This is the kind of blog post that David Letterman would hate.
As the end is upon us for the host’s finale culminating a record setting 33 year run in late night TV, we have witnessed Dave’s genuine discomfort when his favorite guests bid their heartfelt tributes to him. For a very long time, the words heartfelt and Letterman didn’t mix and still mostly don’t. That has changed a bit in the last few years. We undoubtedly saw it when Dave returned the week following 9/11 and created a landmark moment where he somehow found the words to encapsulate the country’s mood. We’ve seen it occasionally when talking about his son Harry. And we’ve seen it with the praise of his staff members and personalities on the program, some of whom have been with him the whole ride.
The readers of this blog may have seen previous posts in which I discuss my personal take on my love of movies.
As I’ve stated before, for so many movie fans, the medium is simply an entertaining diversion. For others like me, it’s much more. Same goes for television and the people and characters who populate it. If you’re not a Letterman fan, this post likely won’t make much sense to you – so there’s your warning, ladies and gentlemen!
Simply put, David Letterman and his show have had an influence on me and not in a minor way. He’s been hosting his show, either on NBC at 12:30 or CBS at 11:30, for my entire cognizant life. His sense of humor has greatly informed my own and not in a minor way.
I count myself lucky to come from a family of people whose humor instincts fall on the side of irony and sarcasm. Like Dave’s. It’s in many ways a Midwestern comedic sensibility and last time I checked, Indiana and Ohio are in that region. David Letterman grew up in the same region of Indiana and at the same time as my mother. I believe she told me once it’s possible they went to the same prom at Broad Ripple High School.
Right around the time I was really getting into movies, I was REALLY also into Letterman. It was around 1993 when Dave moved over to CBS after he lost The Tonight Show to Jay Leno. I would tape his show every night on VHS and watch them usually more than once. He was a comedy genius to me just as he has been to so many. Among those names are people like Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel and Howard Stern. Those kinds of people have considered him to be the real King of Late Night for the last couple of decades and the true heir to Johnny Carson’s throne. No offense to Jay Leno, but his show simply can’t hold a candle to the influence that Dave has had. If you wanna get technical, Leno’s career is because of his exposure on Letterman’s program in the 1980s.
Those endless VHS viewings on Dave’s early Late Show era developed my idea of humor. I was in junior high at the time. Everyday at lunch, I would present a Top Ten List to my schoolmates and it was mostly jokes about our group of friends. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t deliver that list with Letterman’s timing and mannerisms. Don’t get me wrong – I probably failed miserably but it was a helluva lotta fun. So… you could say Dave has been an important cultural figure in my lifetime.
In 2005, I was able to attend a taping of the show at the Ed Sullivan Theater. It was literally as if someone pulled me into my TV set. Surreal. I’ve been fortunate to see some celebrities in my life. With Dave, I was legitimately star struck.
I will leave it to the professionals to write their columns discussing Dave’s amazing history on the air. The classic interviews and musical moments and on and on. I just had to talk a little about what he’s meant to me. I fully understand that just as movies are that perfectly understandable diversion to many, Letterman is only that guy you sometimes fall asleep to. He’s been a whole lot more for me.
David Letterman has paved the way for so many who’ve followed him in the comedy world. That’s called a legacy.
David Letterman has more than carried on the legacy of his idol Johnny Carson and become the most important comedic figure in his format for the last 30 years plus. That’s called a legend.
On a significantly tinier scale, David Letterman has (unbeknownst to him) created endless hours of entertainment and helped a kid in northwest Ohio figure out what he found to be truly funny in this crazy world we live in. That’s called gratitude.