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Exclusive: Brian Schweitzer talks about his David Letterman experiences

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David Letterman tonight ends his career as a late night TV host, something he’s done for 33 years and 6,028 broadcasts.

To honor Dave, one of our all-time favorite late night hosts, we’re doing a series of interviews with people from Montana who appeared on Letterman’s program.

Brian Schweitzer
Brian Schweitzer

First up is former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who was on the “Late Show” on April 25, 2012. He appeared on the show to promote Montana tourism.

Schweitzer said he and Letterman have become friends over the years and one of the most interesting things about Dave is how on his show would always be the center of attention. When not on the show, however, he said Letterman much prefers solitude — a big reason why he chooses to live on a ranch in Saypo, Montana, just west of Choteau.

Schewitzer was gracious enough to talk to us as he’s finishing up his first-ever book, titled “It’s the Batteries, Stupid,” which he said will be out soon.

BSSB: Mr. Governor, thank you for speaking with us. As you know, David Letterman is retiring this week from the public spotlight. You were on his show not too long ago, what were some of your first impressions?

BS: Well, I was still governor, and I was in my last few months. Dave and I are friends and I just think he’s a great guy. I’ve been with him on his ranch and we’ve gotten together for some other things and I always enjoy his company. If you’re watching the David Letterman show, when a guest comes on, that person’s eyes light up, they shake hands with Dave, and he does this well – he makes them seem like they’re old buddies, maybe there drinking beers and getting together on set.

What a lot of people don’t know is that Dave is a real introvert. He doesn’t enjoy the sort of small talk with celebrities or anybody for that matter. So as a guest, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve also been on the Colbert Report before and that’s quite a bit different than being on Letterman.

BSSB: So, when it came time to talk on his show, what were some of the things you guys discussed?

BS: Well, with Letterman, you go into the green room and the producer visits with you about some of the topics that might come up, but they say that Dave might take the conversation somewhere else, it all depends on him.

So when my time to go on the show came, Dave and I started talking and at the time, one of the big topics around the state was the Montana Alberta Tie-Line. So, Dave starts asking me all about electricity and transmission and eminent domain and why would an electric line be crossing a rancher’s land if the rancher didn’t want it?

I was a little surprised because I didn’t know that topic would come up and neither did Dave, I think it was sort of stream-of-consciousness.

But you know, the biggest surprise was toward the end of the interview when Dave said to me ‘Brian, according to recent polling you’re one of the most popular politicians in America, you routinely have an approval rating of over 60 percent. You’re term-limited as governor of Montana, so what are you going to do next?’

So I thought about it for a minute, turned to Dave and said, ‘Well Dave, I’m going to fish in the morning, I’m going to drink whiskey in the afternoon and if someone calls me with a problem, I’m going to give them the phone number of somebody who cares’ and that’s how it ended. What’s funny is not too long ago I saw at this distillery in Ennis where they have T-shirts that they sell that say “Fish in the Morning, Drink Whiskey in the Afternoon.”

Schweitzer lettermanBSSB: What were some of the things about the experience you remember that people who have never been on the show might not ever know, especially now that Dave’s retiring?

BS: I’ve been on lots of TV shows, take your pick — I’ve done Stephanopoulos, all the Sunday news shows, and the national news shows where there is a debate or discussion including shows like Crossfire on CNN and others.

You kind of get together with all of the people participating and talk about what their positions will be, where you will be and it’s not all scripted but you have an idea of how it’s going to happen in terms of how much time it’s going to take and what not.

There’s none of that with Dave. You walk out there and you’re on an island. I knew that Dave’s not a gossipy guy and he’s a good conversationalist, though, but one thing I didn’t know until I got there was how when you walk out there, go to the table and sit down, you know there are audience members there because you can hear them, but you couldn’t see the people’s faces because the lights were so bright and hot. I couldn’t even see the band because the lights are so bright on you in that set.

It’s interesting because I’ve done Bill Maher’s show a few times, I’ve done Colbert’s old show and you can actually see the crowd, but with Letterman’s show, you can’t. The lights were so very bright and hot and in fact the whole set is really hot up there.

BSSB: You mentioned you’ve done the Colbert Report. He’s said he’s retiring the character Colbert when he takes over for Dave this year, but what was that show like compared to Letterman?

BS: With Colbert, you had to get into that saddle and hold onto the saddle horn and hope nothing bad happens. I was the most nervous about doing his show because you’re not in control of anything there. When I was there, I had never met Colbert before but he stopped by the green room and talked a bit and as we’ve all discovered, the Colbert on TV is nothing like the guy who was in the green room.

BSSB: You mentioned that you and Dave have developed a friendship over the years, too. What’s Dave like when he’s on his ranch vs. when he’s doing his show?

BS: Dave, well, he’s a thoughtful, quiet guy and he is inquisitive about all things Montana. He started his career in entertainment sort of as a weather man and he has some notions about the environment, about education, about the climate. And me being an earth scientist and a third-generation rancher, we would drive around on his ranch talking about stuff – about the land, about water, about air, about grazing, about fishing, about 4-wheel-drives. Just, you know, two regular guys carrying on a regular conversation in Montana.

BSSB: Well, you guys aren’t quite that regular. You both have met some amazing people in your lives. What’s your thoughts about being able to say you’ve been there at the Ed Sullivan Theater and been on the same show where thousands of other interesting notable people have been over the years?

BS: I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it to you. I just spoke at the Geyser High School graduation on Saturday and I said to them, ‘I’ve been in some 40 countries around the world, I’ve been to all kinds of businesses and I was in politics for a while, and in the process of that I’ve met world leaders across the globe, I’ve met some of the biggest billionaires in the world such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Ted Turner, and you know, in life I think having the opportunity to meet interesting people is the greatest part of life. Some of the people I’ve met were interesting, but some just have more money than us or have just been elected.

No matter who you are, you’ll always find some really interesting people who maybe you wouldn’t think would be interesting.

Meeting people and having the opportunity to converse with interesting people is the best thing about life and David Letterman has had an opportunity to have conversations with some of the most interesting people walking this earth. And I suppose he got paid a fair bit to do that, but that’s not the point here. He’s had a career of meeting and speaking to the most interesting people in the world and gosh, there’s probably nobody else on this planet that he has and that’s pretty cool.”

David Letterman
David Letterman

BSSB: So, do you think Dave will miss being in the spotlight?

BS: You know, I don’t. You’ve gone out to dinner and been in a social setting with people and been around one or more people in the room, or maybe it’s even you, who have lots of one-liners and they can make fun of themselves or other things just at the drop of a hat and it goes on all night where they can keep you in stitches. I’ve been around people like that too, and that’s who David Letterman is when he’s on set. But, when he’s David Letterman off set, he’s least likely to be the person at the table cracking jokes, he’s a very serious guy.

BSSB: One more question, Brian. Thanks again for your time. What’s been going on in your life lately?

BS: Well I’m writing a book. It’s just about done, the title is “It’s the Batteries, Stupid.” It’s about the future of energy, where we’re going and how to get there. My premise is as we move forward, it’s going to be the ability to store energy, not how we produce it because there are many ways to produce energy – you’ve got solar, wind, nukes and coal, but the most important thing is – how do we store it? It’ll be a while I’m still writing it, but I’ve got about 45,000 words of a 48,000 word book and I’ve had it edited, so it’s a month or two away. It’s exciting for me, I’ve never completed a book before.

BSSB: Well OK, one more question if you don’t mind. Now that you’ve got this one almost done, do you think you’ll ever look at writing another one?

BS: No problem. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this author, but I just love James Michener.
He writes this book where it’s all about the formation of land, water and animals that occupy it and the plants and suddenly the humans arrive and it goes through all and how people are present all across the globe and he weaves these same families’ stories through hundreds of years.

I’ve thought about doing a Montana book which starts with the geological structures that were covered by oceans into the last glaciated period, the arrival of the natives, the first arrival of the fur traders and from the first natives, the widening of families from fur traders and homesteaders and miners who came and wind families stories in what would sort of be fictional, but sort of not fictional at all all the way up to 2015. It would be a big book to write, probably something like 100,000 words, but that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Brian Schweitzer was the 23rd Governor of Montana. He was in office from 2005 to 2013.

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