I have been mulling over what David Letterman has meant to me in the last few days since he announced his upcoming retirement in 2015. I say “meant to me” because his show (and I am more talking about the first late night programme he had on NBC LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN than the CBS one THE LATE SHOW) deeply influenced the way I thought in terms of finding clever, creative ways to “rebel” against a society I neither liked nor cared for. This wasn’t the intention of him or the show’s writers but it perfectly pushed the philosophy of Theodore Adorno that entertainment and materialism go hand in hand and distract an anesthetized, overworked populace into not complaining about their government, their leaders.
I also appreciate the ridiculous in humor but only if it's tied to a sense of self-deprecation or some other device that has roots in our world so we can relate to it from our vantage point. Letterman was the witness poking holes and mocking his own jokes, his own ridiculous set-ups, his cast of bad actors, oddballs, and misfits such as Larry “Bud” Melman (Deliberately reading off cue cards badly) and Chris Elliott (himself a third wall construct of winking “I’m in on it”).
And the way he talked to his guests as if they were blowhards and self-important and needed to have the air let out of their sails (which they were of course). So many great other moments – viewer mail, throwing things off a building, crushing them with a hydraulic press, Dave’s grab bag, supermarket finds, stupid pet tricks, stupid human tricks, Dave working the drive-thru at MacDonald’s and Taco Bell, Dave doing the show in his office, Dave’s Christmas special, Brother Theodore and Harvey Pekar.
And Yes Dave was not as energetic as he got older. His CBS show was more like a regular talk show. However, the apolitical Letterman unloading on ignorant bully Bill O’Reilly clearly angry about the evils of Iraq War was a dramatic and jarring moment and showed what a great man of character Letterman is.
And Letterman himself is what it’s all about. The show at its peak reflected his sensibility and he is one of the most creative, principled, funny people to grace the medium of TV.
In regards to who should replace Letterman, my pick would be outside the box. I would suggest Norm MacDonald. He is not only a quick wit and one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time, he has shown on his recent podcast that he can conduct successful in-depth interviews. Norm MacDonald would be my choice.
Handicapping the names currently out there....
STEPHEN COLBERT – I like Colbert and I like the Colbert Report but he is a comic actor. He plays a role. He is not a comedian and as himself he is quite normal and ordinary. I don’t think he is right for this type of show.
CHELSEA HANDLER – A mean, unfunny bitch who only selectively insults those celebrities not being handled by her PR firm. Like Joan Rivers without any talent or sense of humor. A disaster if she’s picked.
JON STEWART, ELLEN DEGENERES – Neither have the edge to host a show like this. Neither have an interesting enough personality to carry a talk show at this hour of the night but at least Stewart is funny. DeGeneres is for housewives and senior citizens only.
CRAIG FERGUSON – Of all the discussed possibilities, the one that makes the most sense. He has a less ironic even more silly take on the Letterman brand of humor and is likeable. The English/Scottish sometimes forget to root their often ridiculous sense of humor in a reference point we, the audience, can relate to so hopefully if he gets the gig he will remember to do that.