David Letterman retired as host of “The Late Show” more than a year before Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign, missing the nightly opportunity to riff on the celebrity businessman’s roller-coaster campaign to the presidency.
And Letterman says that if he still had a show, it would be all Trump, all the time.
“People would have to come and take me off the stage,” Letterman told New York Magazine for this week’s cover story. “‘Dave, that’s enough about Trump. We’ve run out of tape.’ It’s all I’d be talking about. I’d be exhausted.”
Letterman, who interviewed Trump dozens of times on his late-night talk show, says the property magnate was an easy target for mockery.
“We didn’t take him seriously,” Letterman said. “He’d sit down, and I would just start making fun of him. He never had any retort. He was big and doughy, and you could beat him up. He seemed to have a good time, and the audience loved it, and that was Donald Trump. Beyond that, I remember a friend in the PR business told me that he knew for a fact — this was three or four presidential campaigns ago — that Donald Trump would never run for president; he was just monkeying around for the publicity. So I assumed that was the story and now it turns out he’s the president.”
The 69-year-old, who says his post-television beard is now more recognizable than he is, believes comedy is an important tool in the Trump era.
“We gotta stop that and instead figure out ways to protect ourselves from him. We know he’s crazy,” Letterman said. “Comedy’s one of the ways that we can protect ourselves.”
Trump, he said, “has such thin skin that if you keep pressure on him,” he’ll get distracted and “take a fastball off the sternum and have to leave the game.” He also hailed actor Alec Baldwin’s “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of Trump.
“Alec Baldwin deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Letterman added. “Sadly, he’s not going to get it from this president.”
Letterman says it’s possible that the skewerings Trump gets from comedians has the unintended effect of normalizing him. But he believes that “taking on Trump” is “an obligation” for comedians. And he says the Trump administration is a target-rich environment for late-night comedy.
• On Steve Bannon, White House strategic advisor who Letterman calls “the Hunchback of Notre Dame”: “Bannon looks like a guy who goes to lunch, gets drunk, and comes back to the office: ‘Steve, could you have just one drink?'”
• Kellyanne Conway, special counselor to Trump: “This thing about her telling everyone, ‘Go buy Ivanka’s shoes; I’m going to go buy Ivanka’s shoes. Hell, I’ll buy you a pair of Ivanka’s shoes.’ Then they had to counsel her. Boy, if this administration decides you need counseling — whoa.”
• Sean Spicer, White House press secretary: “Poor Sean Spicer is a boob who just got out of a cab and now here he is.”
• Stephen Miller, White House senior adviser: “Wow, that guy is creepy. He fell out of a truck.”
• Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “Don would say, ‘Rex, if you’re talking to your friends, ask them’ — I’m sure the Russians groomed Trump. They gave him tips: ‘You want to be an authoritarian dictator? Sure, that’s not a problem. We’ll tell you how to do it, for God’s sake.’ I think it was just all like that, because that’s the way Trump does business: ‘See if they’ll give us the tar coating? They’ll throw that in? Great, great. And by the way, we’re not paying the last 10 percent of the bill.’”
• Vice President Mike Pence: “He only got elected because he looks like Bobby Knight.”
The gap-toothed funnyman, who began his career in late-night television in 1982 on NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman,” was asked about the controversial interview “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon did with Trump during the presidential campaign. Critics said Fallon, who infamously played with Trump’s hair, was too soft on the candidate.
“I don’t want to criticize Jimmy Fallon,” Letterman said. “But I can only tell you what I would have done in that situation: I would have gone to work on Trump.”
“I would just start with a list,” he explained. “‘You did this. You did that. Don’t you feel stupid for having done that, Don? And who’s this goon Steve Bannon, and why do you want a white supremacist as one of your advisers? Come on, Don, we both know you’re lying. Now, stop it.’ I think I would be in the position to give him a bit of a scolding and he would have to sit there and take it. Yeah, I would like an hour with Donald Trump; an hour and a half.”
And Letterman, who says he openly despised social media when he was a late-night TV host, is finally warming up to it.
“Rather than a laughable expression of ego run amok, it could be a useful tool,” he said. “If we get a president sometime soon who does not have a mental disorder, Twitter will be useful.”
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