David Letterman’s beard has captivated the country with its chill post-retirement aesthetic, but as it turns out, the former Late Show host has a few qualms about retiring since leaving the show last May. Accepting a Peabody Award last night from his friend Steve Martin, Letterman discussed how a recent state dinner at the White House gave him a major blow to his self-esteem, and why retiring might not be as grand as people expect. Read an excerpt from his speech below:
Thank you very much. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Uh, I dozed off just a little bit — is this still the 75th anniversary? Steve Martin, first of all — if you want to be in show business of any description, Steve Martin is who you ought to shoot for. This man, multi-faceted, great talent. When he leaves the planet, he will leave behind a tremendous, wonderful, brilliant body of work. When I leave the planet, I will leave behind a body. It’s only May, but already Steve is featuring his mid-summer tan. So pale, is Steve.
I tell you, if you want to have something affect your self-esteem, retire. First, of course you must tire, and then retire. And a few weeks ago, I got very excited because the Obamas invited myself and my wife to a state dinner, and I said, “Oh my god, Regina, we’ve been invited to a state dinner!” And she says, “Oh, I love steak.” I said, “No.” Am I the only one who noticed how pale Steve is? So we go to the steak, state dinner, and it’s for the heads of the Nordic states, and President Obama was giving remarks before he introduced the heads of state. And he was talking about how cooperative their union was, the Nordic states. Yes, they have differences, but by and large, they all felt and had the same beliefs, and they were good for mankind, and believed in the right thing, and they were strong allies for the United States. He said, “Don’t misunderstand me, they do argue. They do have … as a matter of fact, there is still an ongoing fight in the Nordic States about which country is happiest.” And then the prime minister of Iceland got up, and he said, “We are working on a defensive weapons system right now.” And this gets everybody’s attention! Like, Iceland, really? Working on a defensive weapons system? And he said, “Yes, volcanoes. We just haven’t figured out how to aim them yet.” So I’m seated at dinner next to a man who is the assistant chief of staff to the prime minister of Norway. And I’m feeling like a big shot. And we’re chatting, and we’re chatting, and we’re chatting. And when it comes about dessert time, and the guy says to me, “Excuse me. Why are you here?” And I said, You know what? I think I picked up somebody else’s mail. And he said, “So you’re here by mistake?” And I said, Yeah. And he said, “Oh.” So there you go — you get invited to the state dinner, nobody knows why. That’s the sum total of being retired.