Here’s to Dave

I will miss David Letterman. He will broadcast his last Late Show on Wednesday, May 20.
In my interview about the Comics of Comedy, I noted that Letterman was my second comic hero – after Steve Martin. But I’ve stuck with Dave the longest.

Dave was my late night companion in college. Without knowing it, he contributed to my aesthetic sense. In all-night, sleepless design marathons, Letterman imprinted on my subconscious. Through Dave I learned the beauty of absurd spectacle, and befuddling non-sequitur. Letterman’s comedy has always been smartly stupid. Monkeycam. Larry ”Bud” Melman. Stupid Pet/Human Tricks. Throwing things off a five story American tower. Torturing Bryant Gumbel and the Today Show live remote. Sandy the killer monkey. Letterman was surprising and edgy and left you a little uncomfortable. And it was hilarious.
Letterman did Late Night on NBC for 11 years. His Late Night anniversary specials were some of the funniest television I can recall. Seriously, watch one of them on YouTube.
Dave may not have inherited Johnny’s Tonight Show, but the Carson show retired with Carson. Dave got to be Dave an hour earlier on CBS, and he did it for almost 22 years.
Dave has mellowed as he’s aged. Hell, he’s had shingles and open heart surgery. He’s also survived scandals that would have defeated lesser men. Dave today is not the same guy who used to throw stuff off buildings and crush stuff with a steamroller. He was smart enough to hand over those duties to his assistants and employees.
Dave is the talk show host other talk show hosts admire the most. Most owe him their careers. Dave’s brand of humor gave rise to a smart, absurdist way to do comedy. Mike Judge, The Simpsons, Conan, Mr Show, Seth McFarlane, Jimmy Kimmel, were all spun from Letterman DNA. Comedy would not be what it is without David Letterman.
And Dave had the best music on television. He had Paul, The World’s Most Dangerous Band that became the CBS Orchestra. But he also had a team who knew what was best in new music. My musical taste was also shaped by watching Letterman. Seriously, check out the musical montage in the YouTube link, go to 40 minutes into the show. Roy Orbison. Al Green. Elvis Costello. James Brown. Cyndi Lauper. Miles Davis. Beastie Boys. Darlene Love. And Dave’s favorite band playing his favorite song Foo Fighters and Everlong.
I made this fake cover for the New Yorker. I got tired of waiting for them to hire me.
It’s time for Dave to ride off into the sunset. He may not be leaving on top. But he is leaving as the classiest act in late night television.
Last October Foo Fighters did a week long residency on Late Show. One night they were joined by bluesman Tony Joe White. When White and the band finished playing, Letterman was blown away. “I’ll tell you what. If I was this guy, you could all kiss my ass.” That’s how I feel about Dave.

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