|Tom Snyder Interviewing David Letterman
SNYDER: On Monday night my friend David Letterman celebrates 15 years of late night television with a prime time special
here on CBS. The Late Show video special airs at 10:00 p.m. eastern and pacific on Monday, and we are happy that Dave
could join us tonight by satellite from New York. May I remind you all watching, we are on videotape, and the toll free is not
up and running tonight, so I do have questions by email, but the phones are not up right now. Dave, congratulations on 15
years and thanks for joining us tonight.
LETTERMAN: Thank you very much, Tom, and thank you for having me, and despite the fact that people actually can't get through by phone, go ahead and call. It don't make any difference. Just go ahead and call. Jam up those lines coast to coast.
SNYDER: In my control room, they're cheering you right now, pal.
LETTERMAN: Tom, how are you doing, buddy.
SNYDER: I'm doing fine, buddy. Listen, how big a deal was the clips from NBC? There was a big story in the press here a couple weeks back that they wouldn't give you clips from the show over there.
LETTERMAN: It's not a big deal at all. We knew that -- they own those shows. They own 11 years or 12 years or whatever it was of those shows, and they have the right to use that videotape any way they want, and we knew that they wouldn't give it
to us, but we thought on the off chance that they might, it would be fun to have some of that stuff. So we felt like, you know,
it doesn't hurt to ask, and so we did, and they said no, and that was fine, but, you know, I'm telling ya, I spend less time
thinking about those people and what they're doing than others might hope or think I do. But it was just something that we thought we would try.
SNYDER: Let me tell you what bothers me, and I wonder if you sometimes feel the same way. The last time that you were on here I had a little clip of you, I believe, and Merrill Markoe and Billy Crystal when you were on the Tomorrow Show 20 years ago.
LETTERMAN: That's right.
SNYDER: And I had to go through hell and brimstones to get permission from NBC to run that clip, and I thought to myself,
first of all, I'm not doing anything by running that that takes anything away from them, okay? And secondly, and in your case too, we did those shows.
LETTERMAN: That's right.
SNYDER: And even though we don't own them, we created them. They came out of our brains and our intelligence. Why couldn't we use bits and pieces? I mean, why is that such a big deal to these people?
LETTERMAN: Well, and moreover, and I don't know that this is even a valid point, but it occurs to me that since it has been aired, since it has been broadcast, in essence it has been published.
LETTERMAN: And it already has been at large. It's not like it's never-before-seen video from the other side of Mars. It's kind
of been out there anyway, and really, the truth of it is, there's not great financial value to them. So it would have been nice to have some of this stuff.
SNYDER: Sure, sure.
LETTERMAN: But it's not breaking my back, honestly.
SNYDER: And in the case of the Late Show, you own that program, do you not?
LETTERMAN: HUH? (Dumb guy) Boy, I wish. By the way, Tom, that was my dumb guy expression. Whenever I can't think
of anything funny, I always go to my dumb guy expression.
SNYDER: No, I'm just wondering here, because I know the genius switch is never off, that 15 years from now when we celebrate your 30th year in Late Night television, should you be, for example, at a different broadcasting company, you would
be able to use what you're doing now, because it's owned by your company, Worldwide Pants.
LETTERMAN: That's right. The only difference is that the stuff we're doing now stinks.
SNYDER: You were on the cover of TV guide last week.
LETTERMAN: HUH? (Dumb guy)
SNYDER: Come on. Turn the genius switch back on, kid. Is that a shot in the arm for you? You know, "Dave's the guy to
watch and Dave's doing the best late night show." How much of a shot in the arm is that for David Letterman when he sees
that kind of validation from a publication as important as TV Guide?
LETTERMAN: I'll tell you the absolute truth. It means I can go into the Food Emporium on the weekend shopping with my
head held high.
SNYDER: Come on.
LETTERMAN: That's it. I'm telling ya. When I go in there -- and thank the Good Lord that I've been lucky enough to have my picture on any of those publications -- I get treated with such enormous respect by the produce staff, the butcher staff, the cashiers, the kids, the men and women sacking the groceries, I feel like General Schwarzkopff.
SNYDER: Yeah. I got a picture of Letterman walking through the Food Emporium on the weekend. Yeah, right. As one
though who has taken his lumps in the press over the past year, it must be wonderful to pick up this article and see this kind of praise.
LETTERMAN: Well, I tell ya, and maybe you know a little of this, maybe you don't. I'll be 50 in a couple of weeks, and I am actively trying to reduce the number of items on the list of things in the world that trouble me, and I've been lucky enough to
be successful in the case of bad things being written about me in magazines and newspapers. After you have a little bit of it,
you become inured, you become numb, and then you just give it up and you don't care. You know, what you learn is, you
know, so what? People can criticize my work. They can like my work. They can hate my work. You know, I don't care, because I'm trying as hard as I can. I'm trying to do the best job I possibly can, and if I come close, hey, great. If I don't
come close, well, then, you know, write something nasty about me, but the truth of it is, I sleep pretty well regardless. So I
think it's a sign of maturity, and by the way, that would be the only sign of maturity in my life.
SNYDER: Let me read off the paper here, one that came in from one of the viewers by email during the day: "In interviews you've done I don't recall you ever saying a mean-spirited thing about anyone, including your critics or others who may have deserved it. Why then are you so critical of yourself, especially with respect to taking blame for every single aspect of the Late Show?"
LETTERMAN: Because I am just a loathsome worthless son-of-a-bitch.
SNYDER: Come on now, don't -- no, you do take responsibility for everything that goes on in that show. I know you watch it very, very carefully. You try as hard as you can to make it as good as it can be, almost to a fault.
LETTERMAN: Oh, come on. You know, I try very hard, and I'm only successful a small part of the time, and every now and then other members of the production staff will make a mistake, and they feel very badly about it, and they come to me and apologize, which I think is generous, and I always say the same thing to them. I say, you know, "That's just great. You worry about making that mistake, and I'll tell ya, you can really start worrying about making mistakes when I, me, Dave, when I stop making mistakes." You know, nobody makes more mistakes than do I, and if we can minimize those mistakes on a nightly
basis, we get a pretty good show. If I crash and burn, then the show stinks, and it's that simple.
SNYDER: And what's a mistake to you? What's a mistake you've made? I mean, I've heard you talk about this. Tell me an example of a mistake you've made.
LETTERMAN: Last night I was doing a joke about Nicolette Sheridan in some kind of a movie here on CBS, and it was a
joke about -- she as a woman in the film gets a brain implant. I am thrown because the audience is sleeping, and instead of "implant" I say "transplant," and I say, "That brings the total number of transplants for Nicolette Sheridan to three." Now, the audience, who had been asleep up to this point, now recognizes that something has not gone right, and they kind of struggle
up, "Oh Dave, we just don't get that joke," and that was within the first two minutes of the broadcast. "Implant" maybe would have been a little better, easier to understand. There's a mistake.
SNYDER: We are with David Letterman who celebrates in March 15 years.
LETTERMAN: When Valerie Bertinelli comes out, ask her what it's like to be married to Eddie Van Halen.
SNYDER: Oh, she's married to him, right?
SNYDER: And should I ask her -- have you got a pencil?
LETTERMAN: What's it like being married to Eddie --
SNYDER: Wait, wait, wait. Hold it, Dave. I want to write this down, you know. We're on the West Coast here, you know.
Yeah, what's it like --
LETTERMAN: "What's the deal with David Lee Roth?"
SNYDER: What is it like being married to --
LETTERMAN: From here, Tom, it looks like you're jotting that down on your tie.
SNYDER: Adjust your glasses, David. "What's it like being married to Eddie Van Halen?" Have I got it?
LETTERMAN: Yeah, and then, "What's the deal with David Lee Roth, and then what happened to Sammy Hagar?"
SNYDER: Okay. You know, if you'd like to hang around, you can do the spot.
LETTERMAN: (Dumb guy) HUH?
SNYDER: Back with David Letterman. The Late Show special airs on Monday night at 10:00 eastern time here on CBS. We
will continue after this break.
SNYDER: We are back with David Letterman on videotape tonight.
LETTERMAN: Hey, Tom, how are you doing?
SNYDER: I'm doing fine, Dave. How are you?
SNYDER: By the way, you look terrific, and you seem more relaxed than at any time I've known you to be in the past two
LETTERMAN: It's the vodka.
SNYDER: No, it's not. You said in TV Guide you used to drink a lot of that, but not any more.
LETTERMAN: I punished myself. I loved drinking. I really loved drinking. I loved everything about it. I even loved the hangovers.
SNYDER: Oh, come on, geez. And one day I had to have a little talk with myself, and I said, "Dave, you know, you've had
plenty to drink. You've had enough for Orange County to drink. So maybe it's time to put it away." And I was lucky that I prevailed, but man, it was a struggle for a while, and people who have that difficulty in their lives, I have a great deal of
respect for them if they can overcome it.
SNYDER: Do you still enjoy the cigars, sir?
LETTERMAN: No, sir. I gave them up a year ago.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. Biggest mistake of my life.
SNYDER: Let me ask you here about the 15 years that we have all been watching you at the other place and now here at CBS. You are never afraid to take on those who you identify as the weasels, the executives.
LETTERMAN: The pinheads.
SNYDER: The pinheads, the suits, the empty heads, all those things that we call them behind their backs and sometimes to
their faces. Are any of them your friends? And I ask this in the context that we all know that Johnny Carson and Bob Wright, who is the president of NBC, are and were friendly through his time there.
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, Bob Wright and I were friendly and got friendly, got kind of close actually, toward the end
of my run at NBC, and I felt, and I've said this before, that of the group of people there calling the shots at General Electric
and NBC that Bob Wright demonstrated to me and on my behalf genuine humanity. So I had some actual affection for Bob Wright. Grant Tinker, who was in place for a while while I was at NBC, I had great respect for, great admiration for as
a gentleman. I had worked for him when I did a show with his then wife at CBS. Les Moonves, who I am getting to know
more and more, the man who is rebuilding the CBS television network, I have a great deal of respect for him, because I think anybody who wants to sign up for the job of putting this place back together, that gesture in and of itself demonstrates
remarkable courage and fortitude, and that's exactly what we need. So I am developing a fondness for him. And having said
that, these guys, of course, all still come under the category of pinheads.
SNYDER: Nice pinheads, but pinheads to be sure.
LETTERMAN: Sure, sure.
SNYDER: Moonves was here the other night. He's a very charming man.
LETTERMAN: What did he have to say?
SNYDER: Not much. No. He talked about shows that are coming on and shows that are going off.
LETTERMAN: Did he have anything to say about Wednesday nights?
SNYDER: Not a thing. Still to come. Stay tuned. Film at 11:00.
LETTERMAN: Did he have anything to say about that 80-year-old female demographic?
SNYDER: No. He didn't talk about that at all, although he did say Madison Avenue and all of us are going to have to change
our opinion about that demographic, that that may well be the demographic of the future.
LETTERMAN: God bless him. I love the guy.
SNYDER: But I know they're out there now watching saying, "Isn't this great watching Tom and Dave talk about demographics?" They can't get enough of this.
LETTERMAN: All right, Tom, okay. Point well taken. I'm sorry.
SNYDER: You talk in TV Guide about what I'll call the mean thing where you said, you know, "I'm not mean to people. I've never tried to be mean to people. I've always been nice to people." Where did that come from?
LETTERMAN: It came from the first couple of weeks of the Late Night show, I guess it was -- What did we call it? -- Late Night at NBC. And actually maybe even earlier when I was hosting the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson would let me
fill in for him, and, you know, I just would try to make jokes, because that's what I've done all my life. I mean, we did it in
my family. My sisters and I kid and joke, as do every group of siblings everywhere, my friends in high school, my friends
in college, we just made jokes, and that's all I was doing, and that's all I still do, and I guess if your perception is that that's
mean, well then, screw you! (Laughs) No, you know, I didn't mean that. But, you know, the truth of it is, I thought
seriously about it for quite a long time, and then I thought, you know, I can't really worry about this, because the most
fun I have is when somebody comes on and starts teasing me or making jokes about me, you know, it's just great fun, and it's
part of the dynamic, and if somebody's feelings get hurt, then of course I feel badly and I will apologize, but my strategy
in life as a human being is not to assail and puncture the feelings and emotions of others.
SNYDER: I noticed you with David Brenner a couple of minutes ago as you were winding up your show, and you asked him
if he were going to get married.
LETTERMAN: Yes, sir.
SNYDER: And you were asked that question by TV Guide, and I know how much you hate that question.
SNYDER: And I know how much you try to keep your private life private, for reasons that I fully understand. So why would
you ask Brenner a question that you yourself hate to be asked?
LETTERMAN: Because it was for that very reason.
LETTERMAN: I was teasing David, full well knowing I had no grounds from which to be making that -- or asking him that question.
SNYDER: You are on the air five nights a week. That's a lot of nights. You remember Johnny Carson cut it down to four and then he cut it down to three.
LETTERMAN: Right. I don't think he's hardly on at all now. I think he's cut it way down, hasn't he?
SNYDER: He's cut it way back. Otherwise -- guess what? -- we wouldn't be here. But will you continue five nights into the foreseeable future? Is that your game plan?
LETTERMAN: You know, when we went on the air here at CBS, I think we did, I don't know, 20 weeks in a row, 25 weeks
in a row -- I don't know what it was -- and about a month or two into it we were all just walking around here tired, and we
just laughed, and forgive me, I know it sounds silly when people all across America think nothing of working five days a
week, 365 days a year, but we weren't accustomed to this kind of fatigue, and we all just kind of got goofy and silly, and
as you know, what everybody realizes, you just get used to being tired, and I'm telling ya, I've been tired now for four years.
SNYDER: But the five-night-a-week schedule will continue into the foreseeable future?
LETTERMAN: Yeah, I think so, until I drop dead and the paramedics run in, but hey, that would be good TV. Jot that down, Tom, and shoot it off to Les Moonves.
SNYDER: Do people ask you how much longer? You were quoted, I guess, about a year ago as saying that when you got to
20 years that that might be time to step aside.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, I think so. I think so.
SNYDER: And you keep mentioning this 50-year-old thing. Is that like a fixation with you, this 50-year-old thing?
LETTERMAN: Well, I'll tell ya, age has never really bothered me, but looking at 50 in a couple months has kind of got my attention, because when you realize you're 50, you kind of understand which way this is going, ya know what I mean?
SNYDER: Yeah, I know.
LETTERMAN: There's no u-turn here. We ain't coming back around.
SNYDER: No, this is not a rehearsal.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, a straight line until the final exit, until the final rest stop. So it kind of gets your attention. On the other
hand, I think in my mind -- and who the hell cares, for the love of God -- but in my mind, I feel like I'm sort of enjoying the
fact that I'm going to be 50, and it doesn't bother me, but I do think 20 years is too much, too much time. Beyond that would be way too much. 15 years -- this is a job for a much younger man, and I prove it each and every night.
SNYDER: Oh, stop it.
LETTERMAN: I don't know. 20 years is about fine.
SNYDER: Why do you say you prove it each and every night? You're a terrific broadcaster.
LETTERMAN: Well, for the love of God, Tom, it's just a joke. Now you're getting upset on my behalf because I made a joke about myself the way others get upset when I make a joke about, say, you, for example. So it's just the same dynamic. It
doesn't mean anything. I'll tell ya another thing. Here's something silly. We talk about things that are written about you and
what upsets you and what doesn't upset you. Nothing really upsets me anymore. Things that aren't true that have been
written about me, that upsets me, continues to upset me. A hundred years ago, Teri Garr is on the old show. We are
bantering back and forth. She is a lovely woman, and I'll always have fond feelings for the good things she did for us on that
old show, and I made a very cheap very uncharacteristic double entendre sexual reference about Teri, just because I needed
to have some kind of a joke. I needed a laugh. We were going to commercial. The audience hoots, the audience explodes, and
of course it was very effective. I'm embarrassed, I'm chagrined, because I felt that the attempt had been untoward, so during
the commercial break, because Paul and the band is always playing very loudly, I wrote a note to her which said, "I wish I
was dead," meaning, "I express to you my embarrassment and chagrin over this faux pas," because I was truly embarrassed.
SNYDER: I understand.
LETTERMAN: And so now Teri, God bless her, the next time somebody interviews her, she's shooting off her big mouth
about how I have a death wish. I have death wish. Because I'm trying to do something gentlemanly for her, suddenly it's a
death wish. Oh, he hates himself. Here, here's proof of how much he hates himself. He wishes he was dead. Well, for the
love of God, you know, you either get it or you don't get it. You know what I'm saying, Tom?
SNYDER: I know what you're saying, Dave.
LETTERMAN: That's what I like about guys like you, because it's guys like you, it's guys like me, it's guys like Eddie Van
Halen, we get it.
SNYDER: And the question for Valerie Bertinelli --
LETTERMAN: "What's it like living with Eddie Van Halen?"
SNYDER: -- does she get it?
LETTERMAN: Of course she gets it. Hey, Tom. Here's something you can use that will really impress her. Refer to her as a happenin' lady.
SNYDER: Okay, I got it.
LETTERMAN: Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I met Steve Mc Queen in New Orleans?
SNYDER: Now you're doing your Robert Blake. Your talents are without limit. It's incredible. David Letterman, the Late Show Video Special on Monday. Back with Dave for a few more minutes after this break.
SNYDER: We are with David Letterman who is on the air Monday night in prime time to mark 15 years in late night television.
Bob Dole after the election, a terrific spot with you, the night he came on after he lost to Bill Clinton. What are the chances
of the president coming on?
LETTERMAN: Well, now nonexistent because he wants to -- he's busy now preparing himself for historical greatness.
So the last thing he wants to do is muddy his shorts in my house, but Bob Dole coming on, when we were lucky enough
to make that booking, and the talent department gets all credit for that, and my thanks to them for it, I knew that that would
just be great, because I knew Bob Dole would not have accepted the invitation unless he knew exactly how he wanted that
to go, and I am sure in his mind it was something very easy to orchestrate, and I think it demonstrated endless amount of
grace on that man's part, and I was -- not that I have any particular partisan feelings for Mr. Dole, other than I sort of respect
his public service and his military service and his obvious commitment to this country -- I felt very happy on his behalf that
he was able to demonstrate that grace on our show. I had nothing to do with it. He came on and he made it great, and I didn't
SNYDER: But he seemed to be a really nice guy when he was on with you, just a really, as you say, a committed man, but a
man who was able to poke fun at himself and enjoy the humor of the moment.
LETTERMAN: Well, the answer to that is he's a happenin' dude.
SNYDER: Yeah, yeah. Maybe I should ask Valerie Bertinelli -- no, no.
LETTERMAN: You know what I like about astronomy, Tom? There was a thing -- it finally occurred to me what it is I like
about astronomy, and I know nothing about astronomy other than it fascinates me. There was an article about a month ago regarding the Hubbell Space Telescope. They had it trained on a few degrees of the universe for a period of time, and they
were able to record the existence of 2000 galaxies and 50 billion stars. Now, what's amazing about that is -- I'm not sure
I have these numbers correct. Let's say that I don't have them correct. Let's say that I got them backwards. Let's say it was 2,000 stars and 50 billion galaxies. That's still amazing.
SNYDER: It is.
LETTERMAN: Let's say I'm off by 25 billion stars. That's still unfathomable.
SNYDER: And no matter how off you were, it doesn't make any difference. It is still unbelievable.
LETTERMAN: You still cannot ponder it.
SNYDER: Let me go back to the political thing for a second.
LETTERMAN: Okay, because I got something I want to do when you're done.
SNYDER: I have a picture here of you and Johnny Carson when he was honored at the Kennedy Center some years back with the President of the United States.
LETTERMAN: That's a good-looking photo.
SNYDER: Isn't that nice?
SNYDER: Now, this fellow on the right that you call chubby tubby, and the man that you joke about, when you're standing
there with him, what's it like to be with the President of the United States?
LETTERMAN: Well, of course you feel like a complete dork. You feel like I'm too big, I'm too loud. You feel like I'm
stepping on somebody's foot. You feel like you're going to knock over an ancient statuary, a bust of Thomas Jefferson.
You feel like you're gonna drool on the original copy of the Constitution. Woops, I've inadvertently snapped a Ben Franklin
quill pen. You just feel wrong. You feel like livestock in the house. And then my other impression of the guy was, "Man, this
boy is puffy," honest to God. I looked at him and I said, "This boy, this is one puffy guy," and then we shook hands, and I'm telling you, it was like shaking hands with a coffee cake. His hand was just big and spongy and puffy. And I'll never forget
my conversation with him. I knew that he had been in California the night before doing some illegal fundraising, and I said to
him, I said, "Wow, you were in California last night and here you are in Washington tonight." I said, "You must be tired.
What do you do to keep from getting tired?" It's just an idiot question from an idiot, and he looks at me like I'm some kind of gnat, and he says, "I slept on the plane." I said, "Whoa."
SNYDER: A light went on.
LETTERMAN: "Well, no wonder you're the chief executive."
SNYDER: What a concept. Another viewer question: "Why do you call your company Worldwide Pants and how active are
you in the management of the company?"
LETTERMAN: By the way, are we getting a lot of calls tonight, Tom?
SNYDER: Yeah, we sure are, Dave. Off the hook.
LETTERMAN: We make a little something on those calls, don't we?
SNYDER: Yeah, we sure do, and they're all asking about astronomy.
LETTERMAN: Keep dialing, keep dialing. Worldwide Pants is just a name that I kind of like the sound of. It's just silly, it
doesn't mean anything, and I sort of like the idea that if you think long enough about it -- and by the way, if you do, there's something wrong with you -- but if you do think long enough about it, it sort of starts to sound like, "oh, yeah."
SNYDER: And how active are you in running the company and hands-on on the various projects that it is now involved with,
Ray Romano, this program, other things that Worldwide Pants is doing?
LETTERMAN: You know first-hand, Tom, better than most any time I put my hands on it first-hand all hell breaks loose.
SNYDER: No. We tell you to get your damn hands off of it.
LETTERMAN: That's right. You will not find my fingerprints on any Worldwide Pants project. The company is being run admirably and wonderfully by my good friend and the executive producer of the show and the CEO of Worldwide Pants,
Rob Burnett, who is the nicest smartest man I've ever worked with in television.
SNYDER: David, I wish you well. Happy anniversary. 15 years is a long time. I hope that you look back with pride on what you've done.
LETTERMAN: Well, you know, I've said this before, and I feel the things that give me pride now, when I allow myself some objectivity, when I watch you Friday nights, which is the only night I am able to stay up that late, I realize that without you and without me this little two-hour block of television would not exist, and I am just tickled pink by your participation, your cooperation and the success of your show. It makes me feel like, well, I really have done something nice here.
SNYDER: And if you look back -- and thank you for that -- and if you look back over 15 years, is there a moment that is
your favorite of all that you say, "Gee, that nailed it. That took it through the roof"?
LETTERMAN: Well, we've had a lot of those. Most recently I thought Bob Dole was nice. I mean, if people want to remember something about us, that's not a bad thing to have come to mind, but there have been many, many other nights, and I guess
my favorite ones are when things go through the roof, and it's not Bob Dole, when it's people nobody has heard of or when
you get somebody out of the audience, you know, it's stuff like that, and it's just television, and people are groggy, and you
just hope that maybe it kind of gives them something happy to go to sleep on.
SNYDER: I wish I had a hand for ya, pal. Thanks for everything, and I'll be watching Monday night.
LETTERMAN: Now, you know what to do with Valerie Bertinelli, right?
SNYDER: Yeah. The first question out of the box, "What's it like being married to Van Halen?"
LETTERMAN: Now, I just want to say one thing again, don't screw this up, because she is a happenin' lady.
SNYDER: Happenin' lady, right. "What's it like to be a happenin' lady?"
LETTERMAN: God bless you, Tom Snyder.
SNYDER: God bless you, Dave. Take care, pal. David Letterman marking 15 years --
LETTERMAN: Thank you.
SNYDER: Thank you, David. -- marking 15 years in late night television on Monday night at 10:00 p.m. here on CBS.
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