Full transcript: Nell Scovell talks David Letterman, Sheryl Sandberg and ‘The Simpsons’ on Recode Media

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The cover of “Just the Funny Parts” by Nell Scovell

“No one wants a witch hunt, but we do want a fair and judicious review of witches.”

On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, writer Nell Scovell comes by the studio to talk with Kafka about her new book, “Just the Funny Parts … And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys’ Club.” You can read some highlights from the interview here or listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Below, you’ll also find a lightly edited transcript of the full episode.


Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That is me. I am part of the Vox Media Podcast Network. I’m here at Vox Media headquarters in New York City. This is the part where I ask you to tell a friend about this show. See how quick that was? Painless. What do you think, Nell?

Nell Scovell: Oh, I’m at Vox Media too.

Nell also agrees that she is at Vox Media. That is the voice of Nell Scovell. Did I pronounce it correctly?

You did.

Congratulations to me. She is a TV writer. She is a book writer. She wrote a book called “Just the Funny Parts.” She also wrote with Sheryl Sandberg a book called “Lean In,” many of you have heard of. Welcome, Nell.

Oh, nice to be here.

Thanks for joining me. This has been on my list for many months, I’m very psyched to read this. Was very psyched to read this. I’m very psyched to talk to you. What’s the best way to describe this book? It’s a mashup of genres, right?

It is. It’s a memoir, but it also includes a lot of information about writing, about…

Yeah, there’s some how-to, right?

How-to.

How to make a “Simpsons” script.

Yes, how to write a joke. How to make a “Simpsons” script, but it’s not just about Hollywood. I think it’s about everywhere we work.

And then specifically, right? And you point this out here, right? This is about “sneaking into the Hollywood boys club.” And you can expand that and say this is about social… Being a woman in a male-dominated profession, there are many of those. It seems like the timing is fortuitous for this book as well?

Well, except the problems been around for so long.

I was thinking of a polite way of putting it. The public discussion around the problem is good.

Yes.

Was there an uncomfortable moment in the last six months you thought this is bad for the world, but it’s good for me and my book?

No, I did tell a #MeToo story in my book. And when I turned it into the publishers in the summer I felt scared and alone. And now I don’t feel that way anymore. And in fact, I went from being sort of afraid to being like, ‘I can’t wait til my books out and I lend my voice to this chorus.’ We have a club. We meet in the football stadium.

I was wondering if we’re gonna discuss the #MeToo incident in the book. It’s funny that we call it a “#MeToo incident.” It’s a weird … Cause it’s describing men’s behavior, right?

Right. It’s also one of those things. I remember after “Lean In” came out, someone said to me, “What did we say before Lean In? And I said “Well, I guess we didn’t talk about women’s ambition.” And I think it’s a little of the same with #MeToo. There wasn’t a term, because we didn’t talk about it.

There’s gossip about a particular executive in media. It’s going through right now. People are saying this person has a “#MeToo problem.”

Yeah.

I thought well his problem allegedly is his behavior. It’s not a #MeToo behavior, but…

Right, right.

That’s a sidelight here. But back to that incident you described in the book. You identify a specific person. You call them out by name. Did you re-think any of that? Sort of as the Weinstein stuff was heating up. Did you wish, “Oh, maybe I should have included more information?” Or maybe … I don’t know. Did you rethink the context of it at all?

Well, I did go back in… I went back in between the first and second galley and actually did add a little bit to… I actually do mention Harvey Weinstein in the book. There was a survey last month where ninety-four percent of women said that they had been sexually harassed or abused by an older, more powerful person. And twenty-one percent said that included a forced sexual act. This is an ongoing problem. And one of the great things about being in entertainment, is you have access to the media. People pay attention to you. In my own case, I was pretty privileged. I didn’t need the job desperately. I had a great support system, so I came out of it not terribly scarred. But not everyone is that lucky, or that unlucky.

You have had a successful television career, and you’re a successful author, as well. Prior to publication of this book, you had also gained notice for writing about sexism within David Letterman’s writing staff. Nearly a full decade ago, 2009. Is that right?

Yeah.

How did writing that piece — which generated a ton of attention, which you also describe in the book — how did that change your career?

So in 2009, David Letterman goes on the air and admits, “I have sex with women I work with.” And it was a strange set of circumstances. He was being blackmailed.

Right, the context was, “I’ve been blackmailed.”

It was weird, because the context was he was the victim. And when he announced on air that he had sex with women he worked with, people laughed and applauded. It’s crazy. It’s on YouTube. You can look it up.

Cause the story was… Right? The headline was, David Letterman says he’s the victim of a blackmail plot. Which was…

Right. And that’s… It was a terrible thing, and he handled it beautifully. He also got a pass for the underlying behavior.

Right.

And no one wants a witch hunt, but we do want a fair and judicious review of witches. And I wrote a piece that talked about my own experiences. Cause believe me, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone who worked on that show when Dave made that announcement.

Right, you’re quite explicit in the story that you wrote for Vanity Fair that he was sleeping with female staff members.

Right. And not just him. You know, part of the issue is, when the leadership — you know, the fish stinks from the head down. When the leadership acts that way, it gives other people permission to act that way. And it was like being at the Court of Versailles. There were cliques and backstabbings. Which made it really hard, cause I just wanted to write jokes.

And so, how much time did you spend sorta prior to publishing that, thinking, “What will this do to my career?” Again, you were in the middle of a very active Hollywood career. Did you think, “There’s gonna be a consequence for me doing this?” Or did you think, “Maybe there’s an upside to me doing this?”

I had just gotten a job as Co-EP [Executive Producer] on “Warehouse 13,” which was an amazing show on the SyFy channel. And I really felt, cause I had worked there, that, and had this long career that I had standing to speak to this issue. And as my friend, Tom Palmer, would say, I don’t have “fuck you money,” but I do have “I don’t like your tone of voice money.”

Yeah.

But the big pivot in the article was, after a discussion of sexual harassment and sexual favoritism, to pivot to gender discrimination in the writer’s room. Because one of the things I had learned is that it has been years since there had been even one female writer at Letterman. And I’ll also add that in thirty-three years on the air, there was never a single person of color in that writer’s room.

So you write this. Again, you can see in the original Vanity Fair. You can see basically a longer version of that in the book as well. You should read them both. What happens to you after the publication of that story? Cause at the time it was a very big deal you wrote this.

I did worry that it might end my career, and it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.

Because?

It was my truth, and I …

You feel better?

You feel better. You’ve been sitting on this information for a long time. You’re helping other people. The idea was never to help my career. And in fact, I thought it would do the opposite. It was to help other’s careers. Cause I got to be successful, but it was really hard. And it didn’t need to be that hard. And I watched too many people, women, drop out. Because it was that hard. And then there’s also all the people who never even tried, because it just didn’t seem doable.

So you think that helped them? Just seeing this in print online and on VanityFair.com was literally a good thing for those people?

Yeah.

And then it didn’t hurt your career. We’re sitting here talking.

Well, it did put me on a path to meeting Sheryl Sandberg. I think becoming an outspoken feminist. I’d always been one, but now I was out of the closet. It was hard in the room at “Warehouse 13.” Every now and then someone would say something sexist. And someone else would make a joke like, “Be careful, Nell’s gonna write an article about you.” And I would say, “Yeah, 19 years from now, you’re gonna be so sorry you said that.”

But there is a thing, right? This is even if you’re not writing exposés. If you are the minority representative in the room, right? You become…

Right, and I was the only woman in that room too.

And this happens to you frequently in your career, and you write about this. You become, you bear a lot of burdens. Even when people mean well, they end up sort of burdening you with all sorts of expectations. And in this case, the worry is, that is gonna define your career. You’re the woman who writes about being a woman who is a writer.

Well, it’s the fear, I think, that the woman is the spy who’s going to tell the tales at a school. Who’s judging you, silently. It was hard for me though. I don’t, I’m both an insider and an outsider.

As I was reading the book, I was thinking about the parallels between, just partly because of what I do, but also because some of the context that has come up in the last year about Susan Fowler writing about Uber and some of the same context.

Yeah. Oh, she’s a hero.

And you literally have the same anecdote at one point there, about you getting a shirt at Letterman that doesn’t fit you.

Oh, that’s right! That’s right.

And that’s kind of like, one of the core parts of her story, right? It’s the leather jackets, that don’t make them for women because why would you make leather jackets for women. Because there are so few of them. But I also think about this a lot. There is a… Even among well-meaning people, there’s a perception that, these nerds in Silicon Valley, and the nerds in the writing room — They’re nerds. So they’re sexist, but they’re fundamentally nerds. They don’t know how to talk to people. And you detail in great length about just what a tortured and unhappy person David Letterman is. Right, these crazy anecdotes about these people that hit him.

Right.

Do you think there’s something particular about these kind of workspaces that lead them to treating women poorly? Or do you think this happens at every workplace, and there’s no particular excuse for this kind of behavior?

Well, studies do show that in hierarchical structures, you do get more harassment. There’s more power concentrated at the top, which means there’s more abuse of power concentrated at the top. And every TV show is very much a hierarchy.

Cause it’s, and we can talk about this a bit more too. But it’s, TV is this thing that’s both collaborative, right? There’s a lot of people who work on a TV script, but generally there’s a person that everyone reports up to.

Right.

Who is a decision maker.

The showrunner, is that, is the title.

Right. But you don’t think there’s something particular about the nerddom of the TV writers room? Or the nerddom of a bunch of coders that explain some of their difficulty with women?

I think it’s an excuse, not an explanation. And I think if they’re over twenty-five and they’re still doing it, then they’re not paying attention. And then it’s willful. It’s a choice.

Yeah, I think it’s a choice that people, in some cases people weren’t aware they were making.

Right.

It’s harder in 2018 to say, “I’m not aware of that choice.”

That’s right. I mean, we’re not talking about people on the spectrum. But in general, that sort of, “I’m oblivious. I get to do whatever I want, and sorry I insulted you. Don’t you have a sense of humor?” It’s like, “Well … Actually I do, but you crossed the line there.”

You know, I tell this story in “Just the Funny Parts,” where we had a director who had an emergency appendectomy. And there was a discussion in the writer’s room, about how long it would take for him to recover. So, I’m the mother of two, and I rarely talk about my kids at work. I have this running gag when someone asks me if I have kids, I say, “Yes, but I’m blanking on their names right now.” But on this particular day, we’re talking about abdominal surgery, and I say, “You know, I had two C-sections and they weren’t that bad.” To which another colleague said, “You mean you’re still tight?” So I deadpanned, “Yes, that was the point of my story.” But that’s the sort of every day, offhand comment that you can expect.

Right, and I didn’t want to step into any of that, cause it’s a great anecdote and I had already read it. But it’s great.

He just got fired, by the way, from the WB.

I just got fired? Oh, he did?

Oh, he did.

Well, I guess that’s my thing. I can’t imagine that happening in a regular, a grown-up workplace. I can imagine it happening, I dunno. But I do think-

It’s not normal.

It’s not normal. I do think, “Oh, but is that the sort of thing where you’re supposed to be making jokes?” Not every joke is as funny as you think it is. Some jokes push the line, and maybe that joke pushed the line a little more. And do you have to allow more leeway in an environment like comedy writing, for instance, to allow yourself to occasionally cross the line. And do you have any, maybe sympathy is the wrong word. Empathy? For dudes who might not fully understand what they’re doing or saying? And this guy got fired? So apparently this was a reoccurring problem.

Oh, that was years and years, and millions of dollars later. And eighteen people had to come forward and say he had been inappropriate, for him to take a tumble. I think we need to spread around the discomfort more, because right now you have a select group that can really say anything they want in the room. And some of us have to look at our feet while they say those things. I was working on “The Muppets,” and some of the upper level guys working on the show had worked on Charlie Sheen’s show, “Anger Management.” And they would routinely refer to actresses as “dumb bitches.” Like, “Oh, and then the dumb bitch says…”

Right, and this isn’t 1975, this is a couple years ago.

No! This is two years ago.

So, don’t do that at work.

I know. And then it’s like, well I don’t want to say anything cause then, I’m no fun and I’m the school marm. And I don’t wanna be that. But it’s not fun to sit there an listen to women be referred to that way.

I’ve been trying to figure out an appropriate place to have an ad break in here. I didn’t want to do it after the c-section joke.

Let’s do it now.

We can do it after Charlie Sheen though, right?

Yeah.

It’s a deal. Okay, we’ll be right back with Nell Scovell.

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I’m back here with Nell Scovell, who’s not unhappy with me, right?

No.

You’re pleased? We’re good? We’re doing well?

We’re best friends.

We’re gonna get there. And if you like this conversation, by the way, I don’t normally do plugs for Kara Swisher, but we’re gonna do a live version of this with Kara sometime this spring. Sometime soon.

In April.

In April.

At the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. I love Kara. She scares me a little though.

She’s not so scary. She takes the sunglasses off, she’s perfectly pleasant.

You have had an amazing career. Even without the David Letterman exposé, even without Sheryl Sandberg, and even without sort of this new chapter in your life. You were the first writer, period, at Spy magazine.

I was!

One of my all-time favorite magazines. You worked at Letterman, like you talked about. You’ve got a, on your book cover here, it lists many of the places you’ve worked at. There’s an appendix that lasts another three or four pages. You’ve been a working writer in Hollywood, which by definition is success. Is that a fair summary.

Well, how do you define success? Because there are people who work entire careers and get very little produced. Which would be very frustrating.

But you get paid, right?

I do get paid.

That’s part of the gig, right? You get paid for a lot of work, often times very little of it shows up. Do you think about how your career would be different if you were starting it off in 2018 where there’s YouTube, and there’s Snapchat and there’s Twitter.

Oh, there’s Twitter, yeah.

And there’s also just a ton of money coming in right now, from Apple and Amazon and Netflix. It seems like there’s a glut of TV, hundreds and hundreds of TV shows being produced. Would this career be as attractive to you as it was when you were breaking in? When it was much harder to get to TV?

There are shows I would love to work on. I watch “Another Period,” which is Riki Lindhome and Natasha Leggero’s show. It’s so funny, on Comedy Central. I love “Broad City.” I’ve always actually, the draw has been certain shows. I loved working on “Murphy Brown,” and I loved working on “Monk.” More than working just on TV in general. For example, when I started, the top show was the “Cosby Show” and “Golden Girls.” But when I sat down to write a spec script, I wrote one for “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” which I imagine very few people have ever heard of. It was Garry’s sitcom before he did “Larry Sanders.”

It’s on Fox, right?

It was.

Yeah. You said you liked it more, I’m with everyone else who likes the HBO show more.

That makes sense.

But do you imagine, since in some ways it seems much easier to get on TV or create something that looks like TV in many ways, many more ways to distribute it. Do you think you would have leapt into it that much earlier? You said, “Oh, there’s fewer gatekeepers, I can go right into, do right what I want.” Or would you say, “Let’s do something else a little harder. It seems like anyone can make one of these things.”

I started thinking about TV, cause I had this whole magazine career. And then I bumped into an editor one day who said to me, “Nell, I don’t mean this as an insult. But I think you could write for television.” And I’d never thought of it before. And one of the main differences between then and now, is we have this cult of the showrunner. Where everyone knows about David Simon, and Joss Whedon or Shonda Rhimes.

Right. And you had to be a very specific person if you knew who Steven J. Cannell was.

That’s right. That’s right.

So, they’re elevated now. That makes it more attractive to you?

I don’t know, I would have been more aware that you could. I didn’t even know that you could be a TV writer.

Like many comedy TV writers, you went to Harvard. Unlike, apparently all of them, you did not join the Lampoon.

No.

How did that happen?

It was scary. I went to one comp meeting, and they-

Tell me what a comp meeting is.

You know, at most schools if you wanna do an extra-curricular activity, you go put your name on a sign-up sheet. Harvard makes its students compete for everything.

Very Harvard.

So, you have to comp for the Harvard Crimson, or comp for the Lampoon. So I went to the first comp meeting, and this guy with a big head was telling us how you write three essays, and then you throw them on the floor. And people write their criticisms on the back, which everyone can read. And it just frightened me.

And so you passed.

I passed.

And still bumped your way out into TV after all.

I did. And in fact, bumped into the guy who was the comp director years later. It was Jeff Martin, who went on to work for “The Simpsons.” And one day he even said to me, “How come you didn’t comp for the Lampoon?” And I was like, “Well, you scared me. You have a very big head.” And he was like, “Yes I do.”

I mentioned this previously, you’ve got an entire chapter that you say, “Here’s how we built an episode of ‘The Simpsons.’” I loved it. Is there a particular point you’re trying to get across by showing how this thing starts with an idea, and gets all the way through execution?

You’re chipping away at marble to make the statue. One of the points I really wanted to make, is how much material you generate in order to get that chiseled, perfect episode.

Twenty-two minutes.

And that room was astonishingly fast and smart. They had, you had people with different skill sets, so I really loved being in it. And I tell this story of sitting next to Sam Simon, when I was getting my notes on my outline. At that time the staff was small enough that we could all sit in a circle in one room. Matt Groening was sitting across from me. I look over at one point, and his hands are folded in his lap, and his head is kind of slumped down, and he’s resting his eyes. And I look over at Sam, and he just mouths to me, “Don’t wake him.”

That’s not in the book, is it?

It is!

Did I miss that? Oh, I missed that part. One of the things that is in the book, because you’re a meticulous note taker, so you’ve got a lot of your notes from various scripts you’ve worked on. You’ve got mark-ups of your scripts that other people have made. Eventually move into email, and you’ve got email exchanges about how to write for David Letterman at the Lincoln Center. It’s a great tool, it’s a great way to break up the book and also just show, not tell. Right?

Well I was a journalist first, so I had a love for primary sources. I also thought TV would go away, and I wanted to hold onto these things so I could prove that I was really there.

Was there a particular moment in your career when you though, “TV is going away, and I need to find a third, or fourth or fifth act. I need something else that I can be doing.” Where did you ever make a conscious pivot into something else?

I never thought TV is going away, but I did think, “I’m a woman, who’s getting older, and TV might not want me anymore.” I did, you know, that’s why I love writing with Sheryl. I think speech writing is a really interesting combination of both journalism and writing dialogue for TV. And I really enjoy that. I moved into directing. But I’m also a challenge junkie. So writing for TV is really easy for me now. I love it, but…

How is writing for Sheryl Sandberg, writing with Sheryl Sandberg, different than writing for TV?

Well, if I’m writing for “Murphy Brown,” then Candace is going to do the lines that I’ve written for her. Unless she has a big issue. Sheryl is brilliant, and she has her own ideas. And we talk about the best way to express them, but it’s less me channeling through a character and more getting in Sheryl’s head.

And so, for “Lean In,” right? That’s her idea. I wanna write about the workplace, the idea of leaning-in. And then are you going and sort of punching up her script? Is it the equivalent of that? Or are you going and doing research to go and flush out idea? What’s the, how did that process work?

You know, it was a true collaboration. And we’re both iterators, so we would send chapters back 40 times, maybe more. And just get it to where we were both happy. She’s an amazing writer, but she’s also running Facebook, and she has two small kids.

When that book came out, I think a lot of folks said, “Ah, she’s on a trajectory, she’s the COO at Facebook, that’s an incredibly powerful job. But she’s clearly gonna be making, she’s now a public figure. She’s on the cover of Time Magazine. You can sorta see where this is heading, she’s gonna end up running the government, or something even bigger.

I wish.

Did you get that sense?

We really stayed in the lane, and “Lean In” was, boy, it was such a passion project for both of us. So, I don’t know. I mean, Dave died two years after “Lean In” came out.

Oh, yeah.

Her husband. That was traumatic and sad and shocking. So I think that obviously had a huge effect on whatever those plans were.

And then you guys wrote a second book about that, about her dealing with grief.

I edited “Option B.” She wrote that with Adam Grant. We all wanted to honor Dave Goldberg with that project. I learned a lot from writing it.

Are you in touch with Sheryl now?

Yeah. I’m going up to do a Facebook live this week.

At the point where, so we’re recording this a couple days after the story broke in the New York Times about data breaches, but they weren’t a data breach. Do you check in with her about stuff like that? Say, “Here’s my suggestion for how to handle this.”

No.

No.

No, I am — Here’s what I know about Facebook. I’m a Facebook user. I was an early adopter. I joined when you needed a .edu address. For a writer, it’s one of the greatest social tools available.

It doesn’t seem like a helpful tool at all for writers. It seems like a great way to not write. You may be more disciplined than I am.

Maybe, I’ve had a lot of little things I’ve put up and then thought, “Hey, that would be a good magazine piece.” So, I’m a big fan of Facebook.

Do you have advice for well-meaning men who run things, about how to improve the workplace?

Yes I do.

Can you share a couple with me?

Number one, hire more women.

They say it’s hard. There’s the “pipeline problem.” I’m setting you up here.

I don’t think it’s a pipeline problem. I think it’s a broken doorbell problem. And I think the talent is out there, I think there are women, people of color, people with disabilities, people in the LBGTQ community who are ready and should be let in that door.

Let me play devil’s advocate.

Yes.

Or white, straight men’s advocate. Cause we need some help.

Which is the same thing. I’m joking.

Maybe there is a pipeline, but it is harder to do this. Right? It is harder to hire from a diverse population. You have to spend more energy doing it. And if I can find a straight white guy who’s good at the job, shouldn’t I hire him? Why should I spend more energy trying to diversify my workplace?

First of all, Warren Buffet said one of the reasons he was so successful is, he was only competing with half the population. So, how do you know you’re getting the best person, and how are you defining the best person? Is it the person who thinks like me? Maybe the best person is someone who doesn’t think like you, exactly, and who has different experiences, different perspectives, different connections.

You’ve got a great anecdote there about moral licensing. Can you explain what that is?

Well, the best explanation is from Malcolm Gladwell. I’m not gonna plug someone else’s podcast-

We’ve had him on the show.

But his very first one, was about moral licensing. So moral licensing is the fancy way to say, “But some of my best friends are Jewish.” And it’s using the fact that you weren’t discriminatory in the past, to excuse actual discriminatory behavior.

“I’m married to a woman.”

That’s right.

“My wife’s a feminist.”

Well, Dan Scavino did that, with, “I can’t be antisemitic. My wife is Jewish.” And then, she just served him with divorce papers today.

Yeah. And then you’re — oh, I’m not even keeping up with the Dan Scavino, poor Dan Scavino. Poor Trump administration. But you bring this up in the context of, you go to a friend who’s running a show and you say, “You haven’t hired any women, you’ve hired one woman in twenty years.” And he says, “That can’t be the case. It can’t be my fault.”

Right.

“I like women. I’m married. I’m a feminist.” And you say, “No, that’s bullshit.

Well, no, he got very defensive and I pulled back because I realized that that tact wasn’t working with him.

What’s the better way to approach someone like that, who’s — because by the way, many people are defensive.

Right. The best way to do it, is to approach someone and say, “I couldn’t help but notice that you don’t have many women on your staff. I know a lot of fantastic female writers, so if you want names let me give you some.” Now the problem is, most of the time they say, “We’re not looking.” And then six months later you find out they hired someone who was a white male, and you go, “Hey, why didn’t you ask me.” And then they get angry with you.

But there’s something to that, right? If you give them enough building blocks they can, sort of, put it together and say, “Well this is my idea, and I did it. I wasn’t forced into doing this.” And so it gives them a little more flexibility and leeway. You’ve noticed, you’ve —

— Can I just say though, they should do it ‘cause it will make their shows better. And I have this great quote from Albert Brooks, “A fairer share of humanity will always produce better comedy.” And that’s the funniest guy on the planet, as far as I’m concerned. And he wrote with a woman, Monica Johnson. He wrote “Lost in America” with her, he wrote “Real Life” with her.

All the really good Albert Brooks movies.

Well, no. “Defending Your Life” is the best, and he did write that one alone. No? You don’t agree?

Mm-mm.

Really?

Nothin’ better than “the nest egg.”

“Don’t say nest, don’t say egg.”

“Desert Inn has heart.”

It’s a thing.

So great.

“Twigs.”

But yeah, that’s the best argument, right? Or that’s one argument you can make, is, “Look, this is objectively better for your business.” And if it takes work, that’s okay. Because it’s work you’re doing that someone else isn’t doing, so take advantage of it.

That’s right.

You’ve got a great multiple coda thing going on with the Letterman story, where eventually you work with him again, you’re very nervous about it. That works well. And then you finally get to talk to him about your book. About what you wrote about his show X number of years earlier. Should we spoil it, or should we leave it open?

Let’s not spoil it, but when I wrote my article in 2009, I was certain I would never have a moment with Dave. He’s very insulated, by that point he was working on a different floor from the writers and you needed a thumbprint to even get in his office.

Even by comedy standards, he’s a weird, eccentric person, right?

Writers said that they didn’t even know he was in the building unless they saw him on the show. So, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to pierce that bubble. Then in 2014, I got hired to write on the Kennedy Center Honors. I got a call from my co-writer, Louis Friedman, who said, “Nell, I thought you should know David Letterman’s going to narrate the Tom Hanks movie.” And I said, “Okay.” And he said, “That means he’ll be there.” And my heart just started pounding. So I did get my third act moment with Dave.

We’ll let people read the book, they can figure out how that went. But, as part of the coda, of the coda, of the coda, you know that since Letterman retired, he started advocating for more diversity in late night entertainment. You’d say Jay Leno has noticed the same thing as well. Any speculation about why people suddenly get religion when they’re no longer running the show?

Well I do think there’s an intersection between sexism and ageism. And that now both Dave and Jay know what it’s like to be replaced by a less experienced, younger man. It’s not fun. But, since I turned in my final draft, Dave’s Netflix show has come out. I noticed of the five executive producers on the show, they’re all men.

So it’s not total religion that he’s gotten.

Oh, no.

Still some work to do.

I think he’s still an atheist.

This is super fun, you should go buy the book. You don’t care if they buy an E-book? You can buy a paperback.

Yes! Absolutely. You can buy it on Kindle.

Hardcover.

Hardcover. I’m classy.

Also, if you buy it on paperback, you gotta wait too long. You can go see Nell talk to Kara Swisher by using Google and figuring out how to go see them at the Commonwealth Club. Nell, this was great.

Oh, I appreciate it. This was fun.


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Netflix’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction proves the world still needs David Letterman

When David Letterman left the Late Show in 2015, it felt like a generational changing of the guard. After over three decades as a late-night host, the comedian was stepping away, letting Stephen Colbert reinvent the show while Letterman enjoyed the free time to do, well, nothing — other than grow a really serious beard. So when Netflix announced last year that he would be coming out of retirement to host a talk show, it raised a couple of questions. What could Letterman do outside the limitations of network television that he hadn’t already done, and would a David Letterman series still seem relevant given that the late-night world has moved on?

The first episode of the show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman, is…

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