Note: Culture Shock friend Dan Cashman, host of “The Nite Show” on WABI 5 Bangor/Fox23 Portland/Fox8 Presque Isle, shared this funny and touching remembrance of TV legend David Letterman, as he prepares to exit late night TV after 33 years. He graciously allowed me to share it here on my blog. If you’re a Dave fan like I am — and clearly Dan is — please read. We’ll miss you, Dave.
I like to do things on a whim. Sometimes a last-minute, unplanned decision ends up with something fantastic happening. Sometimes it doesn’t…but I usually don’t mind taking the risk.
I also enjoy routine. I like having the knowledge that amongst the changes we all experience in life and the grab-bag of unknowns that we encounter every day, there is an outer rim of routine with some solid traditions sprinkled in. I like knowing that there are baseball games on TV or the radio almost every night of the Summer (save for the night following the All Star Game), I like the comfort of expecting that it gets dark at night and it lightens up again in the morning, and I really like having the expectation met that we get snow in the winter and warm sun in the Summer. These things might seem simple, but they are necessary. I think about them a lot. And they keep me grounded.
With all of that in mind, the point I’m driving at is that I – along with all of America – have had the expectation since I was 4 years old that almost every weeknight, our day could end with a few laughs generated by David Letterman. Mind you, I didn’t start watching at the age of 4…but I did start watching heavily at the age of 9. When I was 9 years old, my TV viewing habits consisted of Double Dare, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Family Ties, a cartoon here and there (Heathcliff was a favorite), and David Letterman. (Eventually I wised up and added Johnny Carson to that list.) From that point on, I was hooked.
I used to sit up in my bedroom playing solitaire on Friday nights, waiting for Dave to start. In the Summer non-school months, I’d do that almost every night…wondering what Dave would do next. When he transitioned to CBS, I watched every Friday night, and would stay up late to catch him on the weeknights if I had extra homework to do, or if I just had a bad day.
In 1995, I had my first experience visiting the Ed Sullivan Theatre, seeing Whoopi Goldberg and the “Melon-A-Pult 3000 plus” on display in person…but the real thrill, and the real draw, aside from being in the Ed Sullivan Theatre for the first time, was seeing Dave. Seeing his audience interaction when the cameras weren’t on, the respect he had for the people filling the hundreds of seats in the historic theater, and the respect he seemed to have for his staff and crew. That same night, I visited Shea Stadium for the first time and laughed with giddy delight as our friend in the Bronx got into a very minor car accident (we were all okay). But the lasting memory of that day was seeing Letterman with my dad. I was walking on Cloud 9 for weeks after that experience.
In college, The Late Show became every night appointment viewing. College wasn’t easy. I had difficulty with the transition from high school to college, quickly losing contact with some good friends and not finding my way all that easily in higher education. Every night, I found comfort in watching Letterman be goofy, cranky, smart, and amazing. Eventually, I moved on campus, and some roommates and I would frequently gather to watch Dave at 11:35 while taking a break from last-minute homework or – in rare cases – sleep.
In 1999 I had an internship in New York. I might have hung out outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre a little more than what one would call a “healthy” amount. I met Alan Kalter, Paul Shaffer, Biff Henderson, Pat & Kenny, and a few random guests. All very nice people. I got in to see Letterman twice that Summer — once with actual tickets, and once with standby tickets. One of those shows featured Don Rickles – Mr. Warmth. Two legends, Dave and Rickles, sitting and chatting with each other, making each other laugh…and I got to witness it first hand. Damn.
Dave’s first show back after quintuple bipass surgery fell during this era of college viewing. I remember the anticipation I had leading up to his first show back. I monitored the internet so closely (back when you had to be on a computer to do it) to get a glimmer of hope as to when his first show back would be. In February, he returned. I watched his return. Just me, and a Pat’s Pizza in my apartment bedroom. When his voice cracked introducing the medical team that saved his life, I had to grab a tissue. Cranky Dave became – before our very eyes – thankful Dave. Sentimental Dave. Lucky Dave. That’s when I realized he wasn’t so much cranky as he was honest and real.
That Summer, I returned to New York, and by happenstance was able to meet Rob Burnett, Maria Pope, and the man himself – David Letterman. I said something to him about his upcoming stint on jury duty as he was getting in his car. He stopped, stood up straight outside his car, pointed at me, and said “that’s funny.” Then he got in his car and drove away. I wish I knew what I said at that moment…but it happened, and I once again was on Cloud 9.
Years went by, I got jobs…some of them required very early wake-up calls, others required very late hours at offices. Through it all, either recorded or live, there was Dave on CBS. I won’t even get into what his first show back after 9/11 meant…because I think it meant the same to everyone. But – to me – the after-effect was that was his 3,000th hit, or his 400th home run…that’s what cemented him into the hall of fame. He was the best. The king. There would be none greater.
Months and years went by. And I look back at my own life-changing moments, and I distinctly remember settling down around those moments by watching Dave. The night before I started my new job in the Governor’s Office? I watched Dave. The night we closed on our new house? I watched Dave. The night before I proposed to my now-wife, very nervous about if my plan would go as flawlessly as I was hoping? I watched Dave. The night before our wedding…even more nervous than the night before the proposal…I watched Dave. My very first day on my own as a small business owner, I watched Dave that night. Every Christmas, it just wasn’t Christmas until I heard from Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).”
For me, Letterman’s shows brought a sense of normalcy, consistency, sarcasm, and wit that somehow helped to keep me centered, and grounded. No matter how bad a day was or how nervous I was about anything happening in life, at night (or the following Monday) there would be a comedian, a broadcaster, a communicator…who brought everything back to a zero balance. But maybe even more than that…for an hour a day, watching Dave, I always went back to being the 9-year-old staying up late in my parents basement watching David Letterman for the first time, with his guests Siskel & Ebert. I felt like a kid again for one hour, every weekday.
Why am I writing all this? I think it’s because I’m legit sad that this is coming to a close. I think on Thursday, after his final show airs, I’m going to be a zombie, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to explain why other than to say “Letterman.” I think Thursday will be a weird day with a very hollow feeling. And, historically, when I’ve had weird days or hollow feelings, I’ve always looked forward to watching Dave to close it out and bring it back. Come Thursday, that won’t be an option.
As usual, Dave said it best. In his words, honoring Johnny Carson when he died. I’ve replaced “Johnny Carson” with “David Letterman.”
“David Letterman was like a public utility. You know? At the end of the day, that’s who you wanted to be there. It didn’t make any kind of a difference what kind of a day you had. If you had a great day, or a bad day… At the end of the day, the guy you wanted there was David Letterman. What a tremendous luxury, if you think about it.”