David Letterman is back with a new Netflix chat-show that is, well, not much like a chat-show. No band or jazz-hands or opening gags, just Letterman with a monthly one-hour show and a single mega-famous guest.
For the first episode that guest is one Barack Obama. Get the popcorn! Except, uh, maybe not all of it, as Obama doesn’t talk about Donald Trump at any point. In fact, despite covering subjects like race and social media and fake news, he’s never even asked about Trump.
And so it becomes clear: Letterman has clearly been instructed, under threat of Guantanamo, that he is not to mention the T word under any circumstances. It’s a frustrating watch to say the least. What’s more fun, however, is the almost heroic way both men go out of their way not to mention the Trump in the room. Don’t believe us? Let GQ show you the ways.
The moment Obama talks about being presidential without mentioning Trump
The first open goal. “When you’re in the Oval Office,” says Obama, “you feel, right, now I’ve got to be presidential.” This is promising. And who is notpresidential, President Obama sir? “In fairness,” he continues, “the economy was collapsing and I had two wars I had to deal with… I think people forget how bad things were.” He does not mention Trump.
The moment Letterman pretends that Obama is still the President in the hope he’ll talk about Trump
An interesting technique, this. Having clearly agreed not to ask about Trump on pain of being assassinated by the Secret Service, Letterman pretends Obama is still in office, and lets the crowd’s cheers do the work for him.
“The challenge we still have to address is how do we make an economy in this globalised technological environment that’s working for everybody?” says Obama at one point, making more sense in one sentence than Trump has in a lifetime.
Letterman, sensing the disparity, replies: “To hear you describe this in a way that I can understand just makes me so happy that you’re still President.”
The crowd cheers. Does Obama take the bait? No. Obama does not take the bait.
The moment Letterman tries to get Obama to mention Trump by talking “hypothetically”
“Let’s just say there’s a democracy,” says Letterman, really distancing himself from specifics, “and the voting process is being monkeyed with by foreign countries.”
“Uh-huh, hypothetically,” says Obama, smiling.
“Hypothetically,” agrees Letterman. “What is more damaging to that democracy, would it be the diminishment by the head of the democracy of the press…” – at which point Obama laughs – “Or would it be somebody screwing around with the actual voting process?”
Nice try Dave. Obama picks a third option: “One of the biggest challenges to our democracy is that we don’t share a common baseline of facts.”
The moment Obama talks about Fox News without mentioning Trump
“What the Russians exploited but was already here,” says Obama at one point, “is that we are operating in complete universes. If you watch Fox News, you are living on a different planet than you are if you listen to NPR.” He does not mention a certain famous Fox News viewer who lives on a different planet. He is not asked about a certain Fox News viewer who lives on a different planet. They discuss Dave’s beard.
The moment Obama talks about fake news without mentioning Trump
Obama mentions that, when he was campaigning, his people built a social media machine that he considers “the most effective in modern political history”. And so, naturally, he says, “I had a very optimistic feeling about [social media], but what we missed is the degree to which those people who are in power, special interests, foreign governments can, in fact, manipulate that and propagandize that.” He does not mention Trump or Russia. He is not asked about Trump or Russia.
The moment Trump talks about Twitter without mentioning Trump
“I was of the impression that Twitter would be the mechanism by which truth was told around the world,” says Letterman, straight-faced, getting the biggest laugh of the interview and steering the conversation inexorably towards a certain famous Twitter user who does not spread truth around the world. “If you are getting all your information via algorithms being sent through your phone,” Obama simply replies, “it is just reinforcing whatever biases you have.” No famous Twitter users are named. No famous Twitter users are asked about.
The moment Letterman pretends for a second time that Obama is still President in the desperate hope he’ll finally talk about Trump (and it sorta, weirdly, almost works)
But more specifically, it does not work. “Now Mr President,” says Letterman, “I know you have to get back to the Oval Office…” Cue clapping and another awkward laugh from Obama. “You know,” Obama says. Yes. Yes… “Let me say this.” Say it. Say it… “If it were not for the constitution…” He’s going to say it. He’s actually going to bloody say it. “There’d be Michelle.” The crowd goes nuts; they road and cheer. The rest of us think: Is he saying he’d have performed a coup? “No, no, no,” Obama says, quietening them down. “You guys misunderstand me. The point is I’m prevented from running again by the constitution, but even if it were not for the amendment, Michelle would leave me, and I want her around!” At this point you realise he’ll never mention Trump. He never mentions Trump.
The moment, at the end, Letterman says, “Without a question of doubt, you are the first President I truly and fully respect”
He does not mention other Presidents that he does not truly and fully respect.
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction starts on Netflix today.
This content was originally produced by British GQ.