I WAS A NINTH DEGREE BLACK BELT NARCISSIST

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We find ourselves at a funny crossroads with the end of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Letterman seems to have enjoyed himself and there’s been enough that long term fans can insist he’s brought something good to the table. Yet the idea that Letterman has maybe added something new to his substantial legacy would be a stretch at best. The two late night talk shows he did were very different beasts to this program designed to entertain every minute they were on air (whether they did or didn’t) and paced to reflect this while still padding out with formula wherever you could since the workload was so high you had to have some reliable mainstays. It is not surprising to find myself wistfully missing the band, the sketches and the up to date nature of that program to comment on whatever was making headlines at the time. On the other hand Letterman can do great interviews and the long leisurely pace of his Netflix show showed potential for deeper conversations. The remotes also showed great promise to have Letterman out in the field but as the show went on this aspect more and more seemed an afterthought or a side dish that deserved to be the main. By the way let me just say that I really enjoyed the opening theme tune by the always great Paul Schaeffer.

I started this program happy with the Obama episode but looking forward to his conversations outside his comfort zone with Malala Yousafzai and maybe Jay-Z. Looking back the obvious candidates bore better episodes President Obama and George Clooney remain probably the best episodes. Malala Yousafzai delivered what I was hoping for, of challenging Dave and I hope to see more of this in the future but Jay-Z was not as good and Tina Fey was mostly entertaining because of her considerable talent. Going into the last episode I decided Howard Stern’s antagonistic needling would probably make for a good episode if not terribly original.

Stern is on point throughout, I enjoyed the relaxed way he asked Dave about his Netflix show at the end of it but Stern surprisingly got serious about his own childhood and about the apologies he owed Letterman and others. It was honest and vulnerable and showed growth but it didn’t necessarily make for good entertainment with Stern even suggesting at one point I can get the Fartman costume in five minutes if this is bad addressing the audience. Stern a contemporary of Dave’s is still in the game I guess and still ‘hot’. It made me reflect on how after all the fanfare during Dave’s victory lap in 2015 that he is maybe a little out of the loop calling on favours to have people show up for this show.

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I don’t want to beat on the show, I’m a fan and this was a perfectly good hour of viewing for me with Stern who is such a talent. But its interesting to note that what followed in the form of a bonus episode prepared by Netflix where Jerry Seinfeld and Dave sat down at an industry event as two of their stars and just chatted was far more entertaining and showed a more traditional filming dynamic. They threw back and forth at considerable pace, telling the other about the greatness of their work and vehemently denying it themselves, obviously prepared with some jokes which they fired off but also building to off the cuff remarks however the conversation threw them. At one point Jerry told Letterman he did not want to talk about his kids but he give him one thing a minute later. At another point Letterman talked about the kindness of a baseball player saying good day to him in the VIP part of the crowd. Seinfeld said that was nice of the baseball player but as Letterman insisted the significance of the nature of the gesture the former sitcom star let slip that he’s not doing this past the VIP area concluding “You’re David Letterman, you idiot.” The crowd erupted.

Watching Letterman with Stern and Seinfeld shows he can still improvise something on the spot and riff with the best after coming across unmatched with Fey. I saw him on Seth Meyers the other day and some of it was downright odd as he presented a tick in a snaplock bag from his back, so absurd I’m sure some fans of his 80s work were pleased but he also told some good jokes. So we know Letterman is still sharp and funny and under the right circumstances prickly and dignified. We know he’s earnest and curious and wanting to do good in the world. We know he can still get things out of people and can make a fascinating chat in the long time format of these interviews.

So what’s next? Come back and do another 6 or 10 episodes next year. Interview people like Amal Clooney, Donald Glover, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Ryan Coogler, Kumail Nunjiani, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyongo, Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, Patty Jenkins, or Elizabeth Warren. Maybe that’s a little celebrity heavy or whatever but just for starters. Do the remotes with those people, go with them somewhere or watch them interact with their family or crews. Go to India and look at Turbines, go wherever you like, interview whoever you like and try to change the world for the better. Because I love you Dave and I was happy to have you back and I hope to see you again soon but there’s a few things we could improve upon for next year.

-Lloyd Marken

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YEAH WE DID WANT TO WRITE ON IT THOUGH

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A funny thing happened in Episode 5 of David Letterman’s new show, on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. The man who’s verbally sparred with pundits, network executives, movie stars, politicians and fellow comedians just ceded territory to his guest. This is no loss or embarrassment for the 70 year old because his guest was Tina Fey and Letterman adores Fey. Not for her beauty which is striking, not for her kindness to him (Letterman distrusts gushers), but because as far as he’s concerned this is one the funniest people doing comedy today. Letterman did not deign to pass a torch to any of the many late night hosts upon his retirement the way Carson did for him but here you can’t help but notice who owns the stage in this exchange. Both come across as funny and intelligent but Fey shines and Letterman wisely doesn’t put up a fight. She won’t even let him win a point for saying one of her most recent skits was good. She deconstructs what was missing to applause. There’s nothing pathetic in this either, he states his opinions and gets quite a few laughs just by being himself but he’s delighted by how funny and intelligent she is and isn’t looking take any moment away from her.

Maybe his deference comes in this, as a liberal who has grown personally and politically in recent years and is constantly striving to create a better world with what little time he has left and worries about his young son. Maybe in Fey, Letterman thinks maybe the world will be alright and he’s not alone. Tina Fey is the gold standard of established female former SNL alumni. She’s done her own show, got some hit movies under her belt and is now doing a musical of her classic Mean Girls. She’s also a Mum and Letterman always fascinated by child rearing compares notes with his guest which is nice.

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A lot of media buzz has been created by a moment where Letterman says he doesn’t know why he didn’t have more female writers on his show and offers maybe he didn’t believe they wanted to do his show. Fey who was one of the presenters when he retired, when he was awarded the Kennedy Centers Honours and the Mark Twain prize looks him in the eye and says but they did. If you’ve read The Last Giant of Late Night: Letterman by Jason Zinoman you’ll appreciate the history behind this moment. She’s not being disrespectful but she’s being direct and Letterman concedes he was ignorant. I think its important to note that this is not really a personal criticism so much as a principled statement. At this point Fey is discussing real benefits that came about as the writers rooms she’s worked in have become more diverse. Letterman seems to be in agreement and the show ends with Fey saying I can’t believe I got to meet you let alone talk to you. Yet she is maybe at the height of her powers and he is maybe past them and no kind words from either can mask that.

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The remote in this episode is even odder than the one from Jay-Z previously. After talking about Fey’s days at Second City in Chicago Letterman asks for a recommendation of where to eat in the Windy City. So he meets Blues legend Buddy Guy at The Athenian where they talk a little over roast chicken slathered over some chips. Letterman wisely advices Guy not to think too hard on where the grease comes from. Then Letterman takes in a performance in a club with Guy and Paul Schaeffer on the keyboards. It’s nice to see Schaeffer again and Guy has an interesting story in himself but the whole thing feels unrelated and under explored for what it is. I don’t know now what to expect with the impending finale with Howard Stern but I hope the remote actually has something to do with Howard Stern!

For me the best thing about this episode besides Fey herself is this, I would say Fey at times seems to be intensely feeling some emotions that she keeps a handle on. Letterman gets her to talk about things in the long format, about her family, about the construction of comedy performance and I don’t know if others would’ve been successful in eliciting such a powerful hour of conversation out of her. Maybe but he did. He’s still got something to offer.

-Lloyd Marken

I HAD A PAPER ROUTE TOO

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I was interested to what would happen in episode 4 of the new David Letterman show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction where he was to interview rapper Jay-Z. I don’t know Jay-Z or a lot about his genre of music. I also didn’t recall interviews between the two on The Late Show. To me it seemed like this was an opportunity for Letterman again to push outside his boundaries a little in away that interviews with Tina Fey, George Clooney, President Barack Obama and Howard Stern would not offer. Jay-Z is one of the biggest entertainers in the world and so its no surprise to find out that he was on Letterman back in the day but none of these talks seemed to have become the stuff of legend the way say ones with Stern did.

This new show disappoints and satisfies in equal measure then from what I was hoping for. For starters Jay-Z is warm, funny and thoughtful as an interview subject and he’s got a story or two to tell. Learning about Jay-Z’s life is the highlight of the program as he looks back on a father who wasn’t around, a mother who couldn’t be true to her own sexuality and a teenage boy selling crack after growing up in poverty. Music saved Jay-Z but its also interesting to note lots of people who helped him along the way. Now he is using his weight to look out for people not given enough opportunities or are treated unfairly from the justice system. If you’re inclined to argue that a justice system will target communities where crime is prolific not race I don’t think Jay-Z particularly cares. He’s offering scholarships for young people poor but smart. He’s asking does the punishment fit the crime and then fighting for those where he sees it isn’t. I’m happy to see that too.

But if you were looking to get an insight into the world of rap you will be sorely disappointed. Letterman discusses how complex the music is and Jay-Z discusses how putting something together is just like writing jokes for a stand-up. A few songs are discussed but they’re not played, something that would upset the flow of the show I admit. Also when Obama’s speeches or Clooney’s film clips weren’t shown in previous minds I didn’t mind because I knew what they were talking about but whereas here my own ignorance meant I was disappointed not to be showed more.

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Also in those episodes the remotes fitted nicely into articulating an aspect of the main guest. Here we go to Shangri-La studios and talk to producer Rick Rubin on a day where they doing some recording with singer Madison Ward. Two things stood out immediately, Rubin gives Dave’s beard a run for its money and two you can be an older gentleman in shorts striking a yoga pose. I’m just sayin’. Rubin is a legend in his own right and could easily be the subject of his own show and Ward has a first rate voice. While Jay-Z discusses the artistic process of producer and singer, its obvious this is intended to give us a demonstration of it. It also perhaps hint that whatever the genre of music or the background of the artist the point of music is always the same. That’s a lovely sentiment and some of the remote is nicely edited together and the lyrics of the closing song (beautifully dueted by Ward and Lukas Nelson) echoes some of what has been discussed by Letterman and Jay-Z.

Yet you might not even be aware after watching it of Rubin having been co-founder of Def Jam records which Jay-Z would go on to become President of. You will however be painfully aware of Letterman’s high school romance with an English girl as being one of the coolest things that ever happened to him in the same hour of television where he discusses marital infidelity. Regina you’re a saint. As interesting as some of this was I can’t help think of how much more effective it would have been if we’d been in the recording studio with an actual hip-hop artist. To me the discussion of the music is where this episode misses the mark.

The show closes strongly when Letterman discusses his own transgressions and then asks Jay-Z if any of this sounds familiar. Jay-Z gives a good but perfunctory answer and they move on to another topic and then Jay-Z further articulates how you’ve got to be better than the worst you’ve done. Unprompted he owns up more to his regrets and the lessons he took from them. Some of the lessons Jay-Z is trying to learn are ones we could all learn from about how to put away ego and fear and be good to others. Letterman (who never gives easy praise) says he loves him and they shake hands. Missed opportunity or not, the show does have it’s moments.

-Lloyd Marken

THINGS HAPPEN – MALALA YOUSAFZAI

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I was looking forward to Malala Yousafzai appearing on David Letterman’s new Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction and as far as the reasons why I was not disappointed. Letterman is talking to a woman of a different age about important issue and for the first time. That means there is no established rapport and there may even be disagreements and that was one of the strengths of this episode.

Malala for example points out to Letterman things happen in other cities than New York and that she doesn’t like pizza amongst other things. With his target a polite and dignified person to interview, Dave plays the long game and brings out a little of her humour and makes her feel awkward in a good way like the way she challenges some of his presumptions. One of the most telling moments is when Dave pushes past her modesty to insist everything happens for a reason and she is doing good important work that will change many lives. We also find out that she is playing cricket at Oxford and that one of the world’s most famous students can sometimes start late on getting to work on assessment.

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This is the girl who was shot by the Taliban, she’s more than that of course and this episode is a great way to learn about her as a person but Letterman as he did with wounded veterans has a way of getting to the guts of a moment in someone’s life that changes everything. As someone who was fascinated by his own quintuple bypass he has a way of breaking down the remarkable work that goes into recovering from such an injury as having a bullet go through your face and shoulder. This is Dave at his most powerful and in his search for answers and freewheeling musing he draws out what Malala really things about her own experience and where she wants to go next.

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Perhaps still needing a moment where he chats to a man closer to his age, Letterman has fish and chips with Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai, an advocate in his own right. This was a nice moment where her Dad has a different recollection of things showing more concern for his daughter’s safety and more pride in her courage than she can but I couldn’t help but wonder again (following on from George Clooney’s Mum and sister not saying much last episode), where is Mum? The other remote in this episode has Letterman following around a group of visiting high school students checking out the campus of Oxford led by Malala as a student representative. Letterman acts the clown quite a bit eventually winning over the kids with his unapologetic dagginess and Yousafzai playing a good straight woman to his routine. Letterman always cool by being uncool. The ironic detachment of the 1980s gone though replaced by an earnestness for the next generation to be left a better world.  He jokes in the opening monologue  that you can’t get much older than me. This is one of the best remotes of the series and what a shocker actually features the guest herself.

This was a strong episode and again I would encourage them to return for a second season with more guests like this. In the episode Malala talks about her home in Swat Valley and that one day she would like to return but there would be issues. Since the airing of this episode Malala went back to Pakistan for the first time.

-Lloyd Marken

I WAS A PRETTY GOOD BALLPLAYER

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

-Lloyd Marken

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STAR TREK: DISCOVERY TOP 5 AVAILABLE AT HEAVY

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Star Trek: Discovery returned back to our screens earlier this month and in anticipation I put together a Top 5 of things I was looking forward to being further developed following the mid-season hiatus. Star Trek: Discovery grows from strength to strength despite my concerns. It may not play as Trek for hardcore fans and it has a few flaws that need to be ironed out but it proved one of the more entertaining shows making their debut last year and I look forward to further adventures.

I am super pleased to have contributed another Top 5 to Heavy in what is so far turning out to be monthly thing. I wish I could be more prolific but alas the day job keeps me busy. To check out the post click here https://heavymag.com.au/top-5-reasons-excited-star-trek-discovery-coming-back/ and please feel free to leave a comment there if you want.

Heavy is an independent magazine and website that is all about the music and specifically heavy music and supporting the Australian music scene in general. Fortunately for me they do cover film as well and I have been fortunate to have a few things published there.

-Lloyd Marken

FIVE CAME BACK REVIEW AVAILABLE ON BUZZ MAGAZINE

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One of the best things I enjoyed watching on Netflix last year was the series Five Came Back. Based off the book by Mark Harris, the series recounts the experiences of five legendary Hollywood directors throughout their service in World War II. It is one of the most fascinating and moving stories I got to watch and hope you will get a chance to enjoy it too. I think sometimes I struggle to find the right way to review something I enjoyed so much but feel free to check it out at http://buzzmagazine.com.au/five-who-came-back/

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

-Lloyd Marken