My (More Than) Top 10 Favorite David Letterman Memories

Ed Sullivan Theater, Manhattan, New York

Taken on our 2011 road trip to Manhattan. Alas, we couldn’t attend a taping because my son was under 18, a common restriction for most TV-show tapings regardless of on-air content. But we were there!

News broke today that longtime late-night host David Letterman would be retiring from regular TV work after thirty-odd years in the biz. The following piece is provided here in observance of Indiana internet laws that require any Hoosier-born citizens to speak their peace whenever a hometown boy makes national headlines in a good way, even if we’re not among their close followers anymore.

I haven’t watched The Late Show with David Letterman in years, but his influence in my life dates back over two decades to my college years, when the original Late Night with David Letterman was the perfect nightcap for me in my night-owl rhythms. I followed him for a while when he jumped the rails and ditched NBC for CBS, but lost track him during a dark time in my life when I lost track of all TV. It wasn’t him, it was me.

We may not have our nightly appointments together anymore, but my mental scrapbook of those days remains shelved in the warmer, fuzzier section of my mind’s library.

From the Home Office in Indianapolis, Indiana: My Top 20 Favorite David Letterman Memories:

20. That Ed Sullivan Theater vacation photo.

19. “Viewer Mail”, quizzes, card-tossing sound effects, and other regular comedy bits and running gags.

18. The Crispin Glover kickboxing-in-bellbottoms incident.

17. A young Madonna as a hostile guest.

16. The Rice Krispies suit and the colossal bowl of milk.

David Letterman IS David Letterman IN "Avengers" #239!

A beaten-up copy of Letterman’s comics debut is still in my collection. His hair never looked right in print or in person.

15. That issue of The Avengers where he saved the day by walloping Fabian Stankowicz, the Mechano-Marauder, on the head with a giant doorknob.

14. Sparring with Harvey Pekar.

13. Stand-up comedians who were younger and edgier than the ones who appeared on The Tonight Show.

12. Musical acts who were ten times more interesting to me than the ones who appeared on The Tonight Show.

11. Jokes about New York that I wouldn’t get until years later.

10. That time he was canceled after a month. Wait, no, I’m sorry, that’s my only memory of The Chevy Chase Show.

9. “Lettermania”, whose lyrics consisted of Paul Shaffer shouting, “LETTERMANIA! LETTERMANIA! LETTERMANIA!”

8. Bad cue-card readings from Larry “Bud” Melman and Biff Henderson.

7. The first Late Show, featuring a disgruntled Paul Newman cameo and a complete lack of singing cats.

6. That time he hosted the Oscars and I was the only one who laughed. Not at the “UMA! OPRAH!” bits, mind you.

5. His very brief weatherman career, the infamous quip about “hail the size of canned hams”, and how our local media will never, ever let that part of his biography go.

4. The heartfelt episode after his heart surgery, in which he invited his doctors onstage for a standing ovation, and concluded with the Foo Fighters performing “Everlong” just because Dave wanted to hear it.

3. The four Books of Top Ten Lists, published between 1990 and 1996, still in my library.

2. His insistence that neckties and sneakers can go together.

And my number one favorite David Letterman memory:

1. His personal example of how Hoosiers can go on to bigger and better things, regardless of how terrible their hair is.

9 responses

  1. Always liked Letterman. Fond memories of playing Super Mario Bros with my brother over summers while we’d stay up and wait for The Late Show. Letterman isn’t mean but he doesn’t suck up the way some other hosts have(Leno!). I’ll miss him…even though I DVR & watch as much as I can, I guess I’ve been missing out.

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    • The way Dave was so casual and honest with his guests — cranky, even, sometimes — ruined me for other hosts. Ever since Dave it’s been impossible for me to watch anyone else because I know they’re mostly there to help the guest plug their newest product. Not that Dave never did that, but I never caught him being obviously artificial about it. Back then, that was a BIG deal to me.

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      • Yes, honesty is Dave’s best feature. He’s never a phony, which does cause him to be cranky at times. His genuineness is the one thing I enjoy the most. That, and his ability to play dumb. He gets me every time!

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    • We don’t see that sort of conflict anymore between talk show hosts and celeb guests, do we? There’s a strictness to How It Must Be Done: the guest plugs their project, the host says nice things about them, they crack a joke or two together, and — if they actually like each other — they maybe perform a sketch preplanned to go viral the next morning. That Madonna unpleasantness, or Dave’s infamous first interview with Cher, would never happen in today’s talk-show world. Sure, they were uncomfortable moments, but they were honest.

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  2. Some of my favorite Late Show moments include Dave’s return after surgery, the days after 9/11, the Joaquin Phoenix interview, Howard Stern, Johnny Depp and Regis Philbin appearances, stupid human/pet tricks, Guess Mom’s Pies, Halloween trick or treat costumes, Jay Thomas telling the Lone Ranger story and knocking the meatball off the Christmas tree, with Darlene Love closing out the show. I have more favorites than I can mention. I wasn’t able to watch Late Night but have watched the Late Show with David Letterman for the entire 22 years. I, too, stood outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre, overwhelmed by the history that took place inside, beginning with Ed Sullivan himself. Decades of wonderful memories.

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  3. I had one of the “Top Ten” books (still do, somewhere) when I was in 6th or 7th grade and it was hysterical. The humor was just low brow enough to be funny to a 13 year old, and just high brow enough for a 13 year old to think it’s cool that they get (most of) it.

    Letterman has pretty much always been the best interview on TV. I think Colbert is a phenomenal interviewer, though I don’t really care for Colbert Report or the Daily Show. Conan is my least favorite interview.

    I love Jimmy Fallon as a late night host. He’s the everyman. His personality is electric to me and perfectly suited to that kind of TV, and you can really tell he loves the job. He really won me over when he was in Indy for the Super Bowl. It’s interesting how different types of hosts appeal to different people.

    -Garrison

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    • Too true! I have a hard time watching Fallon because he’s two years younger than me and all I can see when I look at him is the silly young guy who had a hard time keeping a straight face in his SNL skits. And on the opposite end of the age spectrum, I also never got into Johnny Carson because, though he was funny, I always thought of him as the previous generation’s talk-show guy of choice. Kinda like the saying for Doctor Who, I think the same holds true here: “You never forget your first.”

      Colbert-as-character has me in stitches at times, but I prefer that my hosts be themselves, not “in character”. As for Conan…well, same issue, really.

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