It’s been three years since the Foo Fighters played David Letterman off for his final installment of Late Show, his long-running CBS late-night chat show-slash-exploration of one man’s surreal contempt for the vast majority of the entertainment biz. Letterman’s kept himself pretty busy in the intervening span of time, growing a giant wizard beard, starting a new interview show for Netflix, and even trying to do a little good for the world, in the form of tossing his support behind investigations into climate change.
In fact, all of this new, not-Late Show stuff has been so satisfying, apparently, that Letterman’s now saying he wishes he’d quit the series years before he eventually did. Specifically, Letterman dubbed show business a “selfish pursuit” during a longer conversation with fellow comedian—and unofficial selfishness advocate—Jerry Seinfeld this week. (Per Vanity Fair, the two were participating in an event as part of the run-up to this year’s Emmys.) “When you’re in show business, it’s so self-consuming and so egomaniacal that you only look at a very small focus, which is yourself,” said Letterman, who not entirely coincidentally, has recently come under criticism for his shrugging response to questions raised about his show’s meager track record of hiring women writers. “If you have the ability and the energy to do that, you should do it,” he told Seinfeld. “But don’t do it as long as I did. I did it too long. I should have left 10 years ago, because then I could have taken some of that energy and focus and applied it to actually doing something good for humans.”
Seinfeld—a guy uniquely suited to conversation about when to pull the plug on a beloved comedy institution—disagreed, though, albeit for a surprisingly heartfelt reason: “I think it’s a generous pursuit,” he responded. “When you’re giving something to people that makes them happy, this is the best thing we can do in life. If you find yourself with something that’s good, and you go through the hell of trying to turn your sense of humor into a show or a career, sure it’s great for you. But you’re missing the point if you don’t see the good that you’ve done.” (Meanwhile—and at the risk of discounting years of great-if-slightly-tired work Late Show produced between 2008 and 2015—Letterman quitting early would have denied us the transcendent weirdness of Joaquin Phoenix’s infamous I’m Still Here interview, which feels like it would be a real shame to lose.)