Arts Post
Posted at 12:20 PM ET, 11/30/2012

David Letterman: Outtakes from his Kennedy Center Honors interview

It’s both foolish and impossible to reduce a man — especially a Letterman — to a mere 3,000 words. I talked to Dave for 46 minutes on Nov. 13, 2012, in the Broadway office of his production company Worldwide Pants Inc., which, besides “The Late Show,” has produced “The Late Late Show” with Craig Ferguson and the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” After our chat, I talked to people he’s known for decades: Regis Philbin, Tom Brokaw, Paul Shaffer, Conan O’Brien, producer Peter Lassally and CBS chief Les Moonves on the phone, and the comic actor Chris Elliott and “Late Night” co-creator Merrill Markoe via e-mail. Here’s what didn’t make the final draft of my profile:
The Late Show with David Letterman on the CBS Television Network. (Jeffrey R. Staab - CBS)

●When pressured to name a favorite movie, Dave picked “Out of the Past,” a 1947 film noir starring Robert Mitchum as a small-town gas station attendant with a murky past.

●Comic entertainment he’s enjoyed recently: NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” the British sitcom “Peep Show,” Rob Cordrry’s Web series “Children’s Hospital,” the canceled Starz comedy “Party Down.”

●Letterman , on having to interview flash-in-the-pan pseudo celebrities: “I go into some of those suspicious and dubious. Sometimes it can be enjoyable. Other times your suspicions are borne out. I can remember when Miley Cyrus came on the show — and I think at the time she was 15, maybe 16 — and I’ll admit that some years back I was suspcious about what she was up to in her career, as well as life, and then found her to be very engaging, smart. A lovely woman. And I thought, ‘Okay that’s fantastic.’ And you know who else can take a punch pretty good is that Justin Bieber. And here’s a guy — honestly I wouldn’t know him if he held me up at an ATM. But I think he’s pretty funny.”

On whether “The Late Show” is an institution that deserves an heir after he retires: “What I would hope to see — and what everybody would hope to see — is, ‘All right, he stayed as long as he stayed, maybe he stayed too long, who cares, we don’t care, I wanna see what the next thing is.’ I don’t know who it will be. But I think we’ve tried it, we’ve done it. We’ve done it. Let’s — I would be eager to see what the next thing is. And I don’t wanna keep jumping up and down for Jimmy Fallon, but I think — I can’t tell whether he’s figured something out, or, I dunno. I don’t think he’s radically different enough for the form to say it’s break-through, but he’s doing different things that people respond to.”

On what happened during the day before the Nov. 13 taping: “I was up and running at 10 a.m. . . .I stay in town [in a Manhattan apartment with 9-year-old son Harry and wife Regina] during the week and go up on weekends to Westchester [County]. And then I showered and then I came out and we looked over the notes. . . .This is our second day into a pregnancy leave. My assistant Joanna had a little baby boy Sunday morning, so we’re now figuring out how to get things done. So at 10 o’clock I started making phone calls. First call was to [producer] Jude Brennan. We talk about the show, talk about what’s going on. And then a mixture of some personal calls, and returning calls. I talked to Tom Brokaw, who proudly announced that he’d be at the Kennedy Center Honors. And Tom is just, like, an albatross. He’s nothing but bad luck for me, and wherever he goes I bomb, so I had to pretend to be happy that he and his wife we’re gonna be there but I’m really worried silly that something awful is going to happen because Tom Brokaw is there. Then we had lunch, a delightful lunch. We started going over jokes before lunch. . . .My favorite part of the day is when it’s like Jude and it’s Barbara [Gaines, executive producer] and it’s Bill [Scheft, a writer] and it’s one of the Stangels [Eric and Justin, writer-producers] and [producer] Nancy Agostini and we just talk. Today we talked about what’s going on over at the CIA and why are there twins involved? Why twins? I’m so confused now, I don’t know, but the twins have nothing to do with it, I guess. I’m confused. And is General Allen in this, not in this? And the FBI guy is sending pictures of himself without his shirt. I just — I mean, that’s what we talked about. Because I can’t read all this stuff and keep it in my head, I want somebody to tell me, connect the dots. So we do that evey day. And we work on the jokes that we use, and the videotape, and somebody comes and gets me and we try it.”

On what he’s usually doing by the time the day’s show airs at night: “My wife and I are home, yakking about stuff. Then when we’re tired of yakking, we go to bed. If Harry’s up when I get home, that’s always fun. And if he’s not, Regina and I just sit around and yak and there you go.”

And here are quotations from people who’ve known Dave in some capacity for many years:

●Regis Philbin: “I get a big kick out of [Dave]. I think he’s the best one we’ve had since Johnny [Carson] left the scene and in some ways he’s better than Johnny. . . .Dave is very private, and we have been out to a couple dinners in the last three or four years — only because Don Rickles was there, and Steve Martin. . . .Whatever happens between us happens right there on the show on the air. I know what he wants and he loves to hear me complain about something, and then he takes up the other side and we get into it and it’s a lot of fun.”

Tom Brokaw: “I think it’s fair to say that David has a small circle of friends. . . . He’s extraordinarily private, and extraodinarly shy. . . . The guy you see on the air is not David in private. He is very well-read; he’s very tuned into what’s going on in the world. He’ll call me from time to time to get my read on current events. . . .He’s so original every night, and he’s daring. . . .I think what is unique about David is his originality and his willingness to take a risk. Sometimes he probably crosses some lines. But here’s the other test for me: People I have a high regard for in that arena — Michael Keaton, Marty Short, Tom Hanks, Tracey Ullman — they always say there’s nobody quite like him. I think in that world he is truly iconic and they can’t imagine — at that age and having been doing it that long — that he comes out there every night and is cutting-edge, is original. What I like about watching him is I never know quite what to expect next.”

Conan O’Brien: “Everything about [his first morning show] was different. I remember his hair, and his teeth and his approach. . . .I remember it just being that real palpable sort of Oppenheimer-looking-out-of-the-bunker-at-the-first-explosion. ‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ Okay someone is cracking the atom over here. . . .I was just very aware of how quirky and left-brained the comedy was. . . . [The late-night talk show] is also like rock ’n’ roll: uniquely American. We invented this thing in the late ’40s, early ’50s. We invented it. . . .There’s a very simple chord progression— you go out, you greet people in your own way, you talk about stuff, you present comedy, you interact with guests, there’s a desk and a sidekick, in my case, and there can be music of some kind. But you can take that simple formula and then it’s kind of endless what you can do with it.”

Chris Elliott, who played a variety of buffoonish characters on the show: “He has a way of instilling loyalty in the people around him. I don’t have that gift, but it’s definitely something I strive for after working for him. He was a mentor to me, and like anyone who’s ever worked for him, I always wanted his approval — and still do. To this day, whenever I do something — no matter what it is — I always ask myself, ‘Would Dave think this is funny?’”

Peter Lassally, who produced “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and now produces “The Late Late Show” with Craig Ferguson: “The moment that sticks in my mind is when he came back after 9/11. He can make statements that are uniquely ‘Dave.’ He’s so good at sharing those feelings. That’s why the audience loved Carson, because he could do that. . . .I think he’ll be around for a bit. And he may change in different ways and find a whole new audience.”

By  |  12:20 PM ET, 11/30/2012

Tags:  television, culture

 
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