Today, fewer and fewer people remember Dinah Shore and Steve Allen. Johnny Caron is fading into history. And now David Letterman has pulled the plug. If not the most popular, he was perhaps the most innovative and literate of the late night hosts.
His influence will be felt by people who’ve never heard of him. But that’s okay. After 33 years of sitting behind his desk, he’s bound to have had an impact. One wonders, will he escape the “scene” and fade away quickly like Carson or will we see his name as one of the voices on The Simpsons?
It was difficult to keep up with Letterman after a while because of full-time jobs and the need to get some sleep before sitting in a cubicle all day. Even when I didn’t see the show, I saw clips and felt a sense of things being right with the world knowing he was there with a new top ten list, some low-key satirical jokes, a new band, and some intentionally lame comedy bits.
A lot of notable people came and went on Letterman’s show. Everyone has their favorite interviews. But Dave was more than those interviews: he was middle America trying to make sense of everything outside middle America.
Don’t quote me on this, but Letterman shouldn’t have left even if (ultimately) he had to do the show from a hospital bed hooked up on life support, he should have stayed the course: “Tonight, Ladies and Gentlemen, the top ten reasons I’m still alive.” That would keep our link with the past up and running, making us feel better about ourselves and our world.
This isn’t the say the comedy died. Let’s just say that it’s changed and quite possibly that means the world as we know it is over. Change is a scary thing.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat, a 1950s-era novella about Jim Crow, conjure and the klan in the Florida Panhandle.