also moved.
Even in preparing for this trip, Conan interviewed my parents and grandparents, so they will also be included in the episode. This is one of the actions that speaks to who Conan is as a person.
It is apparent that Conan integrates humor and humility, can you touch on this?
Conan is very smart. He is quick witted yet very humble. I attribute a lot of this to his background. He comes from a big Irish family. His father is a doctor and his Mother is a lawyer. His Mom was one of the first women to graduate from Yale Law School. Conan himself went to Harvard where he studied History and Literature; he has a natural knack for writing and is also one of the funniest people I know. When it comes to producing the shows, he beautifully integrates these elements so the show is not only entertaining but also genuine. Conan is very down to earth he’s very close with his family including his staff family. We have all met his family-his wife is also very down to earth, so he doesn’t let show business or fame influence his authenticity.
This was your first trip to Armenia, what was your impression?
Growing up as an Armenian in a big Armenian family, I had expectations of Armenia: Ararat, eating delicious food, and engaging with the children and people. I know we are generous people, but I was really surprised by how generous! From giving gifts and serving food, the hospitality was outstanding! I went under circumstances very different from a typical tourist, since we were there for a short time with the camera crew. It was so special to be in Armenia, surrounded by the beauty for the familiar and hearing the Armenian language everywhere was really wonderful. I loved meeting all the children, the youth of Armenia is very special.
What was Conan’s first impression of Armenia?
He said Yerevan was bigger than he thought. It is such a big bustling city with a log of energy. Everyone is always outside and the country has so much to offer. You will see Conan’s reactions in the episode; we did so much in our short time there from visiting monasteries to herding sheep with a view of Ararat in the background.
It sounds like you all did a lot in a very short time, is there a moment or memory that really stands out to you?
Visiting the “Dizidzernagepert”, Armenian Genocide Memorial, was the most moving and emotional for me. As an Armenian, to go for the first time, with a group of 10 non-Armenian work colleagues and seeing their reaction having no emotional connection to the Genocide was really emotional– I wasn’t prepared for that. Along the side of the memorial is a wall that has all the villages listed, I found the village of my Dad’s family—that was really tough. It was intense; it was really weird to cry on camera.
While we were there, school aged kids were on a field trip visiting the museum below the memorial. As they appeared up the steps they were chatting, laughing, smiling. It was so moving to see these full-of-life Armenian children against this backdrop of the Genocide Memorial, it really showed how strong Armenians are and how bright our future can be. This moment was very powerful for me: standing in the center of the Genocide memorial and seeing the beautiful, spirited energy of the Armenian children was a reminder of our past, present, and future.
What was a favorite funny moment from the trip?
Conan did a Cameo in an Armenian soap opera named “Urishi Hogin” that aired on Shant TV. Conan is Irish, he is 6”4 with pale skin, and red hair. Seeing him on set contrasted by Armenian men was hilarious!
How was the trip planned?
A lot of research was done by the TBS team, especially our 3 writers, Jesse, Jose and Mike. Our producer was also amazing: he worked with a local team in Armenia to plan the trip and ensure we got all the permits. While the trip was well planned it was largely unscripted, we captured a lot of spontaneous moments and did a lot of candid filming. This contributed to making the episode very human with many moments that are not only funny but also moving. We did a lot in the 4 days we were there, we literally filmed morning to night.
There is so much excitement from the community on the upcoming episode…
Yes, the response from the Armenian community has been awesome! To see the energy and excitement already is so heartwarming. I cannot wait for the episode to air on November 17th. It has been really wonderful to see the response in social media, via the hash-tag #ConanArmenia and via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
There a lot of thought that went into the filming and editing of the episode. It is something that Armenians can be proud of, non-Armenians can learn about our culture and everyone can enjoy. The episode is very real and personal…
The screening was a few days ago, how was it seeing the edited version?
It was awesome! The thoughtfulness of TeamCoCo is incredible. They did the same thing with the trip to Cuba, they are incredibly through with making sure the story is told authentically and genuinely. The set was decorated with Armenian flags, traditional Armenian food was served to the audience. The team really takes the time to revere the Armenian culture. It makes me so proud to work here, I am very lucky. My first trip to Armenian was outstanding; I cannot wait to go back.