David Letterman’s graceful return
"My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” on Netflix showcases the power of comedy when it comes to talking about difficult topics.
The show lives up to its name, as 44th President Barack Obama was Letterman’s first guest. Letterman masterfully made the interview feel like an intimate conversation, despite viewers clearly noticing the live-studio audience and cameras.
There was a seamless blend of lighthearted topics, like arguing over closet space with Michelle or Obama making fun of Letterman’s so-called “biblical beard”, which led to serious talks about income inequality, voting rights and even the Civil Rights Movement.
“My Next” also blended outside interviews with the actual special. This is most evident with Letterman’s interview with Congressman John Lewis.
The transition in the middle of the show felt random at first but masterfully brought the overall interview together. The Congressman talked about the struggles and accomplishments he faced while participating in the Civil Rights Movement, specifically the March on Selma.
The use of footage from that day, which included African-Americans being brutalized by Selma police showed how Obama did not get here by accident.
Lewis brilliantly stated that the people who marched on Selma symbolically carried the vote for African-Americans and Barack Obama.
Letterman took a bold step when he acknowledged his own privilege. While African-Americans were marching on Selma, he was on a cruise to the Bahamas. He said he spent that week intoxicated while they carried their hopes over that bridge.
Letterman was able to talk about personal and controversial issues without feeling intrusive. Obama was receptive to the questions and honest about the absence of his father, while praising his mother for the values she passed on to him. Values like hard work, kindness and being useful were common themes Obama hoped he embodied and passed down to others.
He said he does not always feel useful, though. When his daughter Malia left for college, he recalled how useless he felt when they were unpacking her dorm. Obama could not even fix a four-part lamp because his emotions got the best of him.
The thought of Malia being away stunted him from doing much, and that related to how much of the American public felt when Obama finished his second term.
Letterman had a common theme of speaking to Obama as if he was still in office. What seemed as just a jab at Donald Trump, was actually a clear depiction of the coping mechanism of many Americans, laugh to keep from crying.
What made the interview so relatable was less about what was asked, but more about the tone of Letterman and Obama throughout the conversation. Some of Letterman’s statements were quite melancholy, while Obama beamed with hope, even when talking about tough topics.
The interview was a boost of encouragement to the American people, calling them to act, despite the tragedy we have endured.
Letterman himself still embodies the eloquence and wit required to interview a man who is regarded to be one of the most prolific figures in American history.
He poignantly noted that Obama was the first president he had truly respected. An interview that could have felt like a State of the Union speech, felt like a catching up between two old friends, Obama and all the rest of us.
The Flyer gives “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” a 9/10.
By NADIA WILLIAMS
Featured photo: Talk show legend David Lettermen interviews President Barack Obama on the first episode of his new series “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman" (Variety image).