In my early teens I developed an obsession with Late Night with David Letterman. I’m not sure how I discovered it but it must have coincided with when we got a VCR which allowed me to tape episodes (given that 12:30AM was much too late to be up on a school night!)
For much of my teen years I was an avid fan and would record a week’s worth of shows and then spend the weekend watching them. I even kept a notebook with a dedicated pen to write down my favorite quotes and skits that the show did. There was “Bridget Jackson’s TV Nest Egg” where he had a staffer who was getting married come on and perform to earn different amounts of money towards her wedding (for example, $600 for doing a puppet show); during a writer’s strike Dave had a fountain built in front of his desk that he called “The Dancing Waters” and every night he’d introduce it and Paul would tinkle on the piano and they’d light up the fountain – and – that was it. That was the bit! When he tired of that they changed it up and added various other liquids (milk or Windex) and re-named it “The Prancing Fluids”; there was his crush on Connie Chung (one of my favorite bits was him spending the day running errands with her and deriding her need to get “shoe trees for Murray” – her husband and Dave’s romantic nemesis Maury Povich); there was the woman in the building opposite 30 Rock that he started calling randomly and chatting with; or yelling demented things through a bullhorn at an annoyed Bryant Gumbel as the “Today Show” tried to shoot.
Dave was absurd, irreverent, caustic, snarky, hilarious and sharp. He made me realize what made me laugh the most and what I wanted to emulate in my own humor were those very same qualities. I truly idolized David Letterman and that notebook was my way of keeping track of what it took to BE David Letterman. In all honesty I wanted to grow up and inherit his show when he retired. With that deadline looming TONIGHT I clearly did not reach that particular goal. I could have possibly come close at one point: in college I was looking for summer internships and found one on The Late Show. By then my Dave Worship had dwindled but seeing that there was a possibility that I could actually WORK on his show pulled me right back in. As I scanned the requirements I found I did not meet an important one: I was not a Communications major therefore I couldn’t receive credit which was required as part of the Late Show Internship program. Once again, my Dave Dreams were dashed.
So Dave was a big part of my formative years and he was also strangely a comfort during a particularly rough time in my life. When I was 15 and my parents told me about their separation I went numb and curled into a fetal position on my bed. I remember them gently asking me if I would like the TV moved into my room so I could “watch Dave” and I nodded and the TV was set up next to my bed where I watched with glazed over eyes and willed Dave to make me forget what was going on outside my door. I don’t remember anything about the episode other than being grateful for the familiarity of Dave doing his monologue when everything else had just been turned inside out.
But their eventual divorce did lead me to another grand plan and that was to get my mother to marry Dave and have him adopt me, therefore making me an actual, legitimate heir to his talk show crown. My mom however, didn’t warm to this plan citing Dave’s cigar smoking as a deal breaker (around the same time Letterman had an actual stalker who was always claiming to be his wife so it is likely this particular plan would not have gotten very far.)
Last year when he announced his retirement I realized that I probably wasn’t even going to fulfill probably the easiest Dave Goal to reach and that was to go to a taping of his show. The last few weeks I’ve been DVR’ing the Late Show and getting very nostalgic and even weepy about my youthful adoration of Dave and all his silliness. In recent years when I’ve caught the show he seemed bored at best, cranky at worst. In this home stretch he’s loosened up considerably and it’s reminded me how funny he is and how big a part of my life he’s been these last thirty years.
Late night TV is a changed landscape and now the entire point of a talk show seems to be getting a good clip that will go viral the next day – the Jimmy’s are the co-kings of this. But Dave is still old school and I’m sure CBS is a little relieved he’s decided to go and that the more viral-friendly Stephen Colbert is coming.
Just watching the final Top Ten lists has made me a little weepy so I fully expect to be a sobbing baby when I watch his final show. I truly feel it’s not just a man who is retiring but an entire form of entertainment – the last original late night talk show. He’s going out with a lot of accolades and deserved thanks from comedians and other hosts who would not have careers without the goofy and hysterical path he paved. But to me he’ll always be the guy who made me want to be as funny as he was when I was still finding out who I was.