Top 10 reasons I’ll miss David Letterman
10. The monologue. Unlike other hosts, Dave is quick to admit when one of his jokes has bombed, a technique he learned from Johnny Carson.
But here’s another difference in late-night monologue style: For Jimmy Fallon in particular, nearly every punchline is followed by additional commentary, attempting to reinforce the joke. Letterman’s zinger is over when it’s over, except for the host’s mugging to the audience. Which approach is better? Well, if you were a Jack Benny fan like I was, you’d know the answer.
9. Fun facts (a segment they have discontinued). Based on the fictitious Federal Bureau of Miscellaneous Information, the sketches began with some relatively obscure but legitimate facts to set up the premise, but then we got gems like this:
Orville Wright was the first person to return his seat to the upright and locked position.
The recent space probe to Mars found no water but rather traces of Diet Sprite.
When Thomas’ English Muffins were invented there were only nooks. The crannies came years later.
8. The opening joke. It’s usually an “inside” joke that only the people in the studio audience understand because Dave came out earlier to interact with the crowd and find someone to poke fun at. There’s no logical reason this should work, but it always does. The audience laughter is infectious, and viewers want in on the fun.
7. Paul Shaffer. I don’t know enough about music to judge how good a bandleader he is, but I think his sidekick role has been under-appreciated. Paul provides the perfect background commentary to Dave’s rants and observations, often simply reiterating or confirming what Dave has said with a perfectly pitched mocked sincerity.
Oh, and Paul has worn a completely different wild suit or sport coat every night for more than 30 years. I’ll miss that, too.
6. The interviews. As aloof as he is purported to be off-camera, Letterman shows a sincere interest and respect for his guests. He asks good questions. But he seldom swoons or gushes, and sometimes he’s a little rough on his visitors. Ask Paris Hilton, Bill O’Reilly, Justin Bieber or Donald Trump. Seems to me he picks on people who deserve it.
5. Self-deprecating humor. Observing the controversy surrounding the recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Letterman said, “It’s the most embarrassing thing to come out of Indiana since I came out of Indiana.” Jay Leno wouldn’t have done a joke like that. Nor would Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel.
4. Just talking. Dave is the Mark Twain of television. Unscripted, he sits at his desk after the first commercial break and spins a tale about an experience he has had in recent days — something that annoyed him or touched him. Regis Philbin can do that, too. Other hosts don’t even try.
3. Jack Hanna. A shout-out to Jack, who has always played the somewhat dimwitted animal expert. Is he really that clueless about the animals, or is it an act? I’m not sure. And that’s what makes his appearances so brilliant.
2. Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks and the Top Ten List. (I had to cram those in, I’m running out of numbers.) No comment necessary.
And the number one reason I am going to miss David Letterman …
He always wears white socks. That’s the one thing he does on TV that I can do, too.