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How David Letterman Shaped Humor on THE LATE SHOW and Beyond

How David Letterman Shaped Humor on THE LATE SHOW and Beyond

On Wednesday night, after over 30 years, David Letterman took his leave from television, truly marking the end of an era. I would argue that he’s the last king of late night TV. By no means am I speaking ill of Conan, Fallon, Kimmel, Corden, or even Colbert  — who I am beyond excited will be back this fall — but the one fact remains; none of them compare to David Letterman.

The majority of you reading this were probably raised on Conan O’Brien, while younger readers may only vaguely remember a time that the Jimmy Fallon and Kimmel were on Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central respectively. I, as a soon-to-be 32 year old man, have a soft spot for David Letterman and his comedic style mainly because I grew up with one of the biggest Letterman fans there is–my dad.

I am the youngest of four boys and our whole gamily gets along relatively well: no small feat these days, and I assure you that all of us having a good sense of humor is the driving force behind that. That humor, in no small part, comes from my dad’s–his having been sculpted over the years by David Letterman. This resulted in a respect for David Letterman as the one person that has continually made my dad laugh for longer than I’ve been alive.

To this day my dad will approach me with a joke often borrowed from something on Letterman: it’s one of my favorite things about him. When he sets up a joke, it’s completely obvious and unbelievably endearing. “Blake… Blake…” he’ll say, giggling to himself at the joke he knew was coming–the punchline unimportant and sometimes butchered (sorry dad). When the joke finally did make its way out, it would result in a particular look of joy on my father’s face as he waited for the same laugh he must have given the joke the night before in return. My mom often chimes in with, “Oh just let him be Blake, he saw it on Letterman” when the response isn’t what he desired.

I called my dad to pick his brain about how he felt about the show ending and the impact Letterman had on his life and he couldn’t have said it better so I’ll just quote him: “He helped me to keep or at least try to have a good sense of humor. His dry sense of humor is something I always liked and tried for.”

Enough waxing poetic. You know where my head is for tonight’s episode and so now I can unabashedly share some of my, and my dad’s, favorite moments from David Letterman’s very long career.

Top Ten Lists

No list of favorites would be complete without the Top Ten lists. Dave started these as an ironic joke but in a showing of cosmic irony they’ve become iconic. These are the world’s first Listicles. BuzzFeed owes it’s entire existence to this bit.

Rupert Jee

Hello Deli’s own Rupert Jee became a staple on the show and was featured constantly over the years. The clip above is one of my favorites as it did what is so often emulated today. The man on the street/earpiece bit is so old hat now but it’s something Dave and Rupert did so perfectly.

Letterman in a Suit of Velcro

This is what came to mind immediately when I asked my father for his favorite bits. Having a host do something so silly was incredible and obviously memorable.

Drew Barrymore Flashes Dave

Another one of my dad’s favorite moments. What a great birthday present for Dave, right? His reaction was priceless. His dry sense of humor really shines in a situation that should have left him speechless.

Jack Hanna

TV is good when it goes right but it’s GREAT when it goes wrong. Seeing Dave uncomfortable or even scared is what made these segments with Jack Hanna work so well.

Paul Shaffer

Dave’s longtime bandleader and one could argue one of the best sidekicks ever! Paul Shaffer and the rest of the band are not only fantastic musicians but their willingness to participate in the goofiest bits on the show is what make them memorable.

The final Late Show with David Letterman is a momentous occasion. For over three decades he’s entertained the world with unique brand of comedy and unforgettable dry sense of humor. While not always my go-to for late night television, his impact on my life goes beyond entertainment. Some of my fondest childhood memories with my dad are sitting on the couch watching The Late Show fighting the urge to fall asleep. After writing this I can’t wait to visit my parents again and watch some Letterman highlights with my dad. I owe my sense of humor to my parents and my dad, in some part, owes his to David Letterman.

Thanks for the good times Dave. You will be missed.

What are your favorite Letterman Moments? Let us know in the comments below

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