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“I think in the fall, when Stephen’s show starts up, that’s when my stomach will kind of go, ‘Oh, shit. I’m not really on vacation, am I?’, ” Letterman told Rolling Stone.
But the retired host recently told the nonprofit literary journal Whitefish Review that he hasn’t “missed it the way I thought I might.”
“I’m surprised — I can remember the first day that Stephen Colbert took over — put his [new] show on the air,” says Letterman. “I thought I would have some trouble, some emotional trouble, or some feeling of displacement, but I realized, hey, that’s not my problem anymore. And I have felt much better. It’s something for younger men and women to take on.”
In fact, having some distance from his show has given him perspective on the TV business.
“We did this television show — my friends and I — for a very long time,” Letterman tells the Whitefish Review. “It’s probably like anyone else’s professional pursuit. When you are doing it for so long, and for each day — I have always likened it to running a restaurant — because you get response to the day’s endeavor immediately. Either from the audience or the ratings, but you know as early as the next day how you did. And because of this introspection, 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.”
The humble Letterman also indicates that he doesn’t feel like he accomplished much despite his long, successful career.
“Well, I have this conversation with my wife all of the time,” he explains. “And my wife — I can’t tell yet whether she’s being diplomatic, whether she’s being polite, deferential — I just don’t know what it is — and she’ll 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.”
When the interviewer says, “You’ve certainly made a lot of people laugh and take a lighter look at,” Letterman interrupts with, “Well, I’d like to see the paperwork on that.”
Letterman also reveals why he decided to grow the epic beard he’s been sporting lately.
“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,” says Letterman. “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.’ And 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 … I know, it’s not a good-looking beard. But I don’t even care. I just don’t care. And it’s kind of fun — well, I won’t say that it’s fun to walk around irritating people, I think I’ve proved that on TV — but it’s sort of amusing to see the reactions.”
Letterman talked with the Whitefish Review for nearly an hour across two interviews in late November. During the wide-ranging chat, Letterman also recounts how he ended up purchasing his ranch in northwest Montana, what he loves about the area and shares some anecdotes and insights about his own childhood, raising his son and growing older.
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