The moment I dreaded over the last dozen of months came on May 20th – David Letterman retired, and after a bittersweet final show, he left behind emptiness and sadness. It may sound exaggerated but I do feel down because I’m sure we won’t see much of him from here on. Despite saying otherwise, Dave is a recluse and doesn’t let many people into his private world.
After three decades on television, Letterman stepped down, not at the top of ratings, not at the top of popularity, and not even at the top of his game, but he surely signed off as a legend. In the last weeks on air we got flooded by hundreds of tributes or critical pieces regarding The Late Show, but as an international fan, I’d like to add in few comments about this beloved program of mine and the much beloved host, now that the atmosphere has cooled down.
My post from April last year had me wonder why Dave’s humor isn’t appreciated to a greater degree. Why was he an underdog in the talk-show hosting sphere for the majority of his career? In all fairness, I haven’t found the answers. Apparently people prefer when the guests and hosts indulge in their little mutual admiration societies, the shows are all rainbows and smiles. What’s the point? Sucking up is something even my family members tend to mock relentlessly. We’re all grown-ups, if all jokes have no edge, they just get hellishly boring. With Dave gone, Conan remains as a single guy who actually tries to poke a stick into an anthill from time to time. Letterman was the one to call bullshit on some individuals. The guests either own up to their faults or dig a deeper hole under their feet.
The great host was never the hyper type. His weirdly-timed, deadpan jokes could throw off anyone; often even the audiences seemed to find some of his antics awkward, as if wondering, ‘Should I laugh or has he finally gone insane?’ Dave didn’t bother.
When it comes down to interviewing, he was an oddball as well. There were always some questions he had to ask. ‘When is the new movie or album is being released?’ – most of the time he commented how good the movie is or how hyped about it he is but usually he was not that interested in talking business. The guests had to bring their best and funniest stories so that they would spark some interest or make Letterman laugh.
That’s another point – The Late Show was never about the guests, or making them feel welcomed – it was all about Dave and the crew getting some amusement out of the whole thing. It was about sticking a needle into a balloon of self-importance of the big-time celebrities. In one of the episodes Justin Bieber said Letterman is making him feel uncomfortable and Dave just answered with a grin that this is what he does. His remarks were snarky or a tad on the ignorant side, and you either got them or not.
Be it Shailene Woodley and clay, Jennifer Lawrence and a false ulcer, David Duchovny and goats or a heated discussion with Jason Segel about sandwiches and burritos, Dave responded well to anything out of norm, the ridiculous and the weird. At the same time he was easily moved by everything ordinary. Letterman was possibly at his best when talking to children, just check out any kid segments on Youtube.
I spoke about it in my previous post, but I will repeat myself anyways. It is true that Dave had his preferences guest-wise. Over the years several actors and comedians visited the show repeatedly, and each time he was glowing when talking with them. Some of these friendships extended to real life – Bill Murray, Jerry Springfield, Julia Roberts, Steve Martin or Tom Hanks are the examples of horrific stars he could rely on anytime.
Also he offered good advice to younger generation of stars. He made jokes at their expense too, but apart from Paris Hilton’s post-jail time visit when few shots have been fired, I would never consider his humor malicious. I liked the rapport he built with the likes of Emma Stone, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Natalie Portman or James Franco (the list goes on). Youtube comment section plenty of times speaks otherwise but I do believe that the folks mentioned genuinely enjoyed visits to The Late Show.
The last shows definitely lacked the amazing and forever-missed Robin Williams, he was always an unbelievable comedian with a machine gun of a mouth and as Robin and Dave started out around the same time there was this tender bond between them.
In different category of lacking, I’m somewhat disappointed that for instance Ricky Gervais or Jennifer Lawrence were not invited back to the show in 2015, I’m sure such shows would be priceless.
Having said that, I still understand how they took The Late Show down the nostalgia lane in the final stretch of the episodes. Will Smith spoke about ‘a Negro’ inside of Dave, leaving everyone’s jaws on the floor to pick up. The bit with Letterman and Michael Keaton dancing in the late 70s was absolutely hilarious and it was such an awesome thing to dig up and show it to the today viewers. The incredible Eddie Vedder performed a powerful version of Better Man (though my favorite appearance of his has to be the surprise rendition of Black back in the mid 90s). Howard Stern and Don Rickles sitting down together with Dave was an uproar. Bill Murray jumped outta huge cake accompanied by Paul & the band playing the epic Chest Fever (by The Band). Finally, we heard a saddening goodnight and listened to Foo Fighters’ Everlong, a song which for some reason I’ve always found very unsettling, and now it also marks an end of Dave’s era.
I don’t think there will ever be another host like David Letterman. He was the last remaining dinosaur, a relic from the past, a species which should be cherished and remembered. Although Conan, Ellen or the Jimmies did move along with times, making viral videos and such, the sun is slowly setting on TV talk shows. They may not disappear in the nearest future, but certainly will not go on for decades.