I am going to share a secret never before uttered: I copied all of my comedy material from someone else in grade school..
See, I was a bit of a class clown at times. I came up with some of my own stuff, my own jokes. By high school, there were times I even worked blue. But from around 1990 through the end of the 20th century, I was a hardcore David Letterman fan.
I would set my VCR nightly to tape every show. Those very tapes still exist in a box, tucked away deep in a closet in my bedroom. The day after, I would catalog the show and put notes on the front as whether they included my favorite bits. The guy under the stairs. Dave making toast.. Mujibar.. all of those bits and skits.. I don’t know if they would even work if I tried to watch them.. Quite frankly, I don’t even know where I’d find a VCR..
But David Letterman provided me some of the best ideas to translate jokes into my own life. In high school, ‘hallway races’ were popular because I loved the bit about sidewalk races that Letterman used to do. Other profound moments of teenage comedy often came because of inspiration I found on the Letterman show. Or shows.
I even was able to get a hold of old LATE NIGHT shows around my junior year in high school at a yard sale–skits that even if kids were staying up to see LATE SHOW, they would have never had access to. No YOUTUBE back then.. no ‘viral’ nonsense.
Just David Letterman, nightly with sarcastic wit..
Things changed for me a bit after high school.. I loved the post 9/11 show that Letterman did. But I soured on his humor. He seemed to give up.. he phoned it in. After his sex scandal, I sort of abandoned the new Letterman and just safely kept the ‘old Letterman’ in my head.
I have nostalgia for David Letterman for a number of reasons. Not only did his brand of humor inspire my own and make it safe to make the jokes I wanted to make, but he also got me through a number of dark times in my own life. Just knowing that he, the master of comedy, also suffered from moments of exhaustion and personal annihilation, depression, and harmful habits, made me feel just a bit better. It made me feel in some way like I knew David Letterman. And I think most of the fans who loved him–those who stayed with him until this bitter end–felt like they knew him too.
The Letterman fan isn’t the over achiever. Instead, a Letterman fan is the underdog. Smarter than his co-workers or bosses, but somehow ignored by most. Though a Letterman fan may be considered a clown, deep down that clownish exterior is simply masking the intelligent and moral person beneath. The man or woman who wants to learn about the universe, and does not accept a concept that we have already learned it. The man or woman who questions authority but agrees with the premise that we need it. And the man or woman who just wants to live life poking and prodding powers that be who so often simply want to force all to have their brand of humor…
Yes, nostalgia is building..
Sleepless nights were created by David Letterman. Inspiration .. a new brand of TV that thumbed a nose at the phonies behind the script writing. That was David Letterman. And also a reason why he was the constant underdog.. People usually happily accept the reality created for them–the Jay Lenos and the viral videos.. Even the Fallons with friendly skits. Dave–the honest Dave from the 80s and 90s–put all the trash out for all to see..
This is a strange year, in a sense..
For one, Brian Williams’ actions led to his potential downfall–no NBC decision made yet.
Jon Stewart, a staple and visionary in the world of political satire, is hanging up the cue cards.
Jay Leno is gone.
Conan O’Brien is marginalized.
David Letterman is saying goodbye.
There is a clear change in television–pop culture itself is altering. There seemingly is a new generation taking the helm. One that gives us happy go lucky humor that safety tucks us in at night. Gone is the wit and sarcasm that required careful thought for it to become funny. Instead quick laughs have replaced that.. Viral videos led to the Letterman downfall. Irony, after all, doesn’t work in a 10 second viral way..
I remember one fall night in 1994. It was late September, and my family and then girlfriend had just come home from a local fair as autumn waned. It was a beautiful night and slightly too cold for that time of year. It was a Friday night and I have no reason to go to bed early. That night, I remember distinctly, being overjoyed that I was home that night before 11:35 pm on the East Coast. My local news had ended with then weatherman Barry Finn giving his rooftop forecast.. and the Paul Schaffer orchestra opened up LATE SHOW with David Letterman. At that moment, at that time, all seemed fine and right.
All of these years later–21 years since that night as a matter of fact–Letterman is waving bye for the final time as WORLDWIDE PANTS and his LATE SHOW bid farewell..
This is a big pop culture moment, perhaps as large and important a time in TV as Johnny Carson giving his last golf swing as Bill Clinton began his first year in office.
But why is this big?
Because TV, itself, is changing. Perhaps in some sense over.
And maybe, in another, just beginning.
David Letterman is a 20th century boy who had borrowed time in the 21st. But my nostalgia and love for his show stayed in the 20th century.
And I have the aging tapes to prove it.
A final note: Christmas without Darlene Love will just not be the same…………..