It's been a few years since Jay Leno and David Letterman retired from their respective late-night shows, and it seems like the infamous rivalry between them may have finally cooled down. Tonight, Letterman will be receiving the 2017 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and Leno has written a tribute in honor of his former rival. The piece touches on some different aspects of their complicated relationship, with Leno remembering that some of his favorite moments of his career were appearing on Letterman's show and freaking him out with a meatball sandwich. Leno recalled:
The best days of my career were doing Late Night With David Letterman. My favorite thing to do before the show was when Dave was coming down the hall to makeup, I would hide around the corner and I would get a huge meatball sandwich. When I knew Dave was coming, I would start to eat it, and he'd be like, 'What are you doing? How can you eat before you go on?' I would keep trying to get him to eat it and then I would start bringing the sandwich on the show. We were just two opposites, you know?
Jay Leno wrote a tribute for David Letterman in The Hollywood Reporter, in which he discussed their relationship as two competing talk show hosts. In the early days of Jay Leno's career, he was a standup comic who, in addition to playing The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, also appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. The more outwardly friendly Leno and the more prickly Letterman were opposites, and Leno would -- for some reason -- tease Letterman with a meatball sandwich. This was one of his favorite things to do and he would even bring the sandwich with him onstage.
Of course, soon after this, Leno wouldn't be teasing Letterman with meatballs. The two had a famous rivalry that began when Jay Leno was named the host of The Tonight Show over David Letterman. Letterman had been hosting Late Night following Johnny Carson for some time, while Leno was the regular substitute host for Carson. Many believed -- including Letterman -- that Letterman would be named as Carson's successor. The job eventually went to Leno, and Letterman soon left NBC for CBS to appear on a new late-night show in the same time slot as The Tonight Show. The rest is pretty much history.
The late-night competition has cooled down significantly since the two of them retired. While there is still competing amongst the networks (there was much ado about Stephen Colbert beating Jimmy Fallon in the ratings), the animosity is pretty much gone. The late-night hosts even appear on each other's shows from time to time; Conan O'Brien just recently appeared as a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
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