I started watching David Letterman when I was about 11. He’d only been on CBS a couple of years at that point and he was still the hottest property in late night. I have fond memories of summer vacations spent watching reruns of M*A*S*H until Dave dependably came on at 11:37. More important than the jokes or the grandeur of the Ed Sullivan Theatre was the charm of Letterman himself. A beloved late night comedian is like baseball in the summer. You might not always need to watch, but you always can if you need to.
In recent years The Late Show had become difficult for me. The sketches were out of touch. What was irony-rich in the 80s and early 90s, hams in a can or Dave being submerged in a tub full of milk, had been co-opted several times over by everyone from Family Guy‘s least talented writers to deodorant marketers. Yet there he was plugging away at stupid non-sequiturs and some of the worst gags I’ve ever seen. Assuming no writing staff could be that bad, I figured Dave insisted on sticking with the material that brought him to the dance. Compounding the problem, Dave didn’t believe in the monologues. He only seemed sharp or funny when showing contempt for the low quality of his own show.
Since announcing his retirement a few months ago, some of Dave’s mischievous spark has returned. Wearing pants so high he could have been an extra in Her, he’ll make the occasional remark like, “This is the kind of thing you can do when you’re not going to be around much longer.” But the recent improvement of The Late Show has nothing to do with ambivalence. It’s the opposite. David Letterman cares again. He’s out there with the enthusiasm and eagerness of a young comedian. He’s having all his favorite musicians sit in with the band. He’s showcasing members of his staff nightly. Why not? He’s outlasted Jay Leno, viewed Drew Barrymore’s breasts up close when they ranked among the finest in the land, and zinged Bill O’Reilly better than Jon Stewart could ever dream of doing. He’s introduced figures ranging from Bob Dylan to Larry “Bud” Melman. He hosted the Oscars and did a bad job. He was a crucial public figure in the days following 9/11. The list goes on.
In an era of television shows like Teen Abortion , Dave is a link to the last remaining legends of a bygone era like Don Rickles and Tom Hanks. There’s something comforting about watching Dave and Regis Philbin drone on like two old cadgers for three segments, rarely even trying for a laugh. At the end of a recent Regis appearance, a misty-eyed Dave looked into the camera and offered heartfelt advice about pursuing your dreams no matter how outlandish they may seem. When I see this sentiment in an Upworthy meme about Jim Carrey or some fuck-wit new-ager I want to puke. When Letterman says it it seems to mean something. It’s funny how the guy depicted as the overlord of dark irony in an early David Foster Wallace story has come full circle to become a much-needed beacon of sincerity. I’m assuming that’s a show.  Just kidding, Tom Hanks.
Now for the best YouTube clips of Uncle Dave:
I’m pretty sure a cisgender man would be arrested for this type of behaviour nowadays. I’m also pretty sure an SJW’s head explodes every time these YouTube clips are viewed. I’ve absorbed a lot of Paris Hilton content in my time. Here she appears genuinely hot and bothered by Dave. Gwen Stefani looks like she could probably press charges retroactively. Jennifer Aniston seems as sociopathic as always. My favorite is the three-minute fondle-fest and eventual kiss with Julia Roberts.
“Because I’m thoughtful.” Eat a dick, O’Reilly.
One of Bob Dylan’s best television performance. He’s wearing a skinny tie and backed by a punk band.
Dave injures the Bieb-man. The Bieb-man calls the Sistine Chapel the “sixteenth chapel.”
I interviewed graphic novelist Harvey Pekar about ten years ago, and at the time he felt that Dave was just cashing a paycheck.
Article by Mike Sauve. Follow him on Twitter @mpsauve .