Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Late Night Pick: Farewell, Uncle Dave! Dave Letterman's Last Show

Tonight, a 35 year long relationship ends. It began the summer of 1980. I was between 6th and 7th grade when I discovered a new morning talk show that was unlike anything on in the mornings then. The David Letterman Show was full of edgy comedy unlike the talk shows built for housewives, soap operas and game shows that populated daytime TV then. Comedians like Rich Hall and Edie McClurg were part of the regulars, playing odd characters for Dave to interview. Steve Martin and Andy Kaufman would come on as guests. Small Town News and Stupid Pet Tricks were regular segments. I still remember a classic July 4th episode with Dave heading to the roof of 30 Rock to view daytime fireworks and Edie McClurg coming on to be interviewed as a housewife who made all her picnic foods red, white & blue. I woke up every morning to watch the show while I ate breakfast, real appointment TV for the summer and sometimes the only thing getting me out of bed (I was already starting to like sleeping late). But I went back to school in September and the show got canceled in October, and I wondered if I'd see Dave again, other than as the occasional guest host on the Tonight Show.

Fast forward to 1982. Dave comes back with a new show, Late Night with David Letterman. I couldn't watch it much until the summer started (it wasn't on Friday nights back then), but once the summer hit, it became regular viewing. My late night TV watching was set. Dr. Who and Monty Python from 11 PM to midnight, a little MTV or Carson until 12:30 and then back with the comedy of Uncle Dave. He brought back some bits from the old morning show, went out on the street in NYC and drove people crazy, and had lots of new comedy too. Over the next 11 years, Late Night was an essential part of my viewing, through high school summers and Friday nights (when they went five nights a week). Through college, when your study night would end at 12:30 and you'd gather in the TV room of the dorm or a friend's place to watch. After college, at least those nights when you could stay awake (had a job now) or remember to program the VCR. Memorable guests like Andy Kaufman, Crispin Glover, Harvey Pekar or Madonna when the interview teetered on the brink of breakdown and shouting and sometimes did breakdown. Bands like REM, X, Sonic Youth, and The Replacements. Comedy bits like Chris Elliott's "The Guy Under the Seats" and Marlon Brando imitation ("Bananas!"), the Velcro suit, Larry "Bud" Melman, shouting at The Today Show with a megaphone while they were live on the air, chatting with the woman in the office across the street on the phone and making her do silly things. It was awkward, weird, and hilarious. It helped form my sense of humor and love for non-sequitur comedy.

I even went to a taping of Late Night in the spring of '93. Connie Chung and Jim Kelly were guests. Connie kept bugging Dave to stay with NBC (this was during the great Late Night War to see who would take Carson's place) and Jim & Dave throwing footballs around. I remember the studio seeming much smaller than on TV.

Then it was off to CBS when NBC went with Leno (Bah!) for the Tonight Show. I went to the 5th Late Show. Can't remember the guests now but saw Midnight Oil as the musical guest and loved being in the Ed Sullivan Theater, newly remodeled for Dave. Dave held his edge for a while, angry at NBC for taking away the Tonight Show. After a while, he seemed to drift a little, as did I to Conan and Jimmy Fallon, though I came back over to Dave on a more regular basis the last few years. It was nice knowing that I could always put Dave on at 11:30 and he'd be there, like your favorite, funny, sarcastic uncle, always good for a laugh, maybe giving a you a good-humored ribbing, but with a compassion underneath so you knew he was just putting you on and he had a good heart.

But now, Uncle Dave is going away. I don't know if he'll be gone forever. He'll show up every now and then, maybe a show that's on once a week or once a month or on the Internet. A little check-in to say hello. But I'll miss knowing that he's there every night, closing your day with a smile, helping you take the world a little less seriously and making you appreciate the wonderful weirdness of life.

Farewell, Uncle Dave! Bananas!