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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Let's revisit Harmony Korine's greatest work: the "Terrible Letterman Appearances" triptych

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Photo: Amy Sussman (Getty Images)

Back when he was just 19, Beach Bum director Harmony Korine wrote the screenplay for 1995's Kids, an uncomfortably intimate look at a day in the life of a group of New York City teenagers. The movie was huge. It kickstarted the film careers of Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, and Korine himself. It also provided the writer with an opportunity to enact his greatest, multi-year project: three bizarre appearances on Letterman that would culminate with his being banned from the show.


In a YouTube collection of these spots, put together by Metaflix, we get to watch the whole journey unfold.

It begins with a baby Korine being asked softball questions about his name. Soon enough, it’s devolved into the guest telling Letterman he used to fight a lot, but wasn’t good at it. A typical exchange, defying social convention, goes like this:

“You fought a lot? Did you win? Were you a good fighter,” Letterman asks.

“Not very good,” Korine answers.

“You just enjoyed it?”

“Once I took this kid sailing and his name was Barfunk, and I capsized the sailboat, and he almost drowned,” he says.

“Wow,” Letterman responds.

This pattern continues, Letterman asking the constantly fidgeting young man questions about his work that are immediately redirected.

“Y’know, I could pretty much have this conversation with myself,” Letterman says at one point, laughing it up before trying to get things on track with a question about teen trends. Korine takes this as a cue to tell a story about a kid from Delaware who “got a shish kebab skewer stuck through both his ass cheeks.”

Years later, while promoting Gummo, Korine provides the late night host with a fitting sequel to his first visit. Legs bouncing endlessly, he discusses paint-sniffing; his approach to filmmaking (unusually on topic); claims the low-budget Gummo cost “80 mill”; and describes his goal to write “the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure Novel.” When told he “[represents] the avant-garde,” Korine responds that he’s a “commercial film-maker.”


“I’m a patriot,” he continues. “I hide in trees.” Somehow Letterman closing the segment by saying, “We’ll be right back with Smash Mouth” doesn’t adequately follow up that statement.

In the last of his three appearances, Korine returns to, theoretically, talk about his book, A Crack-Up At The Race Riots. Soon enough, Letterman is asking if he’d like to “direct a film on [the] scale” of Titanic, prompting Korine to reply that he’d make “the second one.”


“I’d do the sequel probably,” he clarifies. “I’d use a rowboat. I don’t know if it’d sink.” He then just sort of laughs uncontrollably for a while and, when Letterman tries to help promote his novel, says he doesn’t get why anyone would read a book anymore.

Sadly, all great work must come to an end. Though he came back for a fourth time, Korine was banned from Letterman during the visit, forcing an abrupt conclusion to his grand artistic project. In 2013, James Franco (who starred in Korine’s Spring Breakers) appeared on the show, leading Letterman to ask what the writer/director’s “deal” is. Soon, Letterman remembers that Korine was banned because, when the host “went upstairs to greet Meryl Streep”—also guesting during the fateful fourth visit—he found Korine “going through her purse.”


It couldn’t have ended any other way.

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