The jokes were zipping as David Letterman got together on stage in Los Angeles Wednesday night with two of his favorite musicians – U2’s Bono and The Edge – for the world premiere of the Disney+ documentary Bono and The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman. But it was The Edge who landed the first barb.
At the Q&A for the film, which revolves around Bono and Edge working on reimagined versions of U2’s canon in Dublin, with Letterman as their white-bearded interlocutor, Edge was asked why he and his bandmate thought to bring Letterman along on their cinematic journey.
“Well, being honest, the first idea was Jay Leno,” he cracked. More earnestly, he added, “We’re huge fans, have been for a long time. We’ve known Dave for many years and he was foolish enough once to invite us to play for an entire week on The Late Show. It was very brave of him.”
Bono added that Letterman helped fill the void left by U2’s Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., who didn’t take active roles in the documentary. “If your two good-looking members have gone AWOL,” he said, “we needed to bring in some really great storytellers. So here we have two great storytellers.”
One of those storytellers, he clearly meant, is Letterman. And in the film the former late night host visits the Irish capital for the first time, engaging in amusing encounters with locals before settling into his role as interviewer of Bono and Edge. The other storyteller referred to by Bono was either The Edge himself or Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville, who directed the documentary. Letterman appeared moved by what he saw on screen at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A.
“I’ve been in television and this sort of thing since I was 18. And at this stage of my life to have been a part of this — tonight’s the first time I’ve seen [the film] in person — was just a gift. What a lovely piece of work,” Letterman said. “I’m so pleased, so proud. And I don’t know how it happened exactly. I dunno why it happened, but this kinda makes the first 35 years of being in television well worth the effort.”
It being Letterman, he did work in some humor. Asked what he had learned about U2 by visiting their native turf, Letterman said, “I had not been to Dublin — and I had a sense of this at the airport, but it was confirmed the longer I stayed in Dublin. In Dublin, I am so much more popular than U2. I think that’s my biggest takeaway.”
Bono noted there was a therapeutic goal of sorts in going down memory lane with their music and having Letterman along for it.
“We wanted Dave to make some sense of our band, but as Freud famously said, the one race that might be impervious to psychoanalysis are the Irish,” he quipped. “I think, for us, it was great to see our city and our country through his eyes… and see our country grow and, I suppose, see ourselves reach near adulthood.”
Bono and The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman is set to premiere soon on Disney+ – in fact, on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. That same day, U2’s latest album will be released, Songs of Surrender. In a statement about the project last month, Letterman joked, “Recently, I won a radio contest,” Letterman said. “Winner gets to visit Dublin with Bono and The Edge (radio contest part not true, but I feel like a winner). They showed me around, introduced me to their musician friends, and performed some of their greatest songs in a small theater. It’s a great tour. Get in touch with them ― I’m told there are still availabilities.”
In the documentary, U2 and Edge go beyond just creating stripped down versions of their biggest songs, like “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” They explain the origins of the songs, but also, in a sense, rewrite them.
“Some of the lyrics I was embarrassed by, actually, but I got to finish them on this project,” Bono said during the Q&A. Then, referring to Letterman, he added, “He brought the comedy to the tragedy and there’s a reason why Willie Shakespeare loved that form and our music is just better with him around. The music is better itself just by him being in the room, taking the piss out of us.”