David Letterman doesn’t need a show to demolish President Donald Trump. The former Late Show host weighed in on Trump’s actions and administration in a new cover story with New York magazine.
Letterman, 69, who retired in 2015, joked that “Trumpy” would be the only person he spoke about if he was back on TV — with the long beard he now sports.
“If I still had a show people would have to come and take me off the stage. ‘Dave, that’s enough about Trump. We’ve run out of tape.’ It’s all I’d be talking about. I’d be exhausted … This is the way I’d be every night, and the next thing you know, I’d be slumped over in my chair and that would be it,” he said. “I’ve known the guy since the ’80s. I was one of a few people who had routinely interviewed him.”
Back in 2012, Letterman, who says that Trump, 70, looks like “Al Jardine of the Beach Boys,” revealed that Trump’s neckties were made in China during one memorable interview with the mogul.
“I always regarded him as, if you’re going to have New York City, you gotta have a Donald Trump. He was a joke of a wealthy guy. We didn’t take him seriously,” Letterman recalled of the moment. “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.”
Even more, Letterman claimed that Trump never wanted to actually become commander in chief. “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. Now, who owns New York?” he told the mag. “Say the head of the family, let’s say his name was Larry Wasserstein. If Larry behaved the way Donald behaves, for even a six-week period, the family would get together and say, ‘Jesus, somebody better call the doctor.’ Then they’d ask him to step down. But Trump’s the president and he can lie about anything from the time he wakes up to what he has for lunch and he’s still the president. I don’t get that.”
Nowadays, Letterman is fed up with people saying “I can’t believe [Trump] said that,” in response to controversial remarks Trump has said in briefings and on Twitter. “We gotta stop that and instead figure out ways to protect ourselves from him. We know he’s crazy. We gotta take care of ourselves here now,” he said. “We don’t need more confirmation that there’s something wrong with Donald Trump. Let’s instead find ways to rebuild what is rational. And the Democrats, goddamn it, get a little backbone, get a little spine.”
Letterman would give Trump “a bit of a scolding” if he had the opportunity to sit down with him once more. He went on to call senior adviser Steve Miller “creepy,” described press secretary Sean Spicer as “a boob who just got out of a cab and now here he is” and called White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon a “white supremacist.”
“If [Trump] doesn’t help the people that need help, then he’s just a jerk,” Letterman said. “That press conference that he held berating the news media? I mean, how do you build a dictatorship? First, you undermine the press: ‘The only truth you’re going to hear is from me.’ And he hires the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Steve Bannon, to be his little buddy. Bannon looks like a guy who goes to lunch, gets drunk, and comes back to the office: ‘Steve, could you have just one drink?’ ‘F–k you.’ How is a white supremacist the chief adviser to our president? Did anybody look that up? I don’t know.”
Letterman went on to take a dig at Trump’s much-scrutinized relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “[Trump] would really rather not have a society where free speech was going to be a factor. I’m telling you, there’s something between him and the Russians. ‘What color tie should I wear?’ ‘Tell him red.’ ‘They say red, Don.’ ‘OK, red it is,'” Letterman joked.
Letterman says that he rarely watches late-night shows in his retirement, but did catch when Trump was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in September 2016, two months before the election. Fallon, 42, was criticized for taking it easy on the former Celebrity Apprentice host at the time. “I don’t want to criticize Jimmy Fallon, but I can only tell you what I would have done in that situation: I would have gone to work on Trump,” Letterman said.
Letterman admits that it’s “still hard” getting used to life after late-night. But the free time does give him a chance to watch The Price Is Right. “A regular day is structured around my wife [Regina] and son [Harry, 13]. I am secondary to their schedule. But my days — I was just in California with some people. It was business related,” he said. “So I do a lot of that, and I do a lot of pro bono work, as they say in the legal industry. But mostly I sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the floor.”
Of course, he’s also been growing out his beard. “Great things have happened to me since I’ve been walking around with this beard,” he told the mag. Once, he was mistaken for artist Chuck Close at the Ocean Park Café in Santa Monica, California. “I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I am.’ She said, ‘Oh my God’ — she has a whole story,” he recalled. “She was an art major, and for her final project she did a pencil-drawing portrait of Chuck Close. She said, ‘It was the best thing I did in all of college.’ I finally said, ‘I’m not Chuck Close.’ Boom, she’s out like a shot. Gone. Then she comes back and says, ‘That really disappoints me.'”
For more highlights, see what else Letterman had to say below:
On TV roles he’s been offered
“I’m a big fan of Veep, and here’s how nice they were: They asked if I would consider a cameo. Holy s–t I got so scared. I thought about it for 24 hours and then I told them, ‘Here’s what would happen: I’m going to do your show. I’m going to worry about it, I’m going to get sick to my stomach, and I’m going to ruin it. I can’t do that to you.’ I proved years ago that I can’t act. [I] played a skeevy motivational speaker in an episode of the ’70s sitcom starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. Mork & Mindy, and the night the episode aired, I had to stand on the front porch while my girlfriend watched inside. I couldn’t watch myself.”
On his ratings rivalry with Jay Leno
“I cared. Jay cared. I can remember being on Johnny Carson’s show toward the end of his run, and during the commercial break I said, ‘Honestly, what’s the deal here?’ Because he seemed like he was still the Johnny that we all loved. And he said, ‘I want to go out on top.’ So he cared. When I began, if you didn’t have a 30 share, get in your car and go home. For a time, I looked at the ratings every single morning. If our number was bigger than The Tonight Show’s number, I would feel good. If it was not as big, I would feel bad. That was every day. Now I don’t know if anybody cares. I keep saying to people, “Where are the late-night wars?” “Oh, the U.N. came in and Ban Ki-moon put a stop to it.”
On why there is resistance to have a woman host late-night
“I think it’s inertia. Inertia is hard to break. It’s like, ‘Oh, we gotta get a new face in there. It’s always been a man, so we don’t want to rock the boat by adjusting to a new face which happens to belong to a woman.’ I just think that a woman host would have been cool. At the top of the list are Tina Fey and Amy Schumer.”
On that epic Paris Hilton interview in 2007
“I remember that. She went to jail and had a sandwich or whatever she did there and then came home. I was fascinated by this. And the poor woman said to me, ‘I don’t want to talk about being in jail.’ I felt like I could circumnavigate that. I said, “Well, that’s all I want to talk about.” If you had a chance to talk to Paris Hilton in those days, you just kind of want to talk about, “Well, no, seriously, you were in jail.” But that upset her and she cried and I called her and apologized. I think I bought her a car, too. As the guy operating the machinery sometimes, it was “You’re going a little fast here, pal.” It was easy to overdo it.”
On what he’s most proud of
“I have this conversation with my wife, who is also a schmo. And she will say, ‘Thirty years. Think of all of the people you employed.’ I thought, Yeah, by God, that’s good enough. I was able to give jobs to people. That’s an accomplishment.”