David Letterman receives the 20th Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor Sunday night, prompting reminisces about the retired late-night TV host.
In 1975, Letterman drove his red pickup from his native Indiana to Los Angeles to take a shot at comedy and met Jay Leno. “I was a better performer than I was a writer and Dave was a better wordsmith that he was performer,” Leno said. “When we met, he kind of said, ‘How can you get up and be so confident?’ ”
Before he was a U.S. senator from Minnesota, Al Franken spent decades as a key “Saturday Night Live” writer. He always admired Letterman and noted how much he appreciated his speech after the Sept. 11 attacks. But ask him about his favorite moment and he’ll immediately skip to the Monkey-Cam.
“Because you’re cutting from the chimp on the tricycle to what the camera on the chimp’s head is showing,” said Franken. “It looks stupid and ridiculous and it’s endlessly entertaining. So it’s chaotic, but there’s a basic, brilliant idea behind this hilarious chaos.”
Martin Short was more excited to do Letterman than “The Tonight Show.” “For a long time, I didn’t do [Johnny] Carson because I thought it was cool just to do Dave,” he said. “Finally there was a rumor in late ’87 that Johnny might leave and then I thought, ‘Well, I’m an idiot. I’m just afraid of it.’ … So I did both. But Dave was always the show for me to do and it was important to score. And no matter where you were in your career, you felt really, really, really proud of yourself and happy if you killed on Letterman.”