In case the mammoth Santa beard didn’t already give it away, David Letterman doesn’t plan on returning to TV any time soon.
The season premiere of “Norm MacDonald Live,” the YouTube series hosted by the former “Weekend Update” anchor is the closest that Letterman’s got recently. In the hour-long episode released Tuesday, Letterman and MacDonald talk on an intimate, audience-free sound stage about the “Late Show” host’s career and what preceded his stints as NBC and CBS hosts.
Eventually, the subject turned to Letterman’s relationship with “The Tonight Show.” While Letterman didn’t address the fallout that led to the early ’90s late night wars, Letterman still offered some thoughts about some current trends in the business.
When MacDonald asked him the very MacDonaldesque question of why he used “With” instead of “Starring” in his “Late Show” title, Letterman said, “Johnny Carson was a star, so for me to adopt that was ridiculous. I always cringe a little when people refer to the folks who watch their show as their ‘fans.’ I think you kind of step over the line of basic humility there.”
Letterman also reiterated that he has no plans of being drawn back into the hosting fray. “I’ve done it for 30 years. I don’t want to do it anymore,” he said.
Even in the few years since Letterman’s departure, the late night landscape has changed. “I think you’re bound by the pressure of who’s writing the checks,” Letterman said.
Because it’s a Norm MacDonald-led talk show, it’s hard to characterize this as an interview. It’s more of a shared stream of consciousness between two comedians, with occasional objections from the guest. (Letterman deftly deflects one of MacDonald’s salacious questions towards the episode’s close.)
But amidst all the sarcasm and nostalgia, the two find a moment of sincere connection. After explaining why he doesn’t want to return to hosting, Letterman flips the interview and offered some encouragement of of his own. “You, we always worry about you a little bit, because we regard you as the top of the heap, the best of the best, the funniest of the funny…so you do it,” Letterman said of MacDonald.
MacDonald, whose past guests of his YouTube show include Larry King, ex-“SNL” co-star Adam Sandler, Bob Saget and Marc Maron, has hosted the show since 2013. As Letterman alludes to in the episode, future Season 3 guests include Jerry Seinfeld.
The entire episode isn’t entirely filled with industry talk: Letterman’s above thoughts begin around the 43-minute mark, but the rest of the chat includes plenty of talk about his 2000 heart surgery and a choice anecdote about meeting President Richard Nixon.
Watch the full season premiere of “Norm MacDonald Live” below: