I can only describe David Letterman as a friend. Not a role model, or a hero, but a friend. I’ve been in the same room as him once and never actually talked to him face to face, so it might seem a bit weird when I call him a friend. So allow me to explain why this is the case.
As many of you might expect, I was a class clown growing up. But in spite of being funny, I hadn’t quite figured out how to make friends by being funny. If you ever heard the term “gregarious loner” that applied to me. I wasn’t really close to a lot of people, because I didn’t feel like a lot of people got me.
But around when I turned 12 or 13 I was finally able to stay awake longer than my parents and I started watching the Late Show With David Letterman. He and Norm MacDonald were my heroes. They were smirking and smug, and they told jokes on their terms. They didn’t dumb themselves down to make themselves more accessible like that hack Jay Leno. They were funny, take it or leave it.
Well, Norm got fired and made like 5 bad sitcoms. But Dave endured. And he was also an Internet pioneer. If you had AOL and clicked on “Comedy” (this was pre-knowing URLS) you’d find Letterman’s site. And every week he would have a contest for fans to submit their own Top Ten entries. They never made it on air, but every week they’d choose the ten funniest entries and post it on the site. And one week I made it. It was the highlight of my freshman year in high school. I printed out copies of the list for everyone to see so they could know that I was officially Funny.
And all through high school I felt like Dave was the only one who really got me. He was there to guide me through not just impeachment, the 2000 election and 9/11 but through my own fucked up life as well. I didn’t have anyone as cool and New York at my high school as Dave, so I made sure I watched him every night at 11:35 as scheduled. It was like for an hour every night I was the normal one and everyone else in my high school was uncool.
When I finally made it to college, my relationship with Dave changed a little bit. I finally figured out how to get people to like me by being funny so I felt like less of a loner. And I finally had a social schedule that meant I spent that hour surrounding midnight at parties instead of at home, alone, watching TV. But I made sure to fit Dave in whenever I could. My college girlfriend (she was a trooper) even indulged me and would watch the monologue with me when she stayed over, even if she’d get bored during the interviews because, let’s face it, if Dave didn’t care about the guests then the show could get dull.
But I started taking my friendship with Dave for granted. Especially when the Colbert Report started. The Colbert Report was so balls out wry and mean that there’s no way it could have existed without Dave. No wonder Colbert is the purported number one candidate to take over the Late Show. The fact that you didn’t have to change the channel after the Daily Show or deal with 5 minutes of local sports coverage made it that much more alluring.
And the other thing that really hurt our relationship was his affair with Stephanie Birkitt. Stephanie was a big part of the on-air portion of the show, and the affair made it seem like Dave’s interactions with her were a lie. After all, Dave was the real guy who would cut through Hollywood bullshit with his impeccable wit. Finding out that any part of his show was contrived or fake felt like a betrayal. By the end of the decade I’d gone from watching every night to maybe catching him a few times per month.
But if Dave’s wife could forgive him then I could forgive him too. Once I moved to New York I knew that I had to go see his show live, at least once. The problem is that the show tapes around 4 pm and I was always working when they needed audience members.
But last year, right as my company was going through some terrible times, I suddenly found myself free during the day. It wasn’t a good period for me, but at least I had time. So I roped another friend into seeing the show with me.
You do a phone interview before getting tickets so they can make sure you’re a real fan. I must have impressed them because they gave me tickets in the second row. Before the show they tell you that Dave likes to come out and talk with the audience before each show and we should have questions ready for him, but that they might have to cut the session short in order to start filming on time.
I had my question for him ready and shot my hand in the air when he came on stage. He was taller and thinner than I expected. Angular is a good word to describe him. But otherwise he looked exactly like he did on TV. After he walked onstage he called on someone in the first row, asked where she was from, and then the band started playing and they had to start the show before he could talk to anyone else.
But I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get to ask him a question. Because our friendship was fine the way it was. And while we can make fun of people for getting maudlin about celebrities retiring or dying, my friendship with Dave shows just how much affect they can have on you. That there’s a relationship there, even if you haven’t met. I was at one of the low points in my life and Dave was there, if only for a little bit, to make me forget about everything. That’s a relationship, I don’t care what anyone else says.
So I want to wish my friend Dave best of luck in retirement. He earned it.