The former 'Late Show' host says he would have 'gone to work on Trump'

By Christopher Rosen
March 05, 2017 at 10:14 PM EST
Andrew Lipovsky/NBC

If David Letterman were to interview Donald Trump, he wouldn’t tussle the president’s hair.

Speaking with New York magazine for a wide-ranging interview, the former Late Show host addressed Jimmy Fallon’s much-derided interview with Trump last year before the election.

“Jimmy got a fantastic viral clip out of that,” Letterman said of Fallon’s infamous Tonight Show interview. “The comparison that comes to mind is during the Vietnam War, Johnny Carson had an unstated policy that he would never mention the war. He would talk about the personalities involved, but not the war. His theory was, with the six o’clock news, the last thing people wanted to hear more of was young Americans dying painfully.” Told that the comparison with Carson didn’t necessarily “shake out in terms of Fallon,” Letterman added, “There is that obligation. We used to have a joke we’d do about booking guests: ‘Guess what?’ ‘What?’ ‘Neil Armstrong is going to be on the show.’ ‘Neil Armstrong? That’s fantastic.’ ‘He doesn’t want to talk about the moon. 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 has frequently taken aim at Trump over the last year. In June of last year, he called Trump “despicable.” Speaking to the New York Times in October, Letterman blasted Trump for making anti-immigrant statements and for mocking the disability of a Times reporter.

“Right out of the box, he goes after immigrants and how they’re drug dealers and they’re rapists. And everybody swallows hard. And they think, oh, well, somebody will take him aside and say, ‘Don, don’t do that,’” Letterman said of Trump to the Times. “But it didn’t happen. And then, I can remember him doing an impression, behind a podium, of a reporter for The New York Times who has a congenital disorder. And then I thought, if this was somebody else — if this was a member of your family or a next-door neighbor, a guy at work — you would immediately distance yourself from that person. And that’s what I thought would happen. Because if you can do that in a national forum, that says to me that you are a damaged human being. If you can do that, and not apologize, you’re a person to be shunned.”

Asked by New York what his show would look like in the current climate, Letterman joked that it would be wall-to-wall Trump.

“I’m afraid if I still had a show, it would be a lot of, ‘We’re spending quite a lot of money on editing, Dave. If you could just keep it to an hour, we’d all appreciate that, because we have big stars who’ve flown in from Hollywood to be here.'”