Despite the hiccup in production presented by the pandemic, the inimitable David Letterman returned this October with Season Three of his Netflix show, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” Featuring none other than Kim Kardashian, Robert Downey Jr., Dave Chappelle, and Lizzo, this latest (and necessarily shorter) season provides intimate, meaningful portraits of celebrities while also capturing the gravitas of the present historical moment.
“My Next Guest,” which reads a bit like a longform talk show, displays a very different Letterman than the acerbic host of “Late Night.” Nowhere is this more evident than in his interactions with Kim Kardashian, his first guest of the season. Though Kanye, whom he interviewed in Season Two, now sits in the audience, Letterman exhibits a similar restraint in discussion of the more outrageous presentations of celebrity life with Kardashian. While recounting the traumatic Paris robbery (in which Kardashian had nearly $9 million in jewelry stolen), she explains that Kanye had flown out to Paris that day, because he “didn’t like my outfit,” to which Letterman responded with only the mildly sarcastic “If that isn’t true love…” — where he might previously have skewered such an account of celebrity extravagance.
Despite this restraint, Letterman does push Kardashian to reveal her political standing, inquiring after her advocacy for prison reform, interactions with President Trump, and how she felt about the actions of the current administration. Kardashian carefully refuses to answer, a frustrating response as viewers watch the episode so close to the election.
Unsurprisingly, Letterman seems far more comfortable with Robert Downey Jr. than with Kardashian. Despite broaching serious topics like alcoholism and addiction, this interview features far more banter between host and guest; Letterman opens the show saying, “I’ll do most of the talking,” and then launches into an anecdote about his hip problems. Adding to the good humour was footage of Downey and Letterman touring the actor’s ranch home with its “menagerie,” which included alpacas, goats, and pigs. These cutaways break up the interview portions nicely, and give them a documentary-like feel that fill out the portrait of the celebrity more fully.
At the start of Downey’s interview, Letterman notes his appreciation for the live, enthusiastic audience, saying, “the thrill that runs up my spine is indescribable.” Unfortunately, these words would come back to haunt him, as this is the last interview he conducts before the pandemic hit in full force. His next interview with Dave Chapelle is held outside, with a much smaller, masked, and socially distant audience. His interview with Lizzo does not feature an audience at all.
The restrictions of the pandemic do not detract from the quality of the content; rather, by not shying away from showing the masks and precautions, these episodes are imbued with further relevance and significance. Watching b-roll of the prep at the start of Lizzo’s episode, with temperature checks and measurements of the distance between chairs, a viewer can’t help but feel the archival significance that these sorts of moments, captured on television, may come to bear.
In conversation with Dave Chappelle — who brings wonderful ideas about art, fame, parenting, and more — Letterman also discusses the summer’s events concerning George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. He expresses the gratitude he felt at seeing Chappelle’s response to the event, feeling Chappelle to be a leader. The cutaway clips, which show the two walking around the small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio where Chappelle resides, are even more valuable than before, as they captured windows and storefronts papered with Black Lives Matter signs.
Letterman also discusses activism with Lizzo, who is vocal on her various social media platforms (including TikTok) about BLM, voting, and body positivity. Yet the very advantage of the longer format of this Netflix series is proven here, as she also is able to provide a nuanced, intimate perspective on her activism. “I'm sick of being an activist just because I'm fat and Black,” Lizzo says. “I want to be an activist because I’m intelligent, because I care about issues, because my music is good, because I wanna help the world.”
Though there is no audience, and the two don’t leave her house for the cutaway segments, the interview as well as clips and images from Lizzo’s career and footage from her appearance on “Late Show with David Letterman,” serve to create an even more intimate, mini-“musician’s documentary” sort of episode. Lizzo’s passion for spreading positivity shines through, with uplifting clips of her leading packed concerts in screamed affirmations that are sure to bring a smile to viewers’ faces.
With “My Next Guest,” Letterman brings us more than late night television entertainment. Though still, at times, humorous the way a talk show would be, these episodes are filled with important, meaningful conversations and capture both complex, interesting people, and a significant time in history.
—Staff Writer Sara Komatsu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.