The Good Villain: Letterman admits his ignorance for all the right reasons

David Letterman is a self-proclaimed “ignorant” man. In his Netflix special My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, this ignorance is paired with openness, curiosity and humility. Letterman interviews a group of people as diverse as you’ll find on American television. From Malala Yousafzai to Barack Obama, Letterman’s five-part special will perhaps be best remembered by the variety and breadth offered by its guests.

As the lives of the interviewees are explored, the experiences and difficulties they have faced are brought to the forefront. Jay-Z says of growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects, “No one survives that. You’re either going to jail or get killed.” Letterman doesn’t shy away from these topics, instead drawing on his own moments of ignorance to flesh them out in captivating and nuanced ways.

The special’s final interview hosts Tina Fey. In this episode, Letterman says that when he had a television show, “People would always say to me, ‘Why didn’t you have any women writers?’ and the best I could come up with is, ‘I don’t know.’ ” Letterman exposes his own malpractices and ignorance to provoke a discussion around workplace diversity, then relinquishes control of the conversation to Fey. Letterman transforms into a passive actor and allows the issue to be illustrated by Fey as fully and deeply as she desires before moving on. In doing so, he provides a platform and a voice to those who can use it to raise awareness about important issues that plague Western society.

As the series’s host, it is Letterman’s responsibility to direct the conversation. His decision to flesh out the limitations of his own perspective to fuel conversations that are at the forefront of civil discussion reveals the character of the series, the guests and Letterman himself.

Mark Turner