David Letterman Talks Crazy Beard, Letting Go of the Past in New Interview

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Ethan Alter
·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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Since leaving the world of late night television behind for the wild blue yonder of retirement, David Letterman has reappeared in the public eye in an eclectic mix of places. First came the Indianapolis 500, followed by a Martin Short/Steve Martin show in Texas, and now he’s chatting with a non-profit journal dedicated to mountain culture. In a lengthy conversation with Whitefish Review journalist Brian Schott — a talk that’s as wide-ranging as Montana, the state Letterman occasionally calls home — the former Late Show host talks about child-rearing, aging and spending time in the great outdoors. The full interview is well worth your time, but here are a few highlights that paint an evocative portrait of this particular artist as an older man.

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“I Don’t Think I Care That Much About Television Anymore”
In the run-up to his departure from the airwaves, many tributes hailed Letterman’s seismic impact on late night television. Looking back on his career now, though, the host himself makes it clear that he’s poked a giant hole in any balloon of self-importance. “When you’re doing it for so long, and for each day…you believe that what you are doing is of great importance and that it is affecting mankind wall-to-wall. And then when you get out of it you realize, oh, well, that wasn’t true at all. It was just silliness. And when that occurred to me, I felt so much better and I realized, geez, I don’t think I care that much about television anymore. I feel foolish for having been misguided by my own ego for so many years.” Instead of a generation-defining late night force, Letterman prefers to think of his legacy as being that of a gainful employer. “My wife will say ‘Well, look at what you’ve accomplished.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, what have I accomplished?’ And she says, ‘Well, look. You’ve employed a lot of people for a long time…’ So I always laugh and think, okay, I’ve put a lot of people to work. And that’s usually the end of the conversation.”

He Doesn’t Keep Tabs on His Replacement
When Letterman switches on the television these days, he’s not watching comedians commenting on the evening news —he’s just watching the actual evening news. “[People] always used to come up to me and say, ‘I can’t stay up late enough to watch your show,’ and I’d think, ‘You’re lying, you’re just lying.’ But I’m like that guy now. I can’t stay up late enough to watch TV. I like to be in bed right around 10. Anything that happens after 10, I’m not there.” That means, for example, that he’s not checking out what Stephen Colbert is up to at the Ed Sullivan Theater. “I thought I would have some emotional trouble, or some feeling of displacement, but I realized, hey, that’s not my problem anymore. It’s something for younger men and women to take on.”

Sorry, But He’s Keeping the Beard
In the beginning, Letterman grew his epic mountain man beard out of sheer laziness. “I used to say, every day, ‘I am so sick and tired of shaving.’ I had to shave every day, every day, for 33 years. And even before that when I was working on local TV. And I just thought, the first thing I will do when I am not on TV is stop shaving.” But now, the horrified reactions of his friends and family have made it a running joke. “Everybody hates it. My wife hates it. My son hates it. But it’s interesting. I’ve kind of developed a real creepy look with it that I’m sort of enjoying. And I can tell that people are off-put by it. And the more people implore me to shave, the stronger my resolve is to not shave. It’s sort of amusing to see the reactions.”

Read the full interview with David Letterman at Whitefish Review