Thursday, May 21, 2015

Last Call for Late Night

Along with about 14 million others I watched David Letterman’s show last night, his last after more than three decades of being a fixture on late night television. Was laughing pretty hard from beginning to end thanks to a lot of well chosen and edited clips and other funny business.

I remember when Letterman was late, late night -- as in a 12:30 a.m. start. In fact I even dimly remember his stint with a morning show, too. I was barely a teen when Late Night with David Letterman first premiered in early 1982, at time which happened to coincide with that period in my life when I would be staying up late a lot, too.

Watched enough of him during those years to be as influenced as anyone else by what was then considered a somewhat alternative style of comedy and general TV spoofing. Like most of my generation I continued to pay fairly close attention to Letterman right up until those “late night wars” surrounding Johnny Carson’s retirement in 1992.

Kept watching occasionally after the CBS show began airing in the summer of ’93, although by then whatever late nights I kept were school-related as for the next several years I’d be pursuing graduate degrees. Then came “real life” and full-time employment, and thus fewer late nights watching the tube.

After that came this second career writing about poker which again has me up all hours, although more often watching people play cards than crack jokes on the teevee. So while I occasionally would keep tuning in to watch the Late Show it would only be now and then, and rarely in the elective way I’d watched the NBC show.

I wasn’t paying attention, then, when Letterman had Chris Moneymaker on as a guest after he’d won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event -- in June, that is, before that year’s WSOP had aired on ESPN. That episode doesn’t seem to be online anywhere, although Moneymaker told me once how he was pretty sure he had a tape of it somewhere.

I do recall Joe Cada’s turn on Letterman’s show in 2009, where the youngest-ever WSOP ME champ appeared just a day or two before he turned 22. Earlier that same year I wrote something here after a Steve Martin appearance on Late Show which included a funny story about Martin playing online poker after taking Ambien.

I’ve found myself distracted some over the last couple of days reading others’ stories about Letterman’s show and its significance while also looking at various clips, mostly from that first decade or so he was on the air and I was watching practically every night. And I greatly enjoyed the finale, primarily because of how Letterman characteristically downplayed the significance of the event -- entirely expected, and fitting, of course, given the self-deprecating core around which most of his humor has always been based.

I liked the sweet yet not overly sentimental way he acknowledged his mother (whom we all remember fondly, too). And I also liked how he found a spot to include his wife and son (whom we hadn’t met before), saying to them “I love you both and really nothing else matters, does it?” without being at all maudlin about it, but rather just stating a fact.

Others have (and will continue to) assign significance to his contributions to television, comedy, and the culture in general. Like Letterman himself, though, I’m dissuaded from trying to articulate any profundities explaining what it all was about.

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