Interview :David Letterman He's No Johnny Carson

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A. The one that really upset me recently was Shirley MacLaine. Shirley was too big a star to do a pre-interview. We had no idea what she wanted to talk about. So the talent staff put together a list of four or five questions based on research material. Then she comes on the program and she brings with her an attitude, which she mentioned early on: "I guess Cher was right." ((Cher once called Letterman an unprintable name on the air.)) I thought that was untoward, needless. And then, when I would ask her the questions, about her past lives or about her book or about her film -- projects that she had devoted no small measure of time and effort to -- she just couldn't be bothered. So I thought to myself: Why are you on this show, lady? There was not a gun at this woman's head. I have less and less patience for that kind of behavior.

Q. Your interplay with bandleader Paul Shaffer has become a major part of the show. Are you good friends?

A. I have a great deal of respect for Paul, and if he decided to quit the show, I don't know that I would continue without him. We're close; we chat every day before the show and after the show. We've been to dinner many times, and he's been to my house many times. I like him, and I think he's the best at what he does. But we're not best friends. I think it would be odd for me and Paul to be best friends away from the show and then have any kind of acceptable relationship on the show.

By the way, this is his last night. I caught him using my comb, so we had to let him go.

Q. Like Johnny Carson, you're considered a remote personality on TV. And yet you do talk about yourself a lot -- your problems getting cable or driving in from Connecticut or whatever. How much of yourself do you think you reveal on the air?

A. I like talking about things that happen in my life if I think I can make me the butt of the joke. But I'm not crazy about actually talking about real things in my life: the women in my life, or my own political feelings and beliefs, limited as they are. If something funny happens in the supermarket, I like trying to talk about that. Because I think -- and this may be completely misguided -- if I were at home watching a show, I'd like to hear about Johnny Carson's getting a flat tire. But I don't want to start explaining in great detail what makes me happy, what makes me sad, that kind of crap.

Q. Speaking of things you won't discuss on the show, are you dating much?

A. As much as I need to. That sounds horrible, doesn't it? ((Former head writer)) Merrill Markoe and I lived together for a long, long time. She is largely responsible for the success of the show, many of her ideas are mainstays, and she is one of the most important people in my life, ever. I won't give you the gory details, but it seems to have come to a halt.

Q. But you're not spending your nights alone?

A. I'm not leading a monastic existence.

Q. What movies and comedians did you like growing up in Indiana?

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