At one point in the season-ending edition of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, David Letterman and guest Howard Stern try to add up how many years they’ve known each other. They settle on 34, and there is an ease in the conversation between these longtime acquaintances — one hesitates to ever say that the eternally aloof Dave has a true “friend” in show business — that makes this hour cozy. When old clips of Stern appearing on Letterman’s NBC and CBS talk shows are played, you’re struck by how frenetic the younger Stern was, how desperate he seemed to get laughs — from both the audience and, especially, Dave. Now, however, they greet each other like the successful, relaxed old pros they are.
Letterman was an important booster of Stern’s career early on, when the shock jock was earning that label on local New York City radio in the 1980s. Dave was a fan first: He appreciated the way Stern was playing with the possibilities of radio, deconstructing its traditions — in this, Stern was doing for radio what Letterman was doing for the talk-show format. In the Netflix show, they converse about some of this. Starting out, Stern says, what he did on the air was “pure id, total honesty — and I had a lot of rage.” It was this combination, combined with a skill at interviewing people that may actually surpass Letterman’s own, that made Stern compelling and essential.
The two talk about their mutual fascination with Donald Trump, who was a frequent guest on both men’s shows. Stern says, “A guest that comes on and says anything that is on his mind is a great guest,” and that, he says, describes Trump. Neither man goes much further, declining to suggest whether this description of Trump might have an impact on his effectiveness as a president. Certainly both agree that they never dreamed Trump would run or that he would win. It was news to me that Trump asked Stern to deliver a speech at the Republican convention. Stern begged off: “I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter,” he says he told Trump, “always have been. So were you, Donald.” He adds, “I do consider Donald a friend.”
It’s clear that the rage that once fueled Stern has been turned to a slow boil now. Some of the best moments in the Netflix show occur when he talks about his relationship with his daughters. These days, a more tame Howard Stern doesn’t seem like a bad thing at all.
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern is streaming now on Netflix.
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