David Letterman’s cantankerous wit, mixed with a penchant for mocking the absurdities of late-night clichés, has endeared him to those who make people laugh for a living. After hearing today's news that Letterman is planning to step down next year, I reached out to some of my favourite comedians to get their thoughts on losing another late-night icon.
Eric Andre (The Eric Andre Show)
Letterman was one of the first "anti-talk-show" talk-show hosts. He didn't give a fuck when the show started and just filmed himself walking around the studio. He also gave a platform to more "out-there" comics: Andy Kaufman, Bobcat Goldthwait, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg. He will be missed.
Todd Glass (The Todd Glass Show)
I remember when Johnny was leaving. For people, it was more than someone funny was leaving; it was the comfort watching the same person every night. No disrespect to Johnny Carson, it’s just that I didn’t really connect to that. Now, I understand, because that’s how I feel about David Letterman leaving.
I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong when it comes to leaving your political or social views to yourself. You just have to do what you want to do. But it really made me fall in love with him on another level, because over the last five or ten years, he’s really been expressing those views more and more. He will be very proud of that, I think, as years pass. We’ll realise that he was on the right side of history.
Also, he’s just so comfortable and so relaxed. The type of relaxation that you’d maybe see on a podcast. To do that on national television? To just be so comfortable in your skin that you’re not afraid of silence sometimes. I just love everything about that.
Jake Fogelnest (The Fogelnest Files)
I knew this day was coming, but the news today really caught me by surprise. It's almost impossible to articulate just what a profound influence David Letterman has had on me. He is the definition of late-night comedy cool. Always has been, always will be. I just hope Regina doesn't get too annoyed with him sitting around the house playing with ham-radio equipment.
Photo via Flickr User Rob DiCaterino
Ryan Stout (Conan, Chelsea Lately)
I have always been fond of David Letterman because, in order to find him funny, you need to pay attention. You have to be on the edge of your seat, watching every moment or you're going to miss something.
If he comes back from a commercial, he might say something like, "Really, Paul? A piece of cake, every day?" And if you didn't catch what they were talking about before the break, you don't know why that's funny. So now, you've been alienated, left in the dark and it's your own fault. You weren't paying attention, and you didn't get the joke. That's not Dave's fault; that's your fault.
I enjoy that. I think you can offer someone the gift of laughter, but in order to receive it, they need to deserve it. Sometimes they have to earn it. It's not free. And comedy shouldn't be wasted on simpletons who can't focus. If you were sharp enough to pay attention to Letterman's every move, it paid off.
In general, late-night talk shows were designed specifically to tuck people in and put them to sleep. And I would argue that job description hurt Letterman's ratings. He's not the comedian you fall asleep watching. If you are dozing off and Letterman is making jokes that you don't understand because you aren't paying enough attention, that is going to be very agitating. You're constantly going to be asking yourself, Why was that funny? That struggle is going to keep you awake. And if you don't want to be awake, you're going to change the channel to a more mellow brand of late night.
But for those of us who want our comedy sharp and crafted at the 11:30PM hour, David Letterman has always been the guy to watch.
Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons
Chris Gethard (The Chris Gethard Show)
Discovering Letterman was the first time in my life I saw something funny and realised that funny could also be smart and cool. When I was a kid, his book of Top Ten Lists was like a bible of comedic timing and dumb subversiveness. Most importantly, he does what he wants. He conducts the most honest interviews, he brings on interesting fringe people as guests to give them exposure, and he is willing to wear an Alka-Seltzer suit on national television. He still does the best interviews in the game, hands down. He brought us Kaufman and Stern and Pekar and Elliott and so many others who may not have had as much of a chance without him.
To me, Carson is God, and Letterman is king. To people of my generation, he was the guy saying, "We can be weird and different, and that's what's cool now." I can't overstate his influence on me, and on comedy in general. I think he's probably the most underappreciated voice in contemporary comedy, and he's a dude who's on national TV every night to great praise. He will always deserve more credit than he gets. Always.
I've never met him or been on his show, and if I can't make that happen before he retires, I know it will be one of the biggest regrets of my professional life. I only hope that my work extends the ballsiness he put out there in some small way, because he's in my Mount Rushmore of comedy. And he gets the Lincoln slot. His is a standard I will always seek to honour in my own work.
Photo via Flickr User thejointchiefs
Guy Branum (Chelsea Lately, Totally Biased)
David Letterman merged the absurd with the human. When he'd suggest to Isabella Rossellini that they rent a Ford Taurus and just drive around, it was a legitimate, honest flirtation put in the most ridiculous terms. From "Will It Float?" to his attempts to psychically predict which pies his mum made for Thanksgiving, he put basic, human curiosities and emotions and turned them into something delightfully absurd.
He also showed me how important it is to respect other people – from making a hamburger with Julia Child to bantering with Amy Sedaris, he gave other people the space to be great, and it always made him look better. He's magical (but I still haven't forgiven him for fucking over Merrill Markoe).
Laura Kightlinger (HBO)
I have a folder that's called "Sucking Eddie Brill's Dick."
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