To many people Johnny Carson will forever be the king of late night, but to me that title will always belong to David Letterman. I’ve spent many hours of my life sitting in front of the TV late at night watching Letterman run through his opening monologue and I’ve heard countless Top 10 lists spouted off by Dave or his special guests. I’ve laughed more during that gap toothed man’s late night show than at anything or anyone else in my lifetime.
My love of David Letterman’s show ran so deep that when I was in high school I called into a syndicated radio show to participate in a Stump the Chump challenge. The host of the radio show and one of his sidekicks claimed to know more about television than their listeners and they challenged their listeners to try to stump them with TV trivia, and they were rarely stumped. I called in with a question to try to stump the chump. My question? What was the name of the drummer in the CBS Orchestra on the Late Show with David Letterman. The host and his sidekick discussed the question with each other before finally giving in and asking me what the answer was. I told them the drummer’s name and then they hung-up on me. (I guess there was a reason they were rarely stumped, the chumps were cheaters.)
David Letterman’s retirement makes me sad. I’m sure I’ll learn to like Steven Colbert just fine, David Letterman’s replacement, but David Letterman’s show meant more to me than the comedy he produced. Back in 1993 when David Letterman began the Late Show, I began my run of staying up as late as I wanted to on weekday nights as a young high school student. My nightly routine was the same every night. I would watch the end of the sports portion of the news and then I’d change the channel to the Late Show with David Letterman. With almost impeccable timing my dad would come downstairs to where I was so he could either build a fire or just hang out with me.
The first 15 to 25 minutes of the Late Show with David Letterman was always time I spent with my dad and it happened without fail. We would laugh at Letterman’s monologue and watch his Top 10 lists together. Once it was time for the guests to come out my dad would head back upstairs so he could watch the rest of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (my dad was always a bigger Leno fan, but I was always loyal to Letterman).
I don’t remember any significant conversations that took place during those times with my dad. He didn’t teach me about the meaning of life or the secret to success. He didn’t give me advice about girls or lecture me about my grades. Even though we didn’t have any memorable conversations during Letterman’s shows, the memories we created by just being in the same room together each night was important to both of us. It gave a time where all of the tension that may have formed between us could be buried and forgotten about for those 15 to 25 minutes. We could sit there in the same room together and enjoy something together.
Now I’m grown with kids of my own and I don’t live anywhere near my dad. I also don’t get to watch as much Letterman as I used to — thanks Eastern Standard Time — but whenever I do get to catch some Letterman those fond memories of spending time with my dad come flooding to the surface, and that’s why Letterman’s retirement will affect me more than just learning to accept a different type of humor from a different host. It’s the potential loss of those fond memories I have of spending time with my dad. I guess in some ways I expected the Late Show with David Letterman to always be around to remind me of those times; however, the fondness of those memories is really more about the time I was able to spend with my dad and not necessarily watching David Letterman. Hopefully in 20 years when Jimmy Fallon or Steven Colbert my children will have built similar fond memories with me while watching those shows.
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