In an interview on this weekend’s CBS Sunday Morning, David Letterman told Jane Pauley, “I don’t think anybody will ever see me again” after he leaves The Late Show on Wednesday.
It’s certainly a possibility that Letterman will pull a Johnny Carson, slip out of sight and nestle down beneath the warm fuzzy blanket of retirement. But increasingly, it doesn’t feel that way. Letterman can take advantage of an increased variety of venues chiefly provided by the Internet to keep himself publicly amused, and amusing to us, if he chooses.
The Pauley interview, designed to be a folksy profile in the manner of all CBS Sunday Morning segments, touched a few interesting personal points. Letterman was firm in describing himself as “an alcoholic” as distinct from someone who merely “drinks too much,” and said he hasn’t had a drink since he was 34. He also admitted to what he called a “clinical depression” that lasted for about six months, ascribed to going off prescription medication during a bout of shingles.
Letterman said when it comes to leaving the Late Show he feels “naked and afraid,” a rather unappealing image made more palatable by his reassurance to Pauley that he’s felt that way about all major decisions in his life, yet he still comes through the experience reinvigorated. And clothed.
CBS This Morning also included a separate commentary by comedian Jim Gaffigan, who’s appeared on Letterman’s show 22 times. He noted one characteristic that distinguishes Letterman from all other hosts — that, watching him at home, you can tell whether Letterman is “in a great mood or a bad mood, whether he dislikes a guest or is disappointed in himself.”
That is indeed a key element in Letterman’s appeal — or lack of appeal for many people, who don’t want to have to add the host’s emotional equation into their own when experiencing comedy. It’s one of the things Pauley’s interview didn’t venture into, but to be fair, it’s really difficult to get Dave to talk about that kind of thing.
The final Late Show With David Letterman airs Wednesday, May 20 at 11:35 p.m. on CBS.