In today’s television world, it’s doubtful that David Letterman would even get a second look.
He’s not exactly cosmetically appealing, with his chipped tooth, gangly frame and hair some claimed was a wig.
He’s not Jay Leno, reading “headlines” to make simpletons chuckle, or Jimmy Fallon, fawning over his guests and playing games with them.
No, he’s a lot more than that.
For more than 30 years, Letterman has been the king of late night television and on May 20, he’s saying goodbye to the millions that watch him every night.
I still remember first hearing about some of the wacky stunts on the Letterman show from a friend’s older brother. I tuned in that night and was thoroughly entertained as he dropped watermelons off a five-storey building.
Letterman has influenced an entire generation of comedy, but I believe his brilliance goes beyond the simple stunts that made me laugh as a teenager. His ability to poke fun at the way we entertain ourselves has always made me laugh. I’m not sure why it’s so funny when Letterman wore a Velcro suit or ran his stupid human tricks segment, but I always got the feeling he was laughing at us for finding every silly thing he does so amusing.
The best part about Letterman’s style is you never know what is coming. Every show is unique, and it was almost better when jokes or skits bombed, to see how he reacted.
As a wrestling fan, the Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler “fight” was memorable, but teenage me enjoyed when Drew Barrymore flashed Dave for his birthday one year.
But I believe the greatest skill Letterman has was one that often gets overlooked – his interview ability. He was always able to get the most out of any guest – and if they weren’t co-operating he could make fun of them very effectively – sometimes without them knowing (I’m looking at you, Richard Simmons).
Sadly, late night television has morphed into Fallon singing and dancing with celebrities. Give me “Will it Float?” and dropping things from tall buildings over that any day.
I’ll always regret never making it out to New York to catch a live taping of his show, but a little part of Letterman lives in me forever – like when an interview goes off the rails, when I twirl my pen or when I decide to drop items from high heights.
Thanks for the memories, Dave.