The year was 1980. The day: July4. It was still early for the family reunion to begin so I turned on the television. There was this guy doing a talk show. And it wasn’t Phil Donahue.
He was excitedly having someone shoot off fireworks on the streets of New York. It was daytime. You couldn’t see them. It was stupid. It was ridiculously stupid. Ridiculously, hilariously stupid.
And that’s how I first encountered David Letterman.
Like all antisocial smart-asses I loved David Letterman because he was an antisocial smart-ass. Or at least that was the image. Dave probably loves people in the way that all antisocial smart-asses do.
Dave’s brand of comedy was an acquired taste. While it was a shame, it wasn’t a surprise to me when NBC screwed him out of “The Tonight Show” in favor of Jay Leno. Jay was bland, safe, sure to get higher ratings. But Dave was funnier.
I’ve always found “The Tonight Show” debacle to be the most fascinating aspect of the Letterman story. Don’t let people tell you that if you work hard and do your best and have the talent that you will get what you deserve. It didn’t happen to Dave. For all his awards and success, Letterman never got the one thing that he wanted most out of his professional life — hosting “The Tonight Show.” There’s a lesson in there for all you high school and college graduates. I’ll let you figure out what it is.
I didn’t watch a lot of Dave in the old days. I am not a late night person. Once I got a VCR I became a regular viewer. So many great bits. So many wonderful guests. And now he’s gone.
While these last few weeks have been terrific, I can’t really join the chorus begging Dave to stay. It really is time to go. Dave has been coasting for quite some time. It’s been fun and a little sad watching these past weeks as they pull out great comedy bits from the past. Why doesn’t Dave do that stuff anymore? Has he been chained to that desk these past few years? Sure, nobody’s as funny as Dave when he’s behind the desk and he gets on a roll about something, but I miss him annoying people at the McDonald’s drive-through or cruising town in a convertible filled with tacos.
Then again, the man is 68 years old. And a gazillionaire. Who can blame him if he wants to repeat a joke every night for a week in the monologue, or tell stories about his son and never leave his desk?
Still, it’s been an awesome run. I do not envy Stephen Colbert, but I’ll give him a shot. I don’t know what I’ll do come Christmas without the Lone Ranger Story and Darlene Love and Paul Shaffer singing “Oh Holy Night” as Cher.
But those are my troubles. And I wouldn’t give them to a monkey on a rock.