A look back at David Letterman vs Charles Grodin, the original Jimmy Kimmel vs Matt Damon

Gregory Wakeman
Contributor
[Image by NBC]

Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon’s faux rivalry has been a cult pop culture delight for over a decade now. Which is especially surprising considering its inauspicious start, which occurred after Kimmel joked at the end of one of his shows that he didn’t have time to speak to Matt Damon, despite the fact that he was the biggest actor in the world at the time and Kimmel had just interviewed some embarrassingly poor guests.

It quickly became a running gag, as Kimmel began apologising to Damon, who was now in on the joke, every night. It even blew up into a viral hit when the actor recorded the song “I’m F***ing Matt Damon” with Kimmel’s then girlfriend Sarah Silverman as a retort. There have been countless more incidents since, with the most recent coming at the Oscars in front of millions watching at home.

But there is actually precedent for such shenanigans between an actor and a talk-show host. That’s because, starting in the late 1970s and lasting for well over three decades, Charles Grodin (‘The Heartbreak Kid’, ‘Beethoven’, ‘Midnight Run’) would regularly and hilariously bump heads with the likes of Johnny Carson and David Letterman during his own late night appearances.

Charles Grodin’s deadpan passive-aggressive shtick was so hard to interpret that people even mistook it for genuine hostility. In the process he created one of the great late night characters. But while Charles Grodin’s run-ins with Carson were an uncomfortable yet hilarious delight, it was the irascible Letterman that really knew how to push his buttons.

Arguably the finest example came in May, 1990, when Charles Grodin appeared on Late Night With David Letterman to promote his play ‘The Price Of Fame’, only for Letterman to mistakenly call it ‘The Prince Of Fame’, and immediately provoke the wrath of the actor. It starts to unfold from the 9 minute and 25 second mark.

Things got so bad that in 1991 Charles Grodin even appeared on the show with an attorney after Letterman had said some rather libellous comments regarding the actor the week before.

One of the most unusual skits involving Charles Grodin on ‘Late Night’ saw the actor take to the stage, only to learn that David Letterman was actually at home waiting for the cable guy to arrive, and he’d conduct the interview from their with Grodin alone in the studio.

There’s plenty more where that came from, though. There’s the time that Grodin can’t help but break character as Letterman quizzes him about the impending success of ‘Midnight Run’, while he also spoke about why he took on such an abrasive persona with Johnny Carson, and if your interest has really been piqued then you should check out the episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’ that Grodin hosted where he repeatedly forgot that it was live.

All of which is proof that while Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon are undoubtedly hilarious, they’re far from trailblazers.

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