John Paul Filo/CBS
September 24, 2013 at 02:01 PM EDT

As close as there is to any late night rule, you can always depend on David Letterman for a little curmudgeonly fun. And with one of the most charismatic political and pop cultural figures ever, former President Bill Clinton, the two of them together should be a winning conversational combo.

But last night, there was little late night levity and a lot of talk about the atrocities going on around the world.

Letterman opened on a standard staccato funny note, on his guest: “He is here tonight to discuss his global initiative and Emmy fashion faux pas.” But as Letterman began strong with a joke about the extra security around the place, it was “tighter than Chris Christie’s pants,” the talking points quickly turned grim. Letterman and Clinton talked about both of their multiple bypass heart surgeries and how they now have to watch their health, “But here we are,” mused Letterman on their luckiness.

Clinton looked jolly and smiley and spoke in his indefatigable Arkansan drawl, but was not in the joking mood. Letterman said, “Let’s begin with something good,” and I thought, Yes! He surely is going to bring up those Sad Emmys! Or Miley! Or Something light-hearted please!

Nope. Clinton went on about the importance of clean water access and how his foundation is “trying to save a million lives this year by distributing a simple formula of oral rehydration therapy and zinc” to help treat people with water borne illnesses. He said of those who die from water borne illnesses, “80 percent of them are under six years of age.”

In an interesting little bit of gallows humor about the current state of the Kenya mall attack, the navy yard shootings, and Syria, Letterman said: “There are so many awful stories to be discussed. Pick one.” And Clinton casually replied, “Pick whatever you like, maybe run through them all. Do a greatest hits.”

And the super serious tone of the night continued with talk about the rise of terrorism since Clinton’s first term, drone warfare, a possible peace process with Syria, and more about the Kenya mall attack in which a nurse involved with Clinton’s foundation was killed, “I was standing taking a picture with her 6 weeks ago, so this is deeply personal to us.”

I started to laugh, when Letterman used the topic of Hillary for President as a comedic transition. Who knew a Hillary Joke could save the night. On whether she will run, “If she is running to her knowledge, blink twice,” said Letterman. Clinton laughed and said, “I blinked once!” before going on about the perils of the candidacy cycle and defending Hillary’s right to have a life:

“She just, she’s still finishing her book, she’s still setting up her project Too Small to Fail, her children’s foundation … going to the movies … [trying] to be a normal person.”

“You know, at our age, that counts for something. Being able to have a little fun,” said Letterman.

“I honestly don’t know. Chelsea doesn’t know,” said Clinton.

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