His Late Show successor has struck ratings gold by going after Donald Trump five nights a week. With his monthly show on Netflix, David Letterman is running in the opposite direction.
When the current president’s name didn’t come up during Letterman’s interview with former president Barack Obama in last month’s premiere of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, it seemed possible that Obama had requested to keep his successor out of the conversation. But after watching the second episode, featuring George Clooney, it appears that Letterman might the one who doesn’t want to talk about Trump.
Both Letterman and Clooney have been outspoken about their disgust with the 45th president over the past year, but during their hour-long sit-down that premieres on Netflix this Friday, the host deliberately chose to focus on other issues. Also left aside: The critical and commercial failure of Clooney’s latest directorial effort.
Like Obama before him, Clooney spent some time ribbing Letterman about his post-Late Show beard—“I like this Soggy Bottom Boys look you’ve got going on”—and tried to turn the tables with some questions of his own. “People don’t know much about you,” Clooney told the host. “And people are very interested in how you became David Letterman.”
Letterman was “flattered,” but would only spend a few short moments speaking about himself before turning the attention back to Clooney.
The two men talked about Clooney’s childhood, growing up in Kentucky, his recent evolution into a family man with twin babies, and especially the way in which he and his wife Amal Clooney are working to help Iraq War refugees, both in their professional and personal lives.
In her role as a human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney has been working with Yazidi activists to prosecute ISIS commanders in International Criminal Court.
“Basically, ISIS has been trying to commit genocide on [the Yazidis], saying that they shouldn’t exist,” Clooney told Letterman. “And Amal is sort of the first one now to be able to bring ISIS to court. Because strangely, that hasn’t happened.”
While the U.S. has tried to “kill them all,” he said, “If you’re a victim, they want to be able to say, ‘I want charges brought against you and I want my day in court. Because I want this not to just end with your death, I want us to be able to record this and I want evidence against you.”
Beyond just sitting in a studio and chatting with Clooney, Letterman also traveled to visit Clooney’s parents in Augusta, Kentucky, a small town near the Ohio River. With George and Amal’s help, Clooney’s family has essentially adopted a young Yazidi man named Hazim Avdal who was persecuted by ISIS in Iraq and is now attending classes at the University of Chicago.
Clearly moved by the horrific details of Avdal’s story when they meet in Clooney’s parents’ kitchen, Letterman told Avdal, “I have a 13-year-old son, and when he was 9 years old, if I thought he was carrying with him the fear that you describe when you were nine years old, I would be beside myself. Living through that, it’s imponderable.”
Like the moment he walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Congressman John Lewis in the Obama episode, it is a somber scene unlike anything he would have broadcast as part of his long-running late-night show.
And it’s just one of several sentimental exchanges in this episode, which also finds Letterman and Clooney commiserating about what it is like to be older dads, a topic Letterman seemed more eager to explore than his own childhood. Clooney is a brand-new father of twins at age 56, one year younger than Letterman was when his son was born. “I wish I had a family sooner,” Letterman told him. “I was preoccupied with my little, dinky show, so that is a true regret.”
Letterman also opened up about the “desperate anxiety” he had while his wife was pregnant, terrified he might one day have the urge to kick his own baby. Thankfully, he added, “When he was born—boom!—it all vanished.”
The Clooney twins do not make their public debut on Netflix, but Amal does appear briefly during a FaceTime session with Letterman and Clooney’s family in Kentucky.
“I’ve had the experience of representing a number of Yazidis who have been the victims of genocide perpetrated by ISIS over the last couple of years,” she told Letterman, explaining how “struck” she was not only by Avdal’s “courage” but also his “amazing spirit” and his “desire for justice, not just revenge.”
Of course, since the show is still hosted by David Letterman, there is plenty of levity to balance out the heavier content. Perhaps the most surprising moment comes during a story Clooney tells about being in Sudan when a 14-year-old kid made him get down on his knees and held an AK-47 to his chest because he wanted to steal his truck.
“It’s not because he saw Batman?” Letterman asked, referring to Clooney’s infamous turn as a the caped crusader in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin.
“No, if he’d seen Batman, he would have shot me right there,” Clooney replied. “He’d of been like, ‘I know you! You put nipples on the batsuit!’” As the laughs, including from Letterman, died down, he added, “‘Get me the director, I’m going to shoot him, too!’”