Letterman on ‘Kimmel’: Guarded, Gracious and Ill At Ease

David Letterman Wednesday on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (top); Jay Leno with Craig Ferguson on Tuesday (Photos: ABC, CBS)

Jimmy Kimmel was evidently thrilled to have his idol, David Letterman, as his guest on Wednesday’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” from Brooklyn.

But Letterman himself didn’t seem to share Jimmy’s enthusiasm. It wasn’t that Dave was monosyllabic or otherwise unresponsive. It was just that you got the sense that Letterman is not nearly as comfortable sitting in someone else’s guest chair than he is when he’s doing the interviewing from his own host chair on his CBS “Late Show.”

Dave may have seemed ill at ease and guarded, but he wasn’t ungracious. We couldn’t help comparing Dave’s appearance Wednesday on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” with his rival Jay Leno’s guest shot on CBS’s “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” on Tuesday night (ironically, Ferguson’s show is produced by Letterman). In both appearances, neither guest was probed about the subject we really wanted to hear them talk about — the late-night wars and, more to the point, each other.

Instead, on the “Kimmel” show, you had Letterman exchanging compliments with Kimmel — with only occasional glimpses into Letterman’s private life outside of television. And on “Ferguson,” Jay and Craig talked mainly about their mothers, who were both Scottish.

Watch Part 1 of David Letterman on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/Jimmy-Kimmel-Live/6832528209303675112/2298968073/David-Letterman%2C-Part-1/embed 580 476]

On “Kimmel,” Jimmy, 44, compared Letterman, 65, who was Jimmy’s idol and role model when Jimmy was a boy, to Johnny Carson, who Letterman idolized.

“Welcome, it’s wonderful to have you here,” Kimmel said when Letterman came on stage. “I’m excited to have you here. I’m a little bit overwhelmed,” Kimmel said. “I would imagine it’s similar to when Johnny Carson was on your show.” If memory serves, Carson appeared as a guest on Letterman’s “Late Show” in November 1995, when Dave did a week of shows from Los Angeles.

Watch Part 2 of Letterman on “Kimmel”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/Jimmy-Kimmel-Live/6832528209303675112/2298967898/David-Letterman%2C-Part-2/embed 580 476]

But Dave “humbly” demurred. “Well,” he said, “when Johnny Carson was on my show, the big difference was Johnny Carson really was something and I’m not much of anything. That was the big, big difference.” Really, Dave? With these TV personalities, there’s always cause to wonder about their sincerity when they react humbly in these kinds of situations.

Then Letterman complimented Kimmel on his courtesy, noting that Kimmel’s “generosity” is unusual in show business. “In show business, one of the precepts is you’re not really supposed to be nice to people,” Dave said, “especially if you have the same occupation as another person.”

“Jimmy and I do the same thing for a living,” Letterman said, addressing the audience. “Jimmy has broken that precept and has been nothing but generous and courteous and kind to me.”

Watch Part 3 of Letterman on “Kimmel”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/Jimmy-Kimmel-Live/6832528209303675112/2298978986/David-Letterman%2C-Part-3/embed 580 476]

Letterman’s appearance on “Kimmel” was not without charm at various points. For example, Dave told a great anecdote about the time he addressed his young son Harry’s kindergarten class and told the kids a story about how a bear had gotten into Letterman’s house in Montana (where Dave has long maintained a private vacation home) and wreaked havoc in the kitchen. The reaction of one of the kindergartners was just priceless. (The anecdote is in the Part 2 clip, above.)

Watch Part 4 of Letterman on “Kimmel”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/Jimmy-Kimmel-Live/6832528209303675112/2298968058/David-Letterman%2C-Part-4/embed 580 476]

Throughout the appearance — which took up a healthy chunk of “JKL” because Letterman was the show’s only “sit-down” guest — Kimmel’s running “gag” was his effort to get Dave to be his friend who would be willing to hang out with him. But Dave declined, claiming that he doesn’t really have “guy” friends.

However, when the conversation turned to their mutual love of fly-fishing, Dave revealed that he does have friends who he hangs out with — only they’re on an entirely different level than the likes of Kimmel.

This was the most revealing part of their interview, when Dave revealed that he goes fly-fishing with former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw on billionaire Ted Turner’s Montana ranch. So now we know: This is the kind of “neighborhood” Letterman lives in when he’s not in New York, and the kinds of “friends” he keeps company with. Hey, maybe it’s just us, but we found that very interesting.

Watch Part 5 of Letterman on “Kimmel”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/Jimmy-Kimmel-Live/6832528209303675112/2298966593/David-Letterman%2C-Part-5/embed 580 476]

At the end of their sitdown (in Part 5, above), Letterman — acting gracious again — wished Kimmel the best of luck when “Jimmy Kimmel Live” moves to an earlier start time directly up against Letterman and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on NBC at 11:35 p.m. eastern time. Did Dave really mean it? We had reason to doubt it, but hey, we’re more cynical than most people.

Whatever the sincerity of Dave’s comments on the subject, it was the only time Kimmel’s highly anticipated move was mentioned (it’ll happen Jan. 8). A night earlier on “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” the subject of late-night competition never came up at all in Ferguson’s interview with Leno. In addition, we learned next to nothing about Leno’s life outside of “The Tonight Show,” except that he does standup gigs on weekends and vacation weeks — something we already knew. Instead, Ferguson, 50, and Leno, 62, talked about Scotland and other subjects such as Leno’s dislike of coffee and hot liquids of any kind. We have two clips from Leno’s appearance on “Ferguson.”

Watch Jay Leno on “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/The-Late-Late-Show-with-Craig-Ferguson/6190354830062324112/5430339583/Craig-Ferguson—Jay-s-Biggest-Fear/embed 580 476]
Here’s another clip from Leno on “Ferguson”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/The-Late-Late-Show-with-Craig-Ferguson/6190354830062324112/5429315942/Craig-Ferguson—Please-State-Your-Name%2C-Jay-Leno/embed 580 476]

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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