As most people know David Letterman ends his run as the longest-serving late night talk show host, with his broadcast this evening. While tributes and Top Ten Lists abound regarding his much-anticipated departure, I too wanted to weigh-in. While I grew up in the late night glow of Johnny Carson on a snowy black and white television and loved his Carnac the Magnificent, interviews with aging matinée idols and others, The Tonight Show was really the late night broadcast of my parent’s generation.
It was spring of my freshman year of college that Dave began Late Night and I would occasionally wander to the TV lounge of my dorm to catch the show. By sophomore year there was a TV in my room, which allowed for more consistent viewing, a “study break” so to speak. Once I became a resident assistant (RA) and had a room to myself Dave and I were typically spending our evenings together three nights a week. In St. Cloud Minnesota from 1982 until my graduation in the spring of ’86 most anyone can tell you where to have found me on a Thursday night (Thirsty Thursday at the Red Carpet for the uninitiated) and Fridays could vary but unless I was “on duty” I certainly was not on campus watching TV. Monday thru Wednesdays, Dave and I were going steady. At one point in my student housing career my supervisor had each of the staff members do “Growth Contracts” which were an eighties attempt at work/life balance and wellness initiatives. In the area where I think I was supposed to be including increasing vegetables in my diet and possibly reducing alcohol consumption, I opted to put “Watch David Letterman twice a week”. I remember sitting in my meeting where I needed to sign-off on this document and explaining to my boss “It allows me take a break from studying, ensures that I am home by 10:30 and makes me laugh.” Who could argue with that? Decades later, though deciding not to go, I took pride in my own son receiving his acceptance letter to Ball State, Dave’s alma mater.
When I moved to Missouri to work for a year after graduating, Dave went with me. The students on my staff knew that I had a crush on Bruce Willis (think Moonlighting era or look it up) and David Letterman and encouraged me to write Dave who they thought was better suited for me. I never wrote him a letter but even the thought of it harkens to a different era where one did not email, tweet, post or for that matter blog about someone. Writing a letter meant addressing an envelope and putting a stamp on it, and likely going to a library to figure out where to send it to. My eldest graduated from college this month and my youngest is wrapping up sophomore collegiate finals today, Bruce’s daughter Rumer won the mirror-ball trophy on Dancing with the Stars last night and David’s son Harry has to be about 11 years old.
David Letterman is sixteen years older than me. He was already divorced once by the time I was traveling to Canada with my ninth grade choir. Depending on the source, he began dating his current wife in either 1986 (while living with someone else) or 1988, which is the year I met my own husband. He married the mother of his son a few years after his son was born and later publicly acknowledged his infidelities with staff members. He has since commented that he thought it was over for him at the time but the American people who opted not to hold the infidelities of the POTUS as grounds for job loss were forgiving in permitting the personified Alfred E. Newman to continue to come into their homes at night and often make them laugh.
Watching last night’s show with Rupert from the Hello Deli and the grand entrance of Bill Murray coming out of a cake made me sad. The parade of reflective entertainers that have crossed the stage on these final shows have been gracious and complimentary regarding the impact Letterman has had on their lives and careers. There is a certain mortality that comes from acknowledging that something you have loved and has been part of your life for so long is coming to an end. For some guests it has to be like selling the childhood home, knowing you can’t come back and visit a place that was so familiar, comfortable and welcoming.
Occasionally over the years there were elements of the show that were not my favorite (Calvert Deforest) but the majority of it was spot on and a pleasant distraction from life. Dropping things off of the building, running out onto the street to compete with an athlete, cooking with Martha, predicting if something was going to float or sink in the giant tank. Stupid tricks of both humans and animals had people at home trying to fold themselves into their hide-a-bed or teach their old dog new tricks.
One of my husbands favorite situations was when David was in the aisle of the studio doing one of his contests with an audience member. He asked his hometown and then what he did for a living, when the man responded “I’m a butcher.” Dave queried “Do you have all your fingers?” and the man chuckled as he raised his hand, minus a couple of fingers. It was hilarious, unintended, awkward but totally Dave. While being an incredibly funny guy, there has been reflection on how Dave dealt with post 9/11, the tribute to the medical staff he credited with saving his life, his ability to address loss but still make us laugh. In 2011 Al-Qaeda threatened his life because, well I guess because they are humorless (and found something he joked about offensive) and in acknowledging on his show that there was an investigation he made light of it by suggesting it was likely Jay Leno that was behind it.
Of all the segments I have enjoyed on the show, my very favorite is not one that most see reflected in Top-Ten lists. It’s not Farrah or Joaquin being spacy or even Drew flashing him on his birthday, it’s perhaps the saddest among his interviews and likely the only one that generated an album title. If you have not seen him in the 2002 show with Warren Zevon as a guest, I encourage you to watch it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hl9Tw2GzvA The phrase “enjoy every sandwich” went on to be a tribute album with Adam Sandler doing a cover of Werewolves of London and other covers by Dylan, Springsteen and Warren’s son Jordan. Zevon was first on with Dave back in 1982 and Dave did vocals on his “Hit Somebody” that appeared on his album My Ride is Here.
I have a Late Show sweatshirt I bought during my first trip to New York, my traveling companion had connections that could get us tickets. The only issue was our itinerary had us in New York during a week the theater was dark. The hat she bought “for her husband” ended up being a fortieth birthday gift for me, that I still have over a decade later.
While I would not call myself a “fair weather fan” I can say that over the run there have been times I watched less frequently and though it’s not exactly cheating, on occasion I have found myself watching Jimmy Kimmel or more recently catching a Jimmy Fallon segment online. I know Dave wouldn’t mind, he likes good humor. There were times though when I was single and living out-of-state that I consistently watched or evenings of intermittent watching while nursing a baby or years with little viewing while I raised my kids and was exhausted by the end of the evening news.
I am going to miss the familiarity of Dave, guessing what pies his mother made or seeing her on remote assignments. I will continue wondering what he was whispering in a guests ear upon the initial embrace and before the applause died. I’ll miss his banter with Paul and the fabulous musical guests. He has made me laugh and brought me to tears. He has no idea who I am and yet we both have had children, been married and grown-up together these past thirty plus years and tomorrow, we will both be out of work.