David Letterman’s Advice to Aspiring Male Late-Night Hosts: ‘I Would Be Happy to Watch a Woman’

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Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for The New Yorker

David Letterman would be happy if the next David Letterman looked less like himself. In conversation with Susan Morrison at a panel at the New Yorker Festival on Friday night, Letterman reflected on his long career on late-night television, the impact of his comedy, and where he hopes the format might go next. The answer: somewhere new and different. That’s what the seasoned host told a young man in the audience who asked for advice on a late-night career. “There’s so many late-night shows,” Letterman said. “It’s 2016, and nothing against you being male, but I think I would be happy to watch a woman.”

The former Late Show host said that he no longer stays up late enough to watch late-night TV anymore, and was less informed about recent developments in the genre, like the fact that he can already watch one woman. To that end, he was enthusiastic about Samantha Bee, who’s made a name for herself as woman late-night host, and a whip-smart commentator in general, but not sure when her show aired, or on what network. (In addition to Bee, Freeform has recently announced that it is developing a late-night project with Iliza Shlesinger, while Netflix has its talk-show variation Chelsea with Chelsea Handler.) Letterman has also previously expressed regret that CBS didn’t hand over his slot to a woman. “You’ve got two Jimmies and a Stephen, I don’t know,” Letterman added, before addressing the man in the audience once again. “And good luck to you getting your own show, I’m sure you’re hilarious.”

Earlier in the talk, Letterman reflected on the rise of Donald Trump, whom he had called a “damaged human being” in an interview this week. Letterman joked that, if he was still on TV, the amount of material on Trump would be never-ending, and that “I don’t know if I have the stamina for a full plate of Trumpy night-in, night-out.”

When asked about Jimmy Fallon, who controversially went easy on Trump in a recent Tonight Show interview, Letterman insisted that a host has the prerogative to take an interview in whichever direction they want, though he would have chosen differently. Letterman also has some calming words to anyone who’s worried that, after being buoyed by so much media attention, Trump just might win the presidency. “This problem will solve itself, and I firmly believe that,” Letterman said. “Perhaps there are Trump supporters in the house, perhaps there are anti-Trump folks in the house. Please don’t take any offense at this, but there’s not a chance in hell that this man will be elected president.” Letterman then told the audience that, if Trump is elected, “I’ll get you all a lovely gift from Tiffany’s.”