The Most Censored Interview Ever: Madonna's 1994 'Letterman' Appearance Turns 20

"Oh, I see we've been canceled," Letterman quipped after Madonna left the stage that night


On March 31, 1994, Madonna was a guest on the Late Show With David Letterman. What should have been a seemingly innocuous interview has become a piece of talk-show history.

Madge’s language and behavior – including 14 F-bombs and her refusal to leave the stage – caused waves of controversy. Her profanity made the show the most-censored network talk show episode in history, but it was also one of the highest-rated of Letterman’s career.

Things may have been fated to go south from Letterman’s introduction, in which he described Madonna as “one of the biggest stars in the world” who “has sold over 80 million albums, starred in countless films and slept with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.” This prompted bandleader Paul Shaffer to respond, “She’s your guest!” Letterman quipped the line was in Madonna’s bio.

Madonna strode onstage carrying a pair of her underwear, which she continually asked Dave to smell during the interview. During the course of the interview, she smoked a cigar, compared an overhead microphone to a phallus, managed to make an innuendo out of her nose ring, objected to a commercial break (claiming she wanted to “break the rules”), and asked Letterman if he was wearing a toupee.

She also asked Letterman if he smoked “endo” (West Coast slang for marijuana, popularized by Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” released in January ’94) and refused to leave the stage, prompting cries of “Get off!” from the audience. (A segment of the broadcast featuring the United States Grocery Bagging Champion was cut due to Madonna’s refusal to leave the stage.)

When she finally exited the stage, Letterman joked, “Coming up in the next half hour, Mother Teresa is going to drop by.”

He then continued: “Oh, I see we’ve been canceled; there is no show tomorrow night.”

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Madonna sent Letterman a fax April 12, 1994, saying she was “glad you could get so much mileage” out of the appearance. In an interview with Spin in 1996, Madonna spoke on the incident.

“David Letterman knew I was going to do it. I talked to the producers of the show. Everybody was like, this will be really funny if you say ‘f–––’ a lot and they’ll just keep bleeping you. Well, I came out and started doing it, and David freaked out. The way he introduced me was derogatory, so my whole thing was, okay, if that’s how you want to play it, you cannot beat me at this game.”

“I regretted it right afterward because of the reaction. I couldn’t believe how freaked out people were. But then, in retrospect, I was so glad I did it.”

“That’s how I feel about a lot of things,” said Madonna.

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