David Letterman is stepping down this week after doing a late night show for what – 33 years?
My parents weren’t late night television fans, so we kids didn’t get into the late night habit. When I was old enough to to stay up after 11, I couldn’t relate to Johnny Carson and his slick Los Angeles humour. He just seemed too … old, too clean, too uptight.
Letterman’s show started when I was in university and no one was telling me that it was time to turn of the TV. We only had 12 channels on cable at that point, and probably 4 channels had programming after midnight. I worked at the campus pub about 3 nights a week. Last call was at 11 pm, then we’d clean the tables, grab a glass of wine and be home about 12:30, just when Late Night with David Letterman aired. If I got home later, I’d watch Dave the next morning on my VCR. Letterman was one of two shows granted precious tape space on my VCR, General Hospital being the other (oh, Luke and Laura!).
Letterman was funny and hip in a very unassuming way. You could tell he didn’t buy into his own hype. He’d laugh at his own jokes. He featured a lot of ‘normal’ people who were amusing for no reason other than they they didn’t realize that we were laughing at them. Then there were the regular oddball guests, like Larry Bud Melman and Chris Elliot, both of whom became minor stars in a really small universe; those who sat up late at night with one last drink and cigarette, staring at the TV.
I always felt that Canadians related to Dave and his rumpled Indiana wholesomeness, in contrast to the much more polished Johnny Carson. He had a bit of a funny accent, as did we. His dry sense of humour was just like ours – a bit offbeat and occasionally bizarre. He saw the humour in odd, everyday things, and with his encouragement, we all started to see the laughable in the routine.
Once I started working a regular job I lost touch with Dave. From time to time I turned on his show, but we had gone in different directions. Maybe it’s me, but Dave just seemed to get crankier as the years went on. Perhaps my sense of humour has changed, or it could be that people like me are now the butt of his jokes. Whatever the case, we haven’t seen eye to eye in a long time. But I still remember how many times in the 80s we would ask over coffee, “Did you see Letterman last night?”
It seemed like Letterman was the first to focus on the everyday, not on the entertainment industry. Without Letterman, you have to wonder if there would have been a venue for Tosh.O. or those jackasses from Jackass.
I’ll watch the farewell show on Wednesday, and for old time’s sake I may DVR tonight’s final regular episode. I’ve got a soft spot for Bill Murray …
Late Night with David Letterman defined a moment in time for a lot of us late boomers/early GenXers. I mean, where else could you have watched a grown man throwing a watermelon off a 5-story building?
I found this classic bit on You Tube – the best of the first 3 years of Late Night with David Letterman. It still makes me laugh out loud.