Even when David Letterman was mean to him, Jay Leno says he thought it was funny.
Leno wrote a letter to his long-time rival in a personal essay for the Hollywood Reporter on Sunday to congratulate him for receiving this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
In the letter, in which he recalls their early days as comedians in the 1980’s, he says he has always appreciated Letterman – despite their differences.
And while the tribute was generally touching – Leno couldn’t help but remind readers that he received the award first, back in 2015.
‘I’m thrilled that Dave is getting the Mark Twain award,’ he wrote. ‘It’s a great award – it’s Mark Twain! And it gives my Mark Twain Prize [in 2015] credence.’
Jay Leno (pictured left on October 4) wrote a letter to his longtime rival David Letterman (pictured right on May 30) in a personal essay for the Hollywood Reporter on Sunday to congratulate him for receiving this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
And while the tribute was generally touching – Leno couldn’t help but remind readers that he received the award first, back in 2015. Leno and Letterman are pictured together in 1979 on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
The feud between the late-night hosts started in 1991 when Leno got the Tonight Show gig over Letterman – and has been well documented ever since.
The pair started in the industry together and were even buddies at first.
Letterman started out hosting the NBC show Late Night in the early 1980’s – so when Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show, which was on the same network, it was only fair to assume that Letterman would take his place.
But Carson named Leno his successor instead – which is said to be the root of their rivalry.
Two years later he got his own show – The Late Show with David Letterman – which was aired on CBS at the same time as Leno’s show, making their rivalry inevitable.
In Sunday’s letter- Leno started off by reminiscing about their time working together in the early 80s – saying that Letterman had a talent he couldn’t understand, despite being so new to the game. The two are pictured together on Late Night with David Letterman in 1992
Leno described their relationship as between ‘two opposites’, and said that they would sometimes make fun of each other during their shows
BATTLE OF THE LATE NIGHT HOSTS: A TIMELINE OF LENO AND LETTERMAN’S RIVALRY
1982: Late Night with David Letterman premiers on NBC
1987: Letterman sometimes substituted for Carson on The Tonight Show
1991: Johnny Carson leaves The Tonight Show on NBC and (surprisingly) names Leno his successor instead of Letterman
1993: Late Show with David Letterman premiers during the same time slot as The Tonight Show
2010: Letterman and Leno film a superbowl commercial together about their feud. At this point they hadn’t spoken in 25 years
2012: Letterman gives an interview about their rivalry with Oprah and about how he respects Leno’s humor
2015: Jay Leno wins the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
2017: David Letterman wins the Prize for American Humor.
In Sunday’s letter- Leno started off by reminiscing about their time working together in the early 80s – saying that Letterman had a talent he couldn’t understand, despite being so new to the game.
‘Dave’s performance skill wasn’t quite there yet because he hadn’t done it enough. But he was a natural,’ Leno wrote.
‘When I first met him, I asked him, “How can you be so natural up there? I’m scared to death.” He said, “Ah, I just do it.’
Leno described their relationship as between ‘two opposites’, and said that they would sometimes make fun of each other during their shows.
Once – he said Letterman made fun of the way he starts the show by shaking hands with audience members.
He said that Leno put his hands through two holes in a piece of Plexiglas and into rubber gloves before going around and mimicking the way Letterman enthusiastically greeted the audience.
‘It was really funny, it was the exact opposite of what i do, and that was the joke,’ Leno wrote.
‘The one thing about Dave was, even when he was mean to me, it was funny, and that’s all that matters.’
Leno also spoke to the nature of their rift- saying that even though they’re different, they have a ‘mutual admiration for each other’s ability to make each other laugh.’
‘The idea that there was a huge rift between me and Dave – yeah, of course there was. I thin Dave felt really sad he didn’t get The Tonight show. And our shows were very competitive,’ he explained.
‘Of course some of [the rivalry] was serious, but you have to be reasonably thick-skinned if you want to do this for a living.
‘but it’s all right. if it’s funny all bets are off.
‘Comics have a bond: you have more in common with your worst enemy if they are a comic than you do with your best friend, because you share something that regular people just don’t get.’