Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hasta La Vista, Davey.

I was a teenage insomniac. My high school years were spent alone, in front of the TV at three in the morning, where my only viable choices for entertainment were scrambled porn, that infomercial where Mr T cooks a turkey in a Flavor-Wave Oven, and late-night talk shows. In the mid-nineties, there was Jay Leno, who could have been funny for all I know but the chin was far too distracting, Conan O'Brien, who was still cutting his teeth in the late-late time slot, and Letterman, who taught me everything I know about comedy.

As his retirement week came to a close on Wednesday, the outpouring of love and gratitude was well apparent, and now it's my turn. Dave was well-known as an asshole. It was Gilbert Gottfried who said he was "nicely mean". He was sarcastic and deadpan. He found great joy in relatively small things, and could stretch anything into a multi-show bit. In the rest of the world, being a gas station owner named Richard Assman elicits a few genuine chuckles, but Letterman found it funny enough to visit him weekly for several years. It wasn't this gentleman's unfortunate name that made it hilarious, but rather the way that Dave would giggle any time it came up.

I watched every night as he made stars out of average joes; Manny The Hippie, whom he picked up off the ground at Haight-Ashbury and took travelling around the country, his mom, who balanced Dave perfectly with her genuine bewilderment of his comedic methods, Larry "Bud" Melman (Calvert Deforest), who Dave would send out onto the streets with an earpiece to bother people. Sometimes, Dave would just spend the beginning few minutes of his show throwing shit off of his roof, but still, people came back night after night to see what would happen next.

A true talent of Letterman's was not just in watching him perform well-loved comedy pieces, but also watching a bit fall flat with audiences. He could bring out a guest that people didn't care about, or take a Madonna joke a little too far, and instead of moving on to the next piece, would stare directly out into his stone-faced audience and lick the little space between his teeth, and adjust his tie furiously until he had the whole room in tears. 

In April of Grade 11, I went to New York for the first time. Dave was not filming that week, so I went to Joe G's Pizza for a slice, and Hello Deli for a sandwich hand-crafted by Rupert Jee himself. I went on the CBS tour. I walked through his studio and touched his chair. The set was smaller than I thought it would be, and every bit as chilly as I expected. I stared out at the empty studio, at the lofty rafters with hundreds of wires and boom-mics. I thought about how many times Dave had a few minutes to kill, and would bring out Bryant Gumbel or Regis Philbin for a good ribbing. It shouldn't have been funny, but Dave would have it no other way.

~sarah p.

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