On May 20, 2015, David Letterman retired from late night after 33 years. He seemed to have no desire ever to return to TV (after all, he’d already done 6,028 episodes). Now, however, Letterman is coming back, but only briefly, and for a project most of his fans probably never expected: reporting on India for an episode of the National Geographic Channel’s Emmy-winning series Years of Living Dangerously, whose executive producers include Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron.
Now 69, Letterman granted an interview to National Geographic magazine to discuss the project. Letterman’s report will focus on the impact of climate change and poverty on India. While conceding he was reluctant throughout his career to take stands on “matters of conscious” (“I’m not that smart”), he did feel the need to address climate change, noting, “People are being displaced. People’s ways of life are changing.”
Letterman also reports being surprised by how India planned to address the nation’s poverty:
“I look at 1.3 billion people and say, ‘Well, that’s the problem’—and they look at it as the solution. It’s a population that’s quite young, and they see that as a huge resource.”
Asked about finding comedy in his experiences in India, Letterman conceded, “It’s difficult to be funny when you’re sitting on the floor of a mud hut”, but also noted no matter how dire the poverty he encountered, it was a pleasure to meet children: “I felt really comfortable talking to these kids, because there’s nothing more fun than goofing with kids. That’s something universal.”
(Letterman may be also be underestimating how inherently hilarious he tends to be, as the special includes him going to get a beard trim and unexpected head massage in New Delhi: If that’s not comedy, what is?)
Read the full interview here. Years of Living Dangerously returns for its second season on October 30. And if you feel like some laughs (or just bringing up some great late night memories) before getting on with your day, watch the montage that ended Letterman’s final show below.
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