Neither Fey nor Letterman is onscreen any longer on a nightly nor weekly basis to talk and joke us through the world’s often-crazy headlines, so when they sat together for THR, they had plenty to talk about. Trump, obviously. But also parenting their own kids, and how comedy icons such as Lorne Michaels, Mitzi Shore and Charna Halpern served as comedy parents and/or mentors to them.
Letterman’s interview with Fey advances her receiving the Shelly Lansing Leadership Award today.
And there are revelations, too.
Fey acknowledges she didn’t think she deserved a previous award so soon: The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Letterman Do you like getting awards?
Fey This one makes me a little nervous. Have I really done enough to warrant this? Sometimes I tell myself, “Well, what would a guy do? He’d take it.” They wanted to give me that Mark Twain Prize [for humor] in 2009, and I said, “I don’t think this is appropriate.” And Lorne Michaels said to me, “Just take it while your parents are alive,” which is very smart.
For his part, Letterman wondered aloud about teaching his son good manners and right from wrong, after the two comedians discussed how German photographer Leni Riefenstahl behaved under Adolf Hitler. Which brings them back to Trump. And how to behave in the world today.
Fey Let’s talk about that. Because I think if you were on TV, you’d be helping us with this, Dave: How are we going to proceed with any kind of dignity in an increasingly ugly world? And I actually was thinking — because I’ve got to write something for when I get the award — to use Sherry Lansing as an inspiration because she was a lady who worked in a very, very ugly business and always managed to be quite dignified. But in a world where the president makes fun of handicapped people and fat people, how do we proceed with dignity? I want to tell people, “If you do two things this year, watch Idiocracy by Mike Judge and read [Nazi filmmaker] Leni Riefenstahl’s 800-page autobiography [Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir] and then call it a year.”
Letterman Wait a minute. Tell me about Leni Riefenstahl.
Fey She grew up in Germany. She was in many ways a brilliant pioneer. She pioneered sports photography as we know it. She’s the one who had the idea to dig a trench next to the track for the Olympics and put a camera on a dolly. But she also rolled with the punches and said, “Well, he’s the fuhrer. He’s my president. I’ll make films for him.” She did some terrible, terrible things. And I remember reading [her book] 20 years ago, thinking, “This is a real lesson, to be an artist who doesn’t roll with what your leader is doing just because he’s your leader.”
Letterman My impression of this woman is that she was the sister of Satan.
Fey: She was in many ways. But what she claimed in the book was, “He was the president, so what was I supposed to do?” And I feel a lot of people are going to start rolling that way.
Letterman Now here’s something I think about with my son: I know firsthand that the behavior of men is often questionable. Maybe even immoral, maybe even illegal. I have had to learn how to behave with women because nobody ever taught me. I learned it from my peers, and that’s not always a topic that peers are good at passing on. I can tell you that the world is full of jerky men.