TIME Television

What Didn’t Make It Into TIME’s Cover Story on Stephen Colbert

An edited transcript of Colbert's far-reaching, comprehensive interview for his TIME cover

James Poniewozik’s cover story on Stephen Colbert for this week’s issue of TIME paints a portrait of a comedian in transition. Colbert, who wrapped up his tenth and final season of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central last December, has been tirelessly preparing to take the reins of The Late Show on CBS on Sept. 8.

Between meetings about set design and segments for the new show, Colbert talked about his approach to building the late night show from the ground up—not least of all introducing audiences to the man behind the character he played for so many years on Comedy Central. Below is are selections from the transcript of Poniewozik’s interviews with Colbert that didn’t make it into the final story:

How being the youngest of 11 siblings shaped him: Being the youngest of 11 children, [it was] not so much I wanted [my siblings’] attention, but I wanted to be like them. They had my complete attention as a kid, and that was a training ground for what I do because I had a big family, and there was always laughter and attention-grabbing going on. That was my training ground as much as Second City or anything else. My family happens to have an excellent view of itself. We’re big fans of us.

How having older siblings shaped his taste in culture: My music aged up. My books aged up. My interests aged up. I was a 9-year-old kid who knew what was going on in Watergate because [of] my brothers and sisters, who were getting teargased off at college. I was a music kid of the late ‘70s, but my music was—The Big Chill was no discovery for me. I had records from my brothers and sisters like an original 45 of Bill Haley and The Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” that my brother Ed bought when it came out, because he’s 18 years older than I am. Phil Silvers is like a comedic icon to me. Jimmy Durante is a comedic icon in the ways that [someone] my age absolutely should not [like].

How he got turned on to science fiction: All my allowance was spent on Mad Magazines. Then at a certain point it turned the corner and I spent it all on science fiction. My brothers Jimmy and Ed, my eldest two, had been huge science-fiction fans, so I have boxes and boxes of original 1950s and early ’60s pulp sci-fi that I read. It was so old, like you would turn the page and they would snap off. I still have most of them with rubber bands around them to hold them together, like old copies of Stranger in a Strange Land or Mutant by Henry Kuttner or C.M. Kornbluth, really old like nobody reads that stuff anymore.

How he got into comedy and why he didn’t pursue standup: I wanted to be an actor and discovered improvisation in Chicago through a friend who [invited me] to go see this thing called The Herald Improv. I saw it and I was immediately like, I want to do this. That was performance, scene work, ensemble, character. I’ve done things that are like standup since then. There’s a quality to any of the shows that has a standup component to it, and I admire standups, but I actually like playing with people. I find being onstage with just me and my jokes, the mic and audience is a lonely business. I don’t think I could have lived on the road like that.

Why he was ready to say goodbye to The Colbert Report: I still enjoyed it, but to model behavior, you have to consume that behavior on a regular basis. It became very hard to watch punditry of any kind, of whatever political stripe. I wouldn’t want anybody to mistake my comedy for engagement in punditry itself. And to change that expectation from an audience, or to change that need for me to be steeped in cable news and punditry, I had to actually leave. I had to change.

Toward the end of the last show, it was an act of discipline for me to continue to do the character. The discipline was not even just keeping the character’s point of view in mind or his agenda or a bible of his views, but there was also a need to not let people in, not let people see back stage—not necessarily know who I am so that the character can be the strongest suggestion in their mind when I do the show. If I let them know too much about me or our process, then I would be picking the character’s chicken. I don’t want to put so much light behind that particular stained glass or else he would fade completely.

Why it’s incorrect to think he never broke character in The Colbert Report: We would edit any mistake I ever did. People said, “Oh, you never broke” or “You rarely broke.” That’s because we always took it out, because part of the character was he wasn’t a f—up. He was absolutely always on point. Win. Get over. Stay sharp. That was his attitude all the time, and we had to reflect that in the production of the show. None of that is necessary anymore. Now I can be a comedian.

Whether his new show will resemble his old show in any way: You have to be willing to do everything you know how to do. Carson said it to Jay, who said it to Conan, who said it to me. These shows require everything you know how to do. So the idea that there are things that we did over there that we wouldn’t do at the new space, I think, is an unrealistic approach to the need. And whether it fits is a discovery to be made, not a philosophical exercise to engage in before you do it. It’s athletic, not intellectual.

What he did during his time off: My daughter is in college but I’ve got two boys at home. I helped my son go buy wood for his Eagle Scout project. Pick up the kids from school. Hang out with my wife. Go see some family. Went for an open ocean race, sailed.

What it’s been like preparing to take over The Late Show: Yogi Berra said this great thing—or he didn’t—which I love, but I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” That’s what this is like. This is like, in theory what we’re doing with all these cards on the wall is really getting us ready to do the show in the fall. In practice, only doing the show in the fall gets you ready to do the show in the fall. So why am I doing all of these things? I don’t know, other than that’s what I do for a living, and if I don’t do it I feel like I’m not doing my job. I’m not learning anything if I don’t do it.

Why he hosted a public access TV show in Monroe, Mich. in July: I was like, I don’t want to do the first show on the first night that’s terrible. And one of my writers goes, “Why don’t we just go to a cable access station and do a show?” So we did a lot of research and then were like, we like that show. Let’s do Only in Monroe, and everything on the show has to be about Monroe. Monroe was nice. It’s a pretty little town. Had a great burger at Larson’s Bar. Though there were a lot of people in Monroe [who] thought we chose the wrong bar.

What it was like producing a show in a local TV station: Everybody at the station was just great. I mean, it was a state of the art station from 1999. We ran it live at midnight that night. We fed it out of a laptop over their system, practically with a rubber tube, to get it over their system. Their ratings are normally 12 people. I’m not joking. That’s not a joke. Twelve is their average rating for that show. And so there were 12 of us in the studio when we were feeding it out, and after it was over, I checked Twitter. No one had seen it. No one had said anything.

How he’s planning to introduce his audience to the real Stephen Colbert: We’ve got a series of field pieces, packages that are ways for me to try to figure out who that is, as if I don’t know who I am. The unexamined life can be extremely enjoyable, and who knows if I do know who I am. We’re going to see whether I do. I’ll have my own suppositions as to what these answers might be from people and see if their memory of me is the same or whether the police investigator we hired to investigate me finds out. We’re doing a series called “Who Am Me?”

Who he’s most excited to talk to for “Who Am Me?”: My elementary school teacher, my favorite teacher from elementary school, is just so excited. I had such a crush on her. I’m going to talk to her. I haven’t seen her since 1974 but I can’t believe that they found her. She moved away when I was 10 and then she came back just recently, so they found her down in Charleston.

How he approached set design for The Late Show: The number one thing about a theater is where is your focus: am I performing for the room that the camera is capturing, or am I performing for a camera that the room gets to see? That’s the question. I have an instinct as to which one of those it is, but I won’t know until I do it. How many play spaces will I have? Do I just want one? How do I adjust to the fact that I have a live band there every night, which is something I haven’t had before? How adaptable do I want this space to be, digitally? Do I want physical objects? How am I going to play with the fact that I have a balcony? How does it affect me that I go from three cameras to six cameras? All those sort of things that are kind of boring to talk about, but as the guy who sits at the desk and all this is around him, I care about all of it.

The set can’t be the star, but it still has to be very attractive. In some ways, we want the set to look like look that great new apartment Stephen got—I know why he took that show, I’d love to live there. It’s like we’re inviting you into my new pad without denying the existence of the theater. That’s the challenge: Can you create a set that lives within the reality that you’re in a theater but still has the intimacy? The show is extremely intimate, so you want a guide. How do you maintain that intimacy while acknowledging you’re in a Broadway theater at the same time?

What his plans are for the opening credits to the new show: I can’t tell you anything that’s going to be visual, but I can tell you that it was important to me that the city itself, New York, is part of the character of these shows, the energy of being in the city. We’re trying to capture some of the energy, the energy of a day of New York in the opening credits. And that’s what it’s about. It’s all over New York. We’re shooting all over the city.

How he thinks about what he will cover on the show: You have to basically sift through what you like and what you don’t like about performing, or what you really enjoy about your relationship with an audience. I have to give myself the patience to literally use my imagination and go—when I close my eyes—what would I enjoy seeing as a consumer? I don’t mean that as like market testing consumer, I’m literally a fan of comedy. What do I want to see on TV?

What he admired most about David Letterman: His disregard for status and respectability. That’s it. It reminded me of Mad Magazine that way. I love it. Those wrestling shoes he used to wear. That’s it. That’s the disregard for status, those wrestling shoes.

Whether David Letterman offered any advice before Colbert took the reins: We had a very lovely evening. He met me in his offices. He had a bottle of water and he answered questions. He was very nice about it. He just answered questions for about an hour and a half for me, and it was two guys with similar jobs talking shop. It was entirely pleasant, and he was very gracious to me. At the end of the night he showed me how to run the freight elevator and that was it…it was like being handed the keys to a car and someone just saying, “Let me show you how to use the clutch—it sticks.” It was beautiful.

Why he’s grateful that he was settled in life before getting this job: I feel very lucky that I got this kind of gig as old as I was. I was 41 before anybody stopped me on the street, so I hope I had a sense of who I was. I was married; I had all my kids; I had my house; my little suburban lifestyle with my Volvo and my khakis going to the dry cleaners on a Saturday. That’s me. I’m boring—not boring—I’m common. I don’t mean that pejoratively. I’m very common. I happen to have this job that very few people have but I’m very happy that I like khakis and an oxford cloth shirt. I like being boring to a certain extent. I don’t have to be flashy. I get to put all of that into a show and when it’s over I don’t have to be that.

How he knows whether a joke will work: After a while I don’t actually need to hear the audience to hear the audience. I know kind of what the rhythm is, theoretically, on a maybe 75 percent successful scale—like what might be a joke that would fit in a scene or a sketch or a monologue. But not having an audience is agonizing. I miss the audience so much. That’s the hardest part about right now, not being in front of anybody.

How his relationship to the audience has evolved: I learned from a director early on who said you got to learn to love the bomb, and that meant learning not just to feel like you’re going to get through it, but that you actually kind of like that you’re getting nothing from the audience. That took me a long time. It took many, many years for that to be okay. Then you’re really aware of your relationship with the audience. You’re not constantly asking. That’s a tough thing to do with an audience—go out there and constantly go, “Love me, love me, love me.” It’s much better to be perceiving their needs and giving, giving, giving to them. And then they’ll give you something genuine back.

Read next: Five Things You Learn in TIME’s Cover Story on Stephen Colbert

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TIME Television

Five Things You Learn in TIME’s Cover Story on Stephen Colbert

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Doing doughnuts in the Waffle House parking lot, the origin of his accent and more

This week’s TIME cover story is a profile of Stephen Colbert by James Poniewozik, who met with Colbert at the Ed Sullivan Theater—where CBS’s The Late Show has been filmed since the early ‘90s—to learn more about his plans as he prepares to take the helm of the iconic late night show on Sept. 8. In a far-reaching interview, Colbert spoke about transitioning out of his fictional character on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, the conflating of news and comedy and the pronunciation of his last name.

Here are five things we learned:

He was occasionally reckless as a child. For a series of segments for The Late Show, Colbert’s staff visited his hometown to interview friends and acquaintances about what he was like as a young man. The anecdotes they collected include stories about bold moves in the car—fender benders and doughnuts in the Waffle House parking lot, to name a couple—and his accidental destruction of his mother’s crystal chandelier with a football. “I took all the crystals off,” he says, “hundreds of crystals, and rehung them in a new pattern. She never noticed. I told her 30 years later.”

He chose the pronunciation of his last name. When Colbert was younger, his parents allowed him to choose between emphasizing the first or second syllable of his last name. He chose to pronounce it “col-BEAR,” thinking it had a more worldly ring to it. The South Carolina-bred comedian also worked deliberately to shed his Southern accent.

He’s great at trivia. While showing Poniewozik around the theater, Colbert spouted a wealth of knowledge about the building’s history (the original 1950s CBS eye logo, for one thing, was designed by William Golden). He also mentioned, unsolicited, that Abe Lincoln was a wrestler with a penchant for yelling “I’m the big buck of this lick!” and challenging strangers to fight.

He’s a self-described control freak: Colbert weighed in heavily on the set redesign for The Late Show, as production crews worked to replace David Letterman’s style with that of his successor. He had opinions on everything from the upholstery to the exposed brick walls to the layout of mirrors in the guest makeup room. “I’m a complete obsessive-compulsive control freak,” he says. “I like to know where the data cable is coming in from the street.”

He worried that some fans of The Colbert Report saw him as a political figure more than a comedian. Many audience members saw Colbert, as Poniewozik explains, almost as a “political folk hero.” But his primary goal was always comedy. “People had [political] expectations early on in that show following the Correspondents’ Dinner, which is why I almost never spoke about that,” Colbert says, referring to his blistering takedown of President George W. Bush in 2006. “I didn’t want people’s expectations that I was anyone’s champion to overcome our intention, which was comedy. I don’t want to be anybody’s champion. That doesn’t sound funny.”

TIME Television

Stephen Colbert Announces the Rest of His Opening Week Lineup for The Late Show

speaks onstage during the 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert' panel discussion at the CBS portion of the 2015 Summer TCA Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 10, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.
Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images Stephen Colbert speaks onstage during the 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert' panel discussion in Los Angeles on Aug. 10, 2015.

Guests include Amy Schumer, Elon Musk and Stephen King

Stephen Colbert has already given viewers a taste of what they can expect from the first week of The Late Show, beginning Sept. 8: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and perennial A-lister George Clooney will grace his couch on night one while Kendrick Lamar provides musical entertainment the following evening.

Now CBS has released the rest of the first week’s lineup, and it’s a veritable potpourri of writers, entertainers and business executives. For his second show, on Sept. 9, Scarlett Johansson and SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk will pay a visit. On Sept. 10, Colbert will interview Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, with a performance by Toby Keith. And on Friday, Sept. 11, Amy Schumer and Stephen King will round out the week, with musical guest Troubled Waters.

If Colbert’s first week at the helm of the late night empire is any indication of what’s to come, we can expect to see more interaction with musical guests—as his lineup suggests that he will interview musicians in addition to their performances—as well as a healthy mix of guests from inside Hollywood and beyond.

TIME

Watch Amy Schumer Tell Jon Stewart Who’s the Coolest Chick You’ll Ever Meet

They talk about the Lafayette shootings and her friendship with Jennifer Lawrence

Comedian Amy Schumer kicked off the final week of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart where she lamented the tragic shooting at a screening of her latest film, Trainwreck and talked hitting the Hamptons with Jennifer Lawrence.

Standing next the Hunger Games star in pictures, the comedian told Stewart she felt like her “coach.”

“She’s the coolest chick you’ll ever meet,” Schumer said of Lawrence. “In all the pictures we took together I look like her coach. I look like I just got finished telling her to take a knee.”

The two chatted it up about Schumer’s acting chops given that the comedian turned down an opportunity to host the Daily Show after Stewart leaves. “You’re like an actress-star,” Stewart told Schumer. Earlier on Monday, Schumer spoke at a press conference with Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who is also her cousin, where the two called for stricter gun control laws.

” I was like legit heartbroken just to get that news,” the actress told Stewart about the shooting. “I got a call and I had a lot of missed calls so assumed there was a sex tape of me out, or something…To hear that news, it broke my heart. It was so horrible.”

Watch the full clip below.

 

TIME Television

Conan Does His Best Stripper Dance for Magic Mike XXL

And it's not great

When Conan O’Brien’s female colleagues heard their boss would be joining them for a midnight viewing of Magic Mike XXL, they may not have expected him to bust some moves to match the stripping action up on the screen. But being Conan, of course that’s exactly what he did.

The late-night host may not totally get the appeal of a movie about male strippers, but he does know how to do that tearaway track pants trick… to reveal jeans underneath.

TIME Late Night

Watch The Stars of True Detective Make Shocking Confessions to Jimmy Fallon

Including: "At that particular time we were at a party on the other side of town doing ecstasy"

The stars of HBO’s upcoming second season of True Detective paid a visit to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon Thursday night to play a little game called True Confession, where Fallon, Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn took turns confessing to something pretty unbelievable, and the others guessed whether it was real or not.

Farrell’s first confession: “When I was a late teen I got brought in for questioning as a suspect in an attempted murder.”

“This is like the Jinx!” Fallon says, as they pressure him for details. It is, in fact, a true story, but Farrell wasn’t guilty, as he explains, he was on the other side of town doing ecstasy at the time.

“I got my head stuck in a fence and my grandma used mayonnaise to squeeze me out,” Fallon confesses. And it’s true, he was stuck for about an hour when he was a young boy, which is why he doesn’t like mayonnaise today.

Vaugh, meanwhile, reads off his card explaining that he was once in a production of The King and I, but when questioned about what he sang, he plays it off quite well to make Farrell incorrectly believe he’s lying.

The best part of the bit, as we’ve learned over the course of Fallon’s reign of The Tonight Show, is watching him crack up when he’s trying to be serious.

True Detective season two premieres on HBO June 21 at 9pm EST.

TIME Late Night

Johnny Carson Reigns as America’s Favorite Late-Night Host, Poll Finds

Johnny Carson On 'The Tonight Show'
Ken Regan—Camera 5/Getty Images

Twenty-three years after retiring from The Tonight Show — and a decade after his death — Johnny Carson remains the most popular late-night TV host, and it’s not even close, according to results of a scientific poll released Tuesday.

Carson, who hosted the NBC show from 1962-1992, was identified by 25 percent of Americans who were asked the open-ended question: “Who is your favorite late-night television talk show host of all time?”

The Quinnipiac University Poll surveyed 2,105 Americans by telephone.

Coming in second was David Letterman, who earned 13 percent of the vote, though the recently retired host was beat by “none,” which scored 14 percent of the vote.

The Quinnipiac poll broke down the results into four different age groups, and Carson was such a dominant choice among older Americans that it more than made up for the fact that only 1 percent of people ages 18-29 called him their favorite host.

In third place overall was Tonight Show host Jay Leno, with 7 percent. He was followed by his successor, Jimmy Fallon, with 6 percent. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien of TBS each got 3 percent of the vote, while Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart got 2 percent.

Even Bill O’Reilly cracked the Top 16 list that Quinnipiac released Tuesday, though he’s not technically a late-night talk-show host (his Fox News Channel show airs at 5 p.m. on the West Coast).

Quinnipiac also asked respondents to name their favorite host currently on TV, and Fallon won with 20 percent of the vote, compared with 11 percent for second-place Kimmel.

Third in the “currently on TV” category was O’Brien (6 percent) followed by Stewart (2 percent). Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert — who gets Letterman’s old show in September — was next with 1 percent.

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.

More from The Hollywood Reporter:

TIME Television

Watch Justin Bieber Sing Car Karaoke with James Corden

The Bieb also revealed how many times he wears his underwear in a row

While you were still crying over David Letterman’s late night departure, James Corden was asking Justin Bieber if he ever makes love to his own music. While the answer to that was a sad no, there were some other interesting revelations on Wednesday night’s Late Late Show.

In the clip, Corden and Bieber drive around Los Angeles, shouting out to fans on the street and singing along to Bieber’s hit songs “Baby” and “Where Are U Now.” In between all the singing and seat dancing, Corden managed to get some dirt on the singer, like the fact that he only wears underwear once before throwing it out. (As a Calvin Klein model, perhaps he feels he has to do his part to keep the company in business?) Bieber also showed off his impressive skills with a Rubik’s Cube, which has to be seen to be beliebed.

TIME Television

David Letterman Leaves Us, Laughing

The late-night legend's last episode was emotional (but not maudlin) and, as it should be, very funny.

Would he leave us laughing or crying?

The David Letterman who crashed late night on NBC in 1982 was hilarious, but not exactly the sentimental type. (A 1986 Viewer Mail segment ended with him being dragged off by the cops for indecency after trying to refute a viewer who said “you don’t have a romantic bone in your body.”) In his later CBS years, he learned to open up—about his heart surgery, 9/11, becoming a father. But there was always that reserve, that distance, that resistance to being self-serious.

So Wednesday night, his last as a TV host after three and a half decades, the man who introduced TV to a new kind of comedy show left us with … a comedy show. Letterman’s last Late Show was nostalgic but not maudlin, gracious but not mournful, valedictory but not a eulogy. Letterman’s last minutes behind the desk were as heavy on the laughs as on the thank-yous, an hour-plus of an entertainer being an entertainer and enjoying it. It was true to Dave, it was fun and it was terrific.

And why not? Letterman was leaving on his own timetable, not being defenestrated by the network. He remade his art and his business. He got to spend more than three decades of his career doing more or less what the hell he wanted on national TV and left widely acknowledged as the best at what he did (whatever his ratings). Sure, goodbye is sad, but then again—as he said in sheepishly acknowledging the effusive, lugubrious praise of the past weeks—”Save a little for my funeral.”

So the night kicked off with typical self-effacement, as well as by-special-celebrity-guests-effacement. After a clip of President Gerald Ford saying (after Nixon’s resignation) “Our long national nightmare is over,” Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama repeated the line at Letterman.

He took the stage with a brisk monologue including one last joke at the disappointment he could never stop picking at: “It’s beginning to look like I’m not going to get the Tonight Show!” Stephen Hawking, he said, called to say he’d crunched the numbers on Letterman’s more than 6,000 shows and said, “it works out to about eight minutes of laughter.” And the night’s classic-quality Top Ten list (Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Dave), delivered by frequent guests, was like a mini-celebrity roast, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in the presence of Jerry Seinfeld, saying, “Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale!”

Trust Letterman to deflate showbiz hyperbole and cheerfully let some of the air out of the own celebratory float we’ve been parading around for him. The bulk of the middle of the show was a look back at his career, but it felt less like an In Memoriam than a highlight reel assembled by a man who was simply damn proud of the work he and his crew had done.

The sweetest of the prepared reels was devoted to a day behind the scenes at Late Show: polishing and pitching jokes, riffing one-liners over White House Correspondents Dinner footage, dealing with the million small details of the daily production. What came across wasn’t grieving but pride in the machine that Worldwide Pants had built over the years, and the comedy force that began with Letterman and Merrill Markoe’s bizarrely brilliant daytime show in 1980 (generously highlighted in the clip reels).

At one point in the backstage film, the camera stopped on Paul Shaffer, with a droll observation about what it’s like to be the boss: “There’s a parade of people coming and they all say the same thing: ‘Dave, I know you hate this.’ And then they go on to do what he hates.”

It was in the last segment, as the episode ran into overtime, that Letterman unleashed his emotion, settling in for one of the “desk talks” that have been the highlights of his second great period at CBS. But characteristically, his sentiment was fond, not wistful.

He remembered touring the Ed Sullivan Theater before moving to CBS: “It was a dump… crawling with rats—big rats.” He thanked CBS President Les Moonves and Biff Henderson, the gang in the control room—”Let’s keep it to three drinks tonight!”—and his writers. He thanked, of course, Paul and the band. And he thanked—with the kind of personal touch he’s been showing in his later days—his son Harry and his wife Regina, while giving a shout-out to Harry’s friend Tommy. (The closing image of the show was a home video of Harry skiing.)

Were his eyes a touch pink? Maybe, but his voice was steady. He seemed to feel good—in the zone—knowing, maybe, that he’d just put on a good hour of TV. His last minutes on the air were like his favorite song, “Everlong,” which the Foo Fighters played over hundreds of stills from Letterman history: emotional but driving, ever letting up, hurtling forward to the end. Until simply, steadily, honestly: “All right, that’s pretty much all I got. The only thing I have left to do, for the last time on a television program: Thank you and good night.”

David Letterman, our host, our comedy uncle, our after-hours pal, delivered the laughs one more time. I would have to supply the tears myself. Sorry, Dave. I know you hate this.

TIME Television

David Letterman’s Top 10 Sports Moments

Highlights include Larry and Magic, training with the Yankees and Buddy Biancalana

Luckily for sports fans, David Letterman has long loved the games—he even co-owns an IndyCar racing team. In his 33 years on TV, he’s interviewed countless big-name athletes, and done many goofy bits involving sports. As he signs off on Wednesday night, here’s a top 10 list for Letterman and sports:

10. Little Buddy

As Pete Rose chased Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record in 1985, Letterman poked a little fun at diminutive Kansas City Royals shortstop Buddy Biancalana, who finished his career a .205 hitter. But Biancalana was stellar (for him) in the 1985 World Series, hitting .278 over seven games, and after KC won it all, Biancalana appeared on Late Night for some self-deprecating fun.

9. The Nash Report

Letterman knew when to enlist others for comedy help—look no further than Rupert Jee. Here, Steve Nash covers the 2009 NBA Finals, between the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic, for the Late Show, and asks analyst Jeff Van Gundy a pretty, er, direct question about his brother, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy.

8. Albert Achievement Awards

For those of us who grew up without cable or ESPN—some of us really did—Marv Albert’s Letterman appearances were the only place to see sports bloopers. Earlier this year, Marv picked out his all-time favorite follies. Yes!

7. Revenge Pitch

In 1985, Letterman called Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Terry Forster a “fat tub of goo.” Later in the year, Forster paid Letterman a visit, sporting what could only be a 1981 World Series ring, thank you very much (Forster pitched for the champion Los Angeles Dodgers that season). Forster entered the studio chomping on a “David Letterman” sandwich. “It had a lot of tongue on it,” he said.

6. Loosening Larry and Magic

Later in Letterman’s career, he became a master conversationalist, more willing and able to put subjects at ease. He puts his skills on display in this interview with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird a few years back, probing the dynamics of their relationship. Magic, more outgoing, was inclined to be friendly with his rival; Bird, an introvert, wanted none of it. “He’s got that big smile,” Bird said of Magic. “My goal is to take three of them teeth home with me.”

5. Oh, So That’s How You Do It!

In 1987, Minnesota Twins knuckleballer Joe Niekro was suspended for 10 days after an emery board flew out of his pocket while the umps searched him for suspicious items. So naturally, Niekro went on Letterman to show how to scuff a baseball—while coyly denying he did it that night.

4. Cubs Win!

Will Ferrell broke out his Harry Caray imitation in a recent appearance: the legendary Cubs broadcaster asked “what are we going to do about this wall in Berlin?” and shouted the names of players who haven’t been on the Cubs in years. “And the 2-0 pitch is in there to Dunston, strike on the corner!”

3. Spring Training

Dave heads up to Yankee Stadium in 1992 to workout with Yanks manager Buck Showalter and coach Frank Howard. They discuss the fine art of spitting.

2. Olympic Mom

During the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, dispatches from Dorothy Mengering—Letterman’s mom—became appointment TV. Her gentle midwestern demeanor, insistence on calling Letterman “David,” and dry, one-sentence answers to her son’s nagging questions made Mengering an ideal foil. “Tonya! Tonya!” Mengering shouted, barely audible, while Tonya Harding stood a few feet away. She also scored a sit-down interview with Nancy Kerrigan. “Would you like cocoa?” she asked.

1. Baseball Biff

Speaking of comic foils, for my money nobody beats Letterman stagehand Biff Henderson, especially when he interacted with athletes. Somehow, Letterman convinced the staid, secretive New York Yankees to let their home ballpark become a Late Night/Late Show playground. And Biff took advantage: a few hours before a 1998 World Series game—a World Series game!—he was on hand to ask silly questions and lead “Yanni” chants. For viewers, his laryngitis was well worth it.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geEQjDV_8E0]

Read next: Everything You Need to Know About David Letterman’s Last Show

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