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David Letterman on his surprise Ukraine trip and Zelensky interview

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In late October, David Letterman, who, in a earlier tv incarnation, thought-about a Taco Bell drive-through sufficiently adventurous for a distant phase, flew to Warsaw, hopped right into a van for a five-hour drive to the Polish border with Ukraine, and caught an in a single day prepare to Kyiv. After which, in an lively subway station 250 ft under the embattled capital, the 75-year-old late-night legend sat with President Volodymyr Zelensky for a particular episode of his Netflix present, “My Subsequent Visitor Wants No Introduction.” This system goes on-line Monday and Letterman, in a Zoom this week from his dwelling, talked about why he determined to go to a battle zone for an episode, definitely a departure for an interview program that has featured George Clooney, Lizzo and Kevin Durant lately. (This interview has been edited for area and readability.)

Q: Dave, so very merely, what makes you resolve Ukraine is a good suggestion for the present?

A: Neglect the present. Neglect me. This can be a good concept, interval. It looks as if we’ve had six to eight years of individuals speaking like we had been visiting one other planet. After which all of a sudden Russia assaults Ukraine and we meet Volodymyr Zelensky and he’s saying issues and behaving in a approach we have now not seen manifested by people in fairly a very long time. The primary time I noticed him, he mentioned, “This can be the final time you, my countrymen, perhaps the final time you see me alive.” After which he says, “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition.” Instantly you’re reminded of what you understand about Winston Churchill keeping off Hitler.

Q: The truth that Zelensky was a performer and is so good at presenting himself, the primary reference I’ve to that’s Reagan. The grasp communicator {and professional} actor. Proper? And Trump, the entertainer recast as one thing. When did you get the sense that Zelensky was real?

A: It’s fascinating you invoke Reagan. And in these days, I at all times thought, nicely, we have now an actor as president. What does this imply to the remainder of the world? And I do know now Reagan, actually, was beloved. After which we have now Trump, who’s a mistake from the minute of start. However I knew [Zelensky] was real. It’s there. It’s palpable. You’re feeling it, you see it. And to me, he has not wavered. And also you see the folks that we met in Kyiv, that is the man that lit that fuse. And these individuals don’t take democracy as a right. I don’t even know, Geoff, if I’m answering your query, I simply get wound up about this man.

Q: You’re interviewing Zelensky and let’s set the stage. This makeshift studio is an lively prepare station. And there are trains going by always.

A: I used to be conscious that there can be trains, however all people mentioned, you understand, it’s not an issue. And so I’m considering each 20 minutes the categorical will come by and also you wave and that’ll be it. And so we’re down there minutes away from starting, speaking with the president, and it’s [makes the sound of a train]. And I tapped [executive producer Tom] Keaney on the shoulder and I mentioned, “This isn’t going to work.” And he checked out me like I used to be the dumb child in school and mentioned, “nothing we are able to do about it.” After which when the man comes out. There’s my focus. It’s oh my God, it’s this man. And I don’t know what it appears to be like like, however to me speaking with him, it was not an issue.

Q: Not solely that, you get an air raid siren because the cameras roll.

A: The primary one we heard was the morning we arrived in Kyiv on the prepare. In some unspecified time in the future within the preparation, somebody had mentioned to our group, don’t ignore the sirens. So, okay, all proper, I’m not going to disregard the sirens. We get off the prepare, there’s a siren. And also you assume, oh, nicely, how do I am going about not ignoring this? We get to the resort and the siren remains to be sirening, after which, you understand, later it goes away. So when it occurred with the president, I simply felt … there’s no different particular person you’ll relatively be with in that circumstance than Volodymyr Zelensky. And I mentioned, “What will we do?” And he says, “Eh, nothing.” And I simply thought, oh, my God, that is Steve McQueen.

Q: There’s a scene the place you go to an underground comedy membership and also you really did some stand-up.

Q: Is it more durable to do the jokes when people within the crowd are usually not native English audio system, or is it just about your customary viewers?

A: For me, it was my customary viewers. I’m accustomed to being onstage, surrounded by silence, in order that was not an issue. It was so unusual as a result of there’s a curfew in Kyiv. There have been blackouts that night time we had been there. However but up till 9 o’clock, there’s individuals in a comedy membership and the child doing jokes concerning the battle. And also you assume, good for him, good for them.

Q: Did you write your jokes? Just like the one about visiting a small farming village and profitable the award for Greatest in Beard.

A: That’s Mike Sweeney. He wrote it. And like the whole lot else, if I had gone again the following night time, that little set would have been so a lot better. It takes you an evening to soak up the ambiance of the room. Which, on this case, was silence.

Q: After which, if you’re speaking to Zelensky, he tells you a joke. Which begins with two Jewish guys from Odessa assembly and winds up with NATO within the punchline.

A: I really like the universality of that joke, you understand, the setup. It might’t simply be a man walks in. It’s obtained to be the Jewish man. It’s a priest, it’s a rabbi. It’s a Buddhist, you understand, stroll right into a bar. It’s identical to, yeah, why not?

Q: It’s a reasonably lengthy joke. I can’t resolve whether or not it was even humorous or simply humorous as a result of it’s the president through the battle telling you a joke about NATO and Russia?

A: I knew that it was a burn, as the youngsters say, on NATO, and I feel the viewers responded. He instructed it. What am I going to do? No, I’m sorry, Mr. President. What? I’m sorry. I don’t get it. No, I knew the implication of the joke.

Q: I’d be remiss to not ask you about one in every of your previous company, Kanye. I take into consideration that episode you probably did with him in 2019 and significantly his open talk about his mental health issues. I’m positive you could have been following what’s taking place now. His speaking about Hitler and the Jews. What are you making of this?

A: Individuals have mentioned that this can be a manifestation of psychological sickness. Different individuals have mentioned, no, no, this isn’t the way in which psychological sickness manifests itself. So if you happen to’re trying to discover a cause, you’ll instantly assume, oh, it’s the psychological sickness. Possibly it’s not. I feel he’s in bother.

Q: On the Kanye episode, you witnessed lovely moments of artistry. You additionally noticed some actual belligerence and oddball conduct. Once you assume again to that, do you say, I see all of the indicators of what may have occurred right here or are we attempting to learn an excessive amount of into it?

A: That night time was tough for me. It appeared like a sure a part of it was going all proper. After which I simply bear in mind, I feel the viewers was screaming at him. I feel he was speaking backwards and forwards along with his spouse. And I’ve by no means had this specific feeling ever in a scenario like that the place I simply felt like, I want to go dwelling now. It appeared like no matter was wanted right here, I’m undecided I had a device. It was like breaking apart a bar combat.

Q: Let’s return to Ukraine. There’s a hanging level the place you’re strolling round a city sq. and observing these displayed footage of people that have perished. And it’s heartbreaking to see common individuals who have died. And I can’t assist however take into consideration 9/11 and people boards that had been up round New York Metropolis with messages and photographs. There’s a form of trauma that units in these conditions. And the query turns into how a lot do you confront it and the way a lot do you ignore it? I think about that’s one thing you had been occupied with throughout this time.

A: You’re visiting the house of those individuals. And that is the situation their house is in. So that you tackle that, you understand as a result of persons are coming and going about their lives, strolling round by this plaza, and it comes over you. Your connection to 9/11 is strictly the identical. Within the early days of that, you can not stroll wherever towards that space and never really feel the heaviness, and that’s the way in which it was in Kyiv. However they weren’t letting it crush them.

Zelensky mentioned it the opposite day. He mentioned, I’m not courageous, I’m accountable. And that’s a wonderful approach of placing what he and persons are doing. We’re not laughing about this. We’re taking good care of enterprise and we’re prevailing, for heaven’s sakes. And good individuals have defined to me that, actually, they are going to win this, they are going to win this and profitable that is going to be … the transition of them profitable this can have such a world affect. In the event that they don’t win, it’ll be extra of the identical crap. So we’re on the doorstep right here of monumental change. Am I speaking an excessive amount of?


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