Hollywood on the Potomac: A Nod to Letterman

by Janet Donovan

A late night show icon receives the Mark Twain Prize.

David Letterman and his wife, Regina Lasko. Photos by Tony Powell

The Kennedy Center honored comedian and former late-night talk show host David Letterman with the 20th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. A star-studded cast of the now-bearded broadcasting icon’s friends and former colleagues, including Steve Martin, Martin Short, Amy Schumer (the only woman) and last year’s recipient, Bill Murray, came to pay tribute. Murray appeared dressed as a king as he metaphorically handed the crown to Letterman and encouraged him and his son Harry to throw food from the balcony into the crowd. The politically-tinged show (there was no shortage of jokes at the administration’s expense) ended with Letterman leaving the audience with a quote from Mark Twain: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” The Mark Twain Prize, sponsored by Capital One, will air at 9 p.m. November 20 on PBS stations nationwide.

David Letterman on Whom he Would Like to Interview 

“The current president. It’s hard for me to recognize him as the President because I remember him as Don. And he would come on the show and I would make fun of his hair. That would be my base of strategy. I would just say, “Don, what the hell is going on here.”

Paul Shaffer:

“There are many kinds of friendships, but none more meaningful than the show business friendship. Stepping on the little people all day long creates a bond, stronger even than most second marriages.”

Jimmy Kimmel on What he and Letterman Talk About:

“I don’t think we’ve talked about anything other than fishing and heart surgery.”

Roy Wood, Jr.: 

“I wanna ask Letterman – just as a fan, as a comedian, just as a fan of comedy – if he’s aware of how many doors he has opened for other comedians?”

Bruce Vilanch:

“He’s an oddball, a genuine oddball, and I think he appeals to a part of all of us that realizes that we are all strange in our own way, and it was interesting to come home every night and watch his strangeness unfold. It made you feel a little bit less like an oddball because this was a world class oddball up there.”

Sen. Al Franken on who is Funnier:

“David is funnier. He’s getting the Twain … Yeah, I’m not getting the Twain.”

Deborah Rutter:

“For the 20th anniversary I really wanted it to be somebody iconic and important broadly. I really honestly didn’t know if there was any way to convince Dave Letterman to do it because he is at the point in his life where he is not looking for honors. He is not looking to go to another event in his honor, no less. I was really thrilled when he accepted.”

David Rubenstein:

”For 32 years, the world would spin around us, but we could always count on Dave – sitting behind the desk, sporting his wry smile, bringing on intriguing guests, giving his Top 10 List, sharing great music and introducing us to Stupid Pet Tricks. Each night, he put us to sleep, in a good way.“

This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of Washington Life Magazine.

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