David Letterman returns with his second episode of a 6 part series of interviews My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with celebrities he admires. Most he’s interviewed before but now he’s doing it in long form like Charlie Rose freed from the format of the ironically named “talk show” where interviewees were geared towards 8 minute bits that had no room to breath and had to constantly be full of rip-artee. Of course the well known truth is that quiet can be pretty damn engaging and Letterman seems to be enjoying himself in this new format. The people he is interviewing are well versed in engaging people too, George Clooney his latest interviewee by those standards must be the amateur of the group. Letterman always a performer who wants to be within in his comfort zone has assembled a roster of familiar faces. I would have for example loved him to interview instead Clooney’s wife, human right lawyer Amal Alamuddin which would have been a first but the two old guys looking back format still works a treat.
A fascinating subtext not to underlined too heavily is that George’s father Nick Clooney had the kind of career Letterman might have if not for the courage and support of his first wife Michelle Cook and perhaps the untimely death of his father Harry. That’s not fair to Nick Clooney actually whom first and foremost was a journalist and made a pretty damn good career out of it too, Letterman who went farther with comedy would not have had the career Nick Clooney had if he’d stayed in Indiana as a broadcaster. Similarities with George himself are in abundance as well, George Clooney is a father at the same age as Letterman became one, they’re both liberals, they’re both from the mid-west and they’re both wise-asses. As conversation pieces for fans there are some fascinating revelations, George Clooney would put pebbles in his shoes as a young Catholic boy when he didn’t tell his priest about all of his sins. David mentioned his father went to AA later in life and it helped because it allowed him to perform as well as deal with his disease. These are touching moments that speak to the nature of these men. David has a good nose for this stuff, seeing an old poster of Nick Clooney in his Kentucky home he points out that the visage is a dead ringer for George.
Speaking of the Clooney home, Letterman visits George’s parents and sister who have taken in a refugee from Iraq, Hazim Avdal. Hazim seems to have been coached with his answers but there is no denying the weight of what he experienced. He’s asked at one point would he ever back to his home town to which he informs there is no town left only mass graves. Later we see him in a nice house next to a river, the kind of house we would all like to live in. This young man has been given tremendous help but after all that he went through my heart swells to see him living in such a peaceful part of the world. He is working hard at university and when asked would he like to become an American citizen almost out of deference for people’s prejudices he simply says that he loves America and that that would be wonderful but something he does not take for granted. Through Hazim, Letterman is showing what can be gained from opening up to help others, not closing off to help ourselves. It is of course a lot more complicated than that and we have borders for reasons but by presenting a human face to such tragedies we can be reminded of much.
I would have preferred a little bit more of a chat with Nina and Ada Clooney but I am tickled pink by the immaculate way former beauty pageant champ Nina holds up a tablet for the camera as George and Amal skype everybody in Kentucky. Not having Amal and George actually there in Kentucky feels like a massive missed opportunity, to see George a son interact with his family but it allows the focus to remain on Hazim and to reveal the nature of the people who raised George Clooney into the kind of man that would try to help genocide in Africa at the same time that he gets together with a friend to invest in a house tequila.
Families are fascinating, Letterman consistently turns to child rearing for conversation in interviews and with new Dad Clooney this seems more than appropriate. Letterman who has a checkered past with good women whom he owes a great deal to tellingly describes that you can say you love your mother or you love your wife but when my kid was born I felt it well up inside of him effortlessly. These moments of candour remain why you tune in to such a show.
I still would have liked to see George with his whole family, I think Letterman understands this missed opportunity too because they do a remote at LAX with just George and Dave. It’s funny, its cute, it bookends the episode nicely. It’s another strong episode but I keep on coming back to the idea that Dave should be talking to new people and maybe people that will challenge him. Perhaps this is why I am most interested to see what happens next month with the guest for that episode being Malala Yousafzai.