Conan made secret stop at bizarre University of Alabama souvenir shop in Jerusalem
A Harvard grad, the late night host had some fun at a store dedicated to celebrating one of America's top college football teams.
Conan O'Brien's recent trip to Israel was well-covered by the media. He went to the usual tourist spots, swimming in the Dead Sea and checking out the Tel Aviv nightlife. He also stopped by a teen hackathon and visited a nearby hospital. But one stop on his Mediterranean adventure has gone unnoticed – until now.
While filming in Jerusalem, Conan and his crew made a brief stop into the Heart of Dixie. The bizarre shop stands out amid an ancient marketplace because it is entirely dedicated to selling University of Alabama souvenirs, many of which are in Hebrew. Hani Imam, a 1989 graduate of Alabama, opened the store in 1995 to honor his alma mater. It is believed to be the only shop in Jerusalem dedicated entirely to an American university.
Editors are putting together the footage from the trip, including this scene of Conan interacting with Dia Abdeen, who runs the Alabama-themed store with his brother. (Photo: Courtesy Jose Arroyo)
Surrounded by a security detail, Conan and his team filmed inside the store for less than 10 minutes. During that time, Conan engaged in witty banter with Imam, who was familiar with the late night host. "I gave him a few items," he told From The Grapevine afterwards. "It was fun."
Imam, a Crimson Tide fan through and through, enjoyed ribbing O'Brien, a Harvard grad and part of a cadre of celebrities who attended Ivy League schools. “Harvard people are snobby. Alabama students are more down to earth," Imam told us jokingly. "Harvard is a good school, but they can't play football. They don't have time for it.”
Jose Arroyo, a staff writer for Conan since 2002, was in Israel for the taping of these skits. "Conan is indeed a Harvard man, which is why he wisely steered clear of any football trash talk," he told us. "It's harder for a Harvard football player to get into the University of Alabama end zone than it is for a University of Alabama football player to get into Harvard."
It appears that Conan got the idea to visit the store from an article on From The Grapevine. Before the late night host embarked on his trip, we compiled a list of the best off-the-beaten-path places for him to visit while in Israel, which included the Heart of Dixie shop. We then sent that list to the Team Coco offices in Los Angeles, where we're told it was passed around to the show's producers. "You put the store on our radar," Arroyo revealed.
Arroyo, who had never been to Israel, came home impressed with what he saw. "Wherever we went – from Jerusalem to Bethlehem – all we found were people ready to show us hospitality," he said. "Everyone was willing to talk with our group, have tea with us, and even invite us into their homes." He said the food was the best part of the entire trip. "By the way," he added, "the fruit in Israel is some of the sweetest I've ever tasted, and I live in California."
Word is still out on whether the visit to the Alabama store will make the final edit. "I can't say for sure," Arroyo explained. "We shot hours and hours of footage to make a show that's about 50 minutes long. But for now, it's in the mix." The "Conan Without Borders: Israel" special is set to air on Sept. 19 on TBS.
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