I’ve always admired people who can walk into an awkward situation and handle it with a quick wit, improvisation and aplomb. It’s a quality that I constantly strive to cultivate in myself. It’s also a quality that David Letterman has often been able to tap while interviewing some of his more difficult guests, most recently with a heavily bearded (and heavy sedated) Joaquin Phoenix on Wednesday’s Late Night show:
Letterman took would’ve been a ten-minute disaster for many other hosts and with a combination of “steering”, harnessing the audience’s goodwill toward Phoenix and gentle ribbing (“Can you tell us about your days with the Unabomber?”) turned it into one of his more memorable interviews. He even managed to evoke a smile and compliment from his spaced-out guest: “You’re a funny dude.”
Kudos to Dave for pulling it off!
Bonus reading material: Time has compiled Letterman’s top ten disastrous interviews.