I have loved David Letterman since his stand-up days. I watched him move from the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to a short-lived and very odd daytime talk/semi-variety show to Late Night with David Letterman on NBC to his current digs on CBS, The Late Show with David Letterman. During that time, I would hear people complain about something Dave did on one of his shows or a strange guest he had or a stunt he pulled, and the complaint would invariably end with: "I just don’t get why he’s supposed to be funny. That was so annoying!" After one of Dave’s oddest shows in which the camera on him was timed to rotate 360 degrees throughout the hour, a friend of mine came up to me the following morning and said: "THAT was completely stupid and irritating! I wanted to slap the shit outta him!" And, I laughed. I thought it was hilarious, of course.
Whether it was the Panicky Guy, or the Guy Under the Stairs, or Stupid Pet Tricks, or Brother Theodore (a Klaus Kinksiesque performance artist with a thick German accent and a stare that could freeze a bonfire), I snorted and howled and giggled my way through each episode of the Letterman television sampler. It was all dark chocolate to me, and to hell with those who didn’t "get" it. To this day, I still think the Oscar night hosted by Dave was the best Oscar night of them all. Sadie the Spinning Dog! Oprah Uma! Fabulous!
In his later years, I’ve watched Dave grow into an elder statesman of television fun with the grace of a figure skater. When he recovered from his heart surgery, he hosted the entire staff of people who had brought him through his near-death ordeal, including the nurses who had attended him. Putting his arm around one of them, he said: "Ladies and gentleman—this woman wiped my ass!" It was funny, but his tribute to them was a tear jerker, and he thanked them for saving his life. I cried right along with him. When his son, Harry, was born, I was struck by the overt love Dave radiated—even while making jokes about his own reactions to the birth process. In sharing his life with myself and others, Dave has managed to make himself three dimensional in a way that no other television personality has accomplished. With his self-deprecating humor and wry confessions of his own inadequacies, he peels off the famous veneer and reveals himself to be one of us—just a guy trying to live a good life, do right by others, entertain, and be honest. While I admire Jay Leno’s car collection, I’d rather sit and have coffee and bullshit with Dave—he seems more like the people I already hang out with.
On January 30 of this year, Dave hosted the mother of the late Bill Hicks, a comedian of legendary proportion. In October of 1993, Dave censored out an entire routine Hicks had taped for the show because of pressures brought on by Standards and Practices. (Evidently they didn’t see Desperate Housewives coming at all.) It was ultimately Dave’s decision to cancel Hicks’ performance, and it earned Dave a lot of emnity from the Hicks camp, and from other comedians. Dave, having made his bones doing stand-up, must have taken leave of his senses. A few months later, Bill Hicks died of cancer, and the memory of that cancelled act must have festered in Letterman’s soul all these years. In an act of attrition and conscience, Dave had Mary Hicks on the show and played the entire performance of her son. He apologized (a media critic called it "grovelling") handsomely, and received his chewing out from Mrs. Hicks with calm stoicism. He had it coming, after all.
I dare anyone who reads this to say they’ve never embarrassed themselves, done something stupid, or offended anyone. I’m guilty of all that and worse. For most of my wrongs, I’ve made amends. What Dave did wasn’t all that remarkable when you think about it. He was righting a wrong and making amends. Although he missed making direct amends to Bill, the gesture was not an empty one, and it seems fairly clear to me that Letterman meant it sincerely. What IS remarkable is that the incident probably wasn’t something most of us remember, but Dave remembered it, and exposed his own screw up to the world. In a day and age when we have Wall Street CEOs unapologetically ripping off millions of people and destroying our economy, and evil bastards like Bernard Madoff destroy the lives and dreams of thousands in a ponzi scheme without a hint of remorse, and former Presidents and Vice Presidents refusing to admit they have done anything ill—it is simply amazing to see someone as well-known as David Letterman perform a public apology and admission of wrong-doing. He is a fine American. I salute him.