David Letterman takes the stage of the Amsterdam Campus of the City College of New York in My Next Guest Needs No Introduction looking more biblical than his CBS days. Letterman comfortably sits opposite President Barack Obama. In a format more intimate than Late Night, Letterman seems at ease in this new role. Still, some things feel familiar from his light comedic tone to bringing on Paul Shaffer as the composer of this series.
The tone between Letterman and Obama could be paralleled to two dads at a backyard barbecue. They start by talking about what Obama did right after leaving office, from his island vacation to adjusting to the slowness of life outside the White House and he naturally asks Letterman what he did right after he left CBS. Letterman goes on to describe his trip to Japan with his wife and son; he interrupts himself, “Hey, now here’s how this is going to work: I am going to ask you the questions,” without changing tones or missing a beat, in his classic comedic style. They chat as two friends rather than an interviewer and his subject. They talk about their kids, comparing notes and telling stories. Obama talks about his emotional experience sending his oldest daughter to college and assembling a lamp in her first place. Letterman achieves exposing the audience to a more personal side to Obama.
When things get political, the conversation never veers into a political commentary on present day US politics. The closest Letterman gets is a comment from Obama on the current political climate is, “The degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts. If you watch Fox News, you are living on a different planet than if you listen to NPR.” He mentions that social media is filtered by our own bias and that can lead to polarization. The show then takes an interesting turn as David Letterman goes to walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The show breaks off into a mini-documentary on John Lewis. Between cuts of Letterman and Lewis, Obama discussed his own family history and the importance of the civil rights movement in his journey to becoming the first African-American president of the United States. Letterman closes the night by telling Obama, “You are the first president I truly and fully respect.”
What will be most interesting as the second episode of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction (on Netflix now) is if the format will stay the same. With George Clooney as the next guest, will there still be a mini-doc in the middle? What is most intriguing is the “point” of this series. Hopefully it will show another side of a famous person that gives people a window into their industry and personal life.