It’s been almost two years since David Letterman retired from television, and I still miss him.
I remember sneaking out of bed when I was in elementary school to watch Dave toss pencils through a window with my parents. There was something about his goofy brand of humour that connected with me, and throughout jr high I would tape his show and use it as incentive to get through my homework when I got home the next day.
I know: I was a weird kid.
Throughout high school, university and beyond, I always looked forward to checking in with Dave. No matter what kind of day you’ve had, you could rely on laughing about something dumb in the monologue, or some banter between him and his career-long band leader, Paul Shaffer. And if it wasn’t the banter, there was always something fun happening, whether they were dropping stuff off the roof of the Ed Sullivan theatre, or the classic bit about trying to see how many Spidermen they could fit into a Jamba Juice. You could always rely on the nightly “Top Ten Lists” or the more esoteric “Will it Float?” or “Is it Anything?” segments for a sure laugh. About 10 years ago I was on a trip in New York City, and even though we saw a bunch of cool stuff, the biggest highlight for me was getting to sit in on a taping of The Late Show.
I guess you can say I was a life-long fan.
So, you can guess I’m pretty excited to read this new biography on Dave called Letterman, The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman. It is touted to be “the definitive story of the life and artistic legacy of David Letterman”, so I can’t wait to get into it.
Paul Shaffer wrote a book a few years ago called We’ll be here for the rest of our lives, and I had high hopes for it. I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly, but maybe some insight into the “behind the scenes” world of this television icon and the many guests he’s had on his shows over the years, starting at NBC in 1982 and moving to CBS in 1993. The result, however, was a little underwhelming. I had the feeling that Paul Shaffer didn’t want to offend anybody, and so his memoir came off as a luke-warm retread that never really said anything interesting.
For those who want a little perspective on the so called “Late Night Wars” between Dave and Jay Leno over at The Tonight Show, Bill Carter’s book, The War for Late Night: When Leno went early and television went crazy is worth a look. It also covers Conan O’Brien’s short-lived stint as the host of The Tonight Show. Remember that?
Even though I haven’t connected with anyone on “late night” the way I did with Dave, there are a couple of other “late night” hosts that have written books.
Trevor Noah, the new host of The Daily Show, has written an engaging memoir of growing up mixed race in the dying days of South Africa’s apartheid era. (Born in 1984, Noah was 6 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison). Even if you don’t watch The Daily Show, I think you’ll find Noah’s story riveting. It’s called Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.
Another late night host with connections to The Daily Show is Samantha Bee. She is the only Canadian in the late night world, and more importantly: the only woman. She began her career as a correspondent for The Daily Show and cites David Letterman as one of her comedic influences. In 2016, she launched her own late night satire show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, which is now in its second season. She recently hosted an alternative “White House Correspondents Dinner” which attracted a crowd of 2600 people. In 2010 she published a book of humorous essays called I know I am, but what are you? which gives you a good overview of the unique way Samantha Bee sees the world.
We may never see another late night host like David Letterman, but I’m sure that his legacy is secured in knowing that many up-and-coming comedians still hold Dave up as the gold standard for late night humour, and his presence will be felt for many years to come.