Letterman on Leno: ‘We’re Still Friends,’ Dave Tells Oprah

Late-night rivals David Letterman of CBS (top) and Jay Leno of NBC (Photos: NBC, CBS)

David Letterman says he still considers Jay Leno a friend, explaining to Oprah Winfrey that trading insults and barbs is just what comedians do, even when they like each other.

It was an answer to a question that has intrigued millions for years: What exactly is the nature of the relationship today between these two comics who have known each other well for about 30 years, starting with their earliest days as stand-ups at L.A.’s fabled Comedy Store?

For the first time, Letterman spelled it out for Winfrey when their long-awaited interview finally aired Sunday night on “Oprah’s Next Chapter” on OWN.

“I do still think Jay and I are friends,” Letterman said when Oprah asked about Leno.

“Would he think so too?” Oprah asked.

“I think so because I have too much on him,” Letterman replied, laughing.

Then Oprah asked Dave about what it was like to do that infamous commercial with Leno and Oprah that aired during the Super Bowl in 2010. Leno flew to New York just to tape the brief spot, which was, in fact, a promo for Letterman’s CBS “Late Show.” Up until that time, Letterman and Leno had not seen each other nor spoken to each other for years.

“Was that awkward for you?” Winfrey asked Dave about that day.

“No, it was great,” Letterman said, explaining why the insults and barbs he and Leno exchange on their late-night shows are signs not that the two are enemies, but that they are friends who share a rich history.

“He and I discussed [it on that day],” Dave said. “Our way of life at the Comedy Store is exactly the way you’d think it would be for a group of comics. It was tinged with sarcasm and ugliness and insult, but everybody loved it. We thrived on it. We could call each other names. We could steal each other’s jokes. We could make fun of each other’s girlfriends, and this and that and this and that. You take that out of the Comedy Store and all of sudden [observers say] ‘Oh, my God, it’s civil war. We can’t believe it!’ But the truth of it is the way Jay and I have behaved toward each other is the way comics tend to behave toward one another.”

Watch a clip: Oprah asks Dave when he’ll retire:

“I’ve thought about it and here’s what I’ve come up with,” said Letterman, 65, when Oprah asked him when he’ll retire. And Dave then said the decision was up to CBS President Les Moonves.

“Les Moonves, the guy who [runs] CBS, he and I started out in a very contentious relationship,” Letterman said.

“Are you friends now?” Oprah asked.

“Yes,” Dave said. “I really abused him [years ago on “Late Show”] because I thought that’s what guys in that position were for. I realized I was making mistakes and they’ve been nothing but gracious and generous to me. So now, he and I have an agreement: When he wants me to go, all he has to do is call and say, ‘You know, Dave, it’s time to go,’ and I’ll go. I will miss doing what I’m doing, but I won’t feel like I have left anything on the table.”

Watch another clip: In this one, Dave talks about his life-changing heart surgery:

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