Illustration by Maytal Bach
For a long time, the world of late night was entirely agreeable white guys. That is, until David Letterman busted onto the scene with a hot new take: not being agreeable! Like all great late night hosts, Letterman made all his female guests very uncomfortable and he has absolutely no lips. In fact, he was so good at being a late night archetype that he was on air from 1983 through 2015 — a freakishly long 32 years. However, attention is a drug and no one can get enough, so Letterman has a new Netflix series called My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.
The basic premise of the show is that he gets to ask A-list celebrities dry questions for an hour. It seems like 32 years of late night should be enough interview experience that he could pose some juicier questions, but he fails time and time again. He asked Jay-Z about growing up in the projects and resorting to dealing crack, forcing him to answer a question that he’s been asked only about a million times. Every other guest has had the same treatment. Instead of taking advantage of Malala Yousafzai’s unique perspective, he just made her retell the story of when the Taliban shot her in the head. It seems like David Letterman doesn’t really know what made him famous in the first place. Somehow he’s gotten the idea in his head that audiences liked the actual interview part of his show, which could not be more wrong.
People liked Letterman because he knew how to be confrontational without ever being controversial, but he’s lost that ability in his old age. Letterman is aggressively out of touch, and is squandering his guests’ potential by forcing them to explain basic human decency to him. He talked to Tina Fey about a bit she did on SNL that got a lot of backlash, in which she told people to ignore neo-nazi rallies and just stay at home and eat cake. This is obviously problematic because change is desperately needed and it has never come about from staying home, but our boy Dave loved it!
She explained why what she said was damaging in three different ways and Letterman just shrugged it off, saying he didn’t understand the controversy, and he still liked the joke. In his Jay-Z interview, he spent a solid five awkward minutes forcing Jay-Z to explain why white people can’t say the n-word. Let alone the fact that they could have been focusing on the meaning and impact of his music, black people shouldn’t have to constantly serve as white people’s personal dictionaries for anything and everything regarding race. He also made Yousafzai explain the Taliban to him, saying “I know nothing about the Taliban. I was on their mailing list for a while, but I don’t hear much from them anymore.” This is a joke about how the Taliban isn’t relevant anymore said to a girl whom the Taliban attempted to murder. Cool joke Dave! He has the distasteful old person thing where he thinks it’s cute that he doesn’t know anything anymore.
It seems like a very self-serving show for David Letterman. A constant theme in the series is how bored and lonely Letterman was once he stopped doing late night, so maybe this was his attempt to kill that feeling. Probably the worst thing about the show is that he just doesn’t seem excited. It feels like a half-hearted attempt at staying in the public eye. After 32 years in the spotlight, life feels a little pointless if you don’t have the world’s attention. Do what you gotta do Dave!