David Letterman has now officially entered the ‘elder statesman’ phase of his retirement, the easy-breezy period during which he’s free to do as he pleases and inspire headlines such as the one above simply by continuing to do stuff at places. Since stepping down for the fore of his late-night show in May and ceding his spot to Stephen Colbert, Letterman has busied himself by appearing at the Indy 500 and talking smack about Donald Trump with his buddies Martin Short and Steve Martin. Today, however, the former face of The Late Show made a splash with an epically lengthy (as in, the length of a Grecian epic) interview with a publication called Whitefish Review.
A small non-profit journal devoted to writing and art related to mountain culture — a setting befitting Letterman’s robust new mountain-man beard — Whitefish Review published a sprawling back-and-forth covering everything from the man’s childhood years to his recent entry to the retirement lifestyle. The personality was unusually candid, speaking frankly about his relationship with his father, as well as his plans for his facial hair. Below, we’ve singled out a few of our favorite responses:
No, and in the beginning I was always prepared for a squawking, screaming, monkey-like brat throwing himself around the house, and so for the first couple of years after he started walking and talking, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And with Harry it never did. I can remember the first time he and I alone went into a toy store. And I said, “Okay, we’re only going to buy one thing.” And he said okay, and picked out what he wanted, and now he’s looking at other things.
And I’m just waiting for the classic story where the kid throws himself on the floor and is throwing a tantrum and you have to haul him out of there by his pants, and I was stunned and gratified when I reminded him that we were only getting one toy, and he said, okay, fine. And we took the little miniature Volkswagen Beetle, it was just this little plastic and metal replica of a car, and that was it.
When I got into high school my grades were really, really bad. I took a speech class in my second year and the first day in the speech class you had to get up and tell a little something about yourself. And it was that moment that I realized I know exactly what I want to do. I’ve found something I can do. I can’t do algebra. I’m no good at anything else. But I’ve found something that comes naturally to me, which is yack in front of a group of people. Then the rest of my life I stopped worrying about everything.
I thought okay, now you just have to figure out how this can become your life. So from that point on I didn’t worry about the future or anything because I knew exactly what it was that I could do. I just had to find a way and a place to do it. So I always felt like I was really lucky. My grades weren’t going to get me anywhere. My SAT scores—the sample was too low to measure. They were really bad. But none of that bothered me. Because I had that one semester of public speaking, and I thought, well, here you go.
Well, I don’t think of myself as having grown up. I think, like you mentioned, you feel like in your head you are still a certain age. I know I’ve grown old. But I don’t think I’ve grown up. I think I have achieved a certain level of wisdom, probably not what it ought to be, but in terms of growing up, no, I still like goofing around. I don’t know if I would qualify as a Peter Pan, but thanks anyway.
It’s soothing to see just how serenely zen Letterman has become about life’s big issues, now that he’s achieved the clarity of retirement. There’s no word yet as to whether Letterman’s got any official projects in the works — though if he didn’t, that would make sense, what with the retirement and all — but it’d certainly be interesting to get a more cogent expression of his newer insights.