Where would we be without Top 10 Lists? Stupid pet tricks? And really, the late, great Larry “Bud” Melman, the TV name given to Calvert DeForest, a portly elderly man who resembled a distant cousin you’d meet at a family reunion, but whose sarcastic delivery of lines made him a minor star?
David Letterman and his team of writers brought us these staples of comedy in the 1980s, back when the late night talk show host was at his original NBC home.
If you grew up in that decade, Late Night with David Letterman was a rite of passage from our parents’ safe comedy of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was Letterman who taught me how to be cynical of everyone and everything.
Letterman, of course, left NBC in 1993 for CBS, where he has hosted Late Show with David Letterman since. He recently announced he’s retiring sometime next year. Expect many, many tributes along the way.
Jon Stewart recently acknowledged Letterman as “the comedian broadcaster who is the best there ever was.” While Stephen Colbert, the man tapped as Letterman’s replacement, said of the Late Show host, “This man has influenced every host who came after him and even a few who came before him, he’s that good. And I gotta tell you, I do not envy whoever they try to put in that chair.” (Colbert is scheduled to be a guest on the Late Show on Tuesday night.)
Hiring Colbert was a smart and obvious choice by CBS. But really, if anyone can channel Letterman’s caustic delivery and comedic contempt to most everything the world has to offer, it’s the man who mocks the news of the day in the guise of a clueless conservative talk-show host.
Colbert will be a welcome addition to this next generation of late-night wars and, if I’m being honest, as the new Late Show host.
Frankly, Letterman hasn’t been Letterman for many, many years, as many of us longtime fans have noticed.
Maybe it’s his age — he turned 67 on Saturday — but Letterman’s disposition has become increasingly bitter.
Surly can be funny. Bitter and surly, not so much. And so I found myself watching the Late Show less and less and missing the David Letterman of old more and more, an appetite I sated via some wonderful Late Night clips via YouTube:
His fifth anniversary special: bit.ly/1m8cHpq.
His famous interruption of a Today Show prime-time special: bit.ly/1m8cQci.
Viewer mail: bit.ly/1m8d5UO.
It wasn’t that long ago that I happened across a relic from Letterman’s glory years on NBC: Late Night with David Letterman: The Book. This paperback collection of the show’s best gags was mandatory reading among my friends in high school, something from which we routinely quoted like it was a self-help guide.
Much of the Late Night with David Letterman: The Book’s comedic references to ’80s network TV shows and stars and general popular culture are dated. But there is one joke that’s remained with me nearly three decades after the book’s publication. It comes in the form of a multiple choice quiz:
“Based on what you know about him in history books, what do you think Abraham Lincoln would be doing if he were alive today? 1) Writing his memoirs of the Civil War. 2) Advising the President. 3) Desperately clawing at the inside of his coffin.”
Twisted. Dark. Cynical. That was Letterman as I remember him. And the reason I stayed up much later than I should have on school nights.
When Letterman retires next year, I’ll certainly miss his familiar presence on network TV.
But after reading through the book, and watching all these brilliant classic clips, I’m reminded that the Letterman I loved left TV years ago.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.