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A funny thing happened in Episode 5 of David Letterman’s new show, on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. The man who’s verbally sparred with pundits, network executives, movie stars, politicians and fellow comedians just ceded territory to his guest. This is no loss or embarrassment for the 70 year old because his guest was Tina Fey and Letterman adores Fey. Not for her beauty which is striking, not for her kindness to him (Letterman distrusts gushers), but because as far as he’s concerned this is one the funniest people doing comedy today. Letterman did not deign to pass a torch to any of the many late night hosts upon his retirement the way Carson did for him but here you can’t help but notice who owns the stage in this exchange. Both come across as funny and intelligent but Fey shines and Letterman wisely doesn’t put up a fight. She won’t even let him win a point for saying one of her most recent skits was good. She deconstructs what was missing to applause. There’s nothing pathetic in this either, he states his opinions and gets quite a few laughs just by being himself but he’s delighted by how funny and intelligent she is and isn’t looking take any moment away from her.

Maybe his deference comes in this, as a liberal who has grown personally and politically in recent years and is constantly striving to create a better world with what little time he has left and worries about his young son. Maybe in Fey, Letterman thinks maybe the world will be alright and he’s not alone. Tina Fey is the gold standard of established female former SNL alumni. She’s done her own show, got some hit movies under her belt and is now doing a musical of her classic Mean Girls. She’s also a Mum and Letterman always fascinated by child rearing compares notes with his guest which is nice.

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A lot of media buzz has been created by a moment where Letterman says he doesn’t know why he didn’t have more female writers on his show and offers maybe he didn’t believe they wanted to do his show. Fey who was one of the presenters when he retired, when he was awarded the Kennedy Centers Honours and the Mark Twain prize looks him in the eye and says but they did. If you’ve read The Last Giant of Late Night: Letterman by Jason Zinoman you’ll appreciate the history behind this moment. She’s not being disrespectful but she’s being direct and Letterman concedes he was ignorant. I think its important to note that this is not really a personal criticism so much as a principled statement. At this point Fey is discussing real benefits that came about as the writers rooms she’s worked in have become more diverse. Letterman seems to be in agreement and the show ends with Fey saying I can’t believe I got to meet you let alone talk to you. Yet she is maybe at the height of her powers and he is maybe past them and no kind words from either can mask that.


The remote in this episode is even odder than the one from Jay-Z previously. After talking about Fey’s days at Second City in Chicago Letterman asks for a recommendation of where to eat in the Windy City. So he meets Blues legend Buddy Guy at The Athenian where they talk a little over roast chicken slathered over some chips. Letterman wisely advices Guy not to think too hard on where the grease comes from. Then Letterman takes in a performance in a club with Guy and Paul Schaeffer on the keyboards. It’s nice to see Schaeffer again and Guy has an interesting story in himself but the whole thing feels unrelated and under explored for what it is. I don’t know now what to expect with the impending finale with Howard Stern but I hope the remote actually has something to do with Howard Stern!

For me the best thing about this episode besides Fey herself is this, I would say Fey at times seems to be intensely feeling some emotions that she keeps a handle on. Letterman gets her to talk about things in the long format, about her family, about the construction of comedy performance and I don’t know if others would’ve been successful in eliciting such a powerful hour of conversation out of her. Maybe but he did. He’s still got something to offer.

-Lloyd Marken


  1. Al I know about Tina Fey is ‘Mean Girls’.
    I do think that your devotion to Letterman is rather touching though. 🙂
    I have never seen his show, any of them. Is that something strange.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. No more weird than an American saying they’ve never seen Parkinson or Graham Norton, although quite a few have I guess. I used to watch quite a lot of late night television but that seems to have changed now I have streaming services. While there’s something to recommend about all of them in particular Conan O’Brien, my favourites were David Letterman and Craig Ferguson in terms of the American art form. I am enjoying Letterman’s netflix show and happy to see him out of retirement but I do think there’s a few things they could do better. True story, my second post ever was on Craig Ferguson and my third on Letterman.

  2. I’ve been thinking about watching this on Netflix. I think she’s great though I could take it or leave it with Letterman. Your review has piqued my interest more. Nice job, Lloyd.

  3. I’m so pleased to see that you picked up on main issue in this interview. I recently read a reaction by Nell Scovell to Letterman’s comments about the lack of women in comedy and the role he played in it. Specifically:

    1. Letterman concludes that he’s raising “a topic without an answer.” This is hyperbole. Actually, this “unsolvable” problem could be fixed tomorrow. The answer is shockingly easy: Hire more funny women. They’re all over the place.

    2. He describes as “correcting an oversight.” This is an example of rhetorical trivialization. An “oversight” is when you don’t get an invitation to a party. Letterman’s “party” went on for 33 years.

    Honestly Lloyd, the cumulative effect of inherent bias is just so darn defeating some days. But thanks for being an ally by highlighting the issue in this piece.

    1. I agree with the two points you raise. I would hasten to add and apologise if I disappoint that while I don’t identify as a feminist I do believe in equality. The path to which is often challenging and complicated for us all. I’m hope to be an ally where I agree and thank you but the simple fact is I merely wrote about how Fey and Letterman highlighted the point and Fey stood firm. She was articulate and convincing in arguing of the benefits of diversity in an increasingly diverse populace the popular culture of the day will have to continue to reflect those changes and allow more voices to be heard. I hope I do not offend with anything I humbly put forward as my own opinion which is subject to my continued learning and reflection.

      1. No offense taken! I’m a long time fan of David Letterman, and I even have friends and colleagues who work on the Netflix series. And yet I was disappointment in Letterman in this interview – his failure to understand his role and responsibility as a producer on a hit show that ran for 30+ years and the way he brushed off gender disparity like it wasn’t that important. And I was happy that you picked up on Fey’s point. That said, I would never want to put words in your mouth so please forgive me if that was how it came across.

      2. Having read The Last King of Late Night: Letterman by Jason Zinoman and for who Fey is and what she represents it had to be said. I’m sure he was surprised by the answer but I think it was a conversation he needed to have and I think he did the right thing as a producer making sure it featured. There will be a lot of people out there who respect the fact that Fey didn’t let it go, she said what had to be said and I’m one of them.

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