(SNN) Let me start with the biggest downer about the last David Letterman Late Show. Someone should have warned us the show would run long. Many fans are left with DVRs that stopped with 18 unrecorded minutes of the hour and eighteen minute-long last "Late Show." This now becomes the second most famous 18-minute gap in American history.
On to the good stuff. Classy exit, funny to the last. Just the right tone. Great highlight reel of Dave with children. (Art Linketter wishes he was that good with kids.) Heavy on the funny, light on the mawkish--something that fits Dave to a tee.
There were two obvious moments for the ages—the Presidential goodbye (“Our long National Nightmare is over,”) and the final Top Ten List peopled with celebrities.
Not Just Fighting Foo
I really liked the story about the Foo Fighters, the last band ever to play The Late Show. As it turns out they hadn’t been spending all their free time fighting Foo, as Dave has often claimed. The band sometimes toured South America. When Dave asked to have the band perform on his first show after his quintuple bypass surgery in 2000, they had a conflict; they were touring South America. So they obviously couldn’t do his show, right? Wrong. The Foo Fighters cancelled the South America tour and were there for Dave.
I don’t pretend to understand what resides in the deepest recesses of Dave’s mind, but whatever brought about his comedic genius came at great personal cost. Dave doesn’t do people well, its been said again and again. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know there has been enormous self-doubt—even by comedian standards—throughout his career.
As the farewell shows went forward, particularly over the last few weeks, you could see a change in his demeanor. The first gushes of thanks and adoration were met with predictable embarrassment on Letterman’s part. But you could see the resistance wear down. So many stars said so many good and loving things about him, he appeared to consider the possibility that he wasn’t as bad as he thought he was.
By the last night, he seemed—if not a new person—at least a man who’d had his career validated by those who know what the hell they are talking about. The praise came from people he admired, friends and celebrities he respected. They couldn’t all be wrong, could they?
The Moment of Triumph
And then, last night, there was one instant on the show when I felt Dave would be okay and would enter this phase of his life well fortified for success.
Call me a sentimental old fool, and you wouldn’t be the first, but the great emancipating moment, the instant when I was willing to forgive Dave for abandoning us, the moment when I realized the long goodbye threw Dave’s sense of self-worth an incomparable going away party, was easy to miss. It came shortly after he introduced his wife Regina, and his son, Harry, in the audience. As the ovation rose, the smile that creased Letterman’s face showed the kind of unrestrained joy we rarely saw from this famously private and grumpy entertainer.
There was love in that expression and, I suspect, a sense of triumph. After Dave had embarrassed his wife years ago by cheating on her, he famously admitted his failure on air. In his statement of apology he said he had “his work cut out for him” trying to repair the damages.
That look suggested that for all his self-contempt over failures real or psychological in other areas of his life, he had triumphed in his attempt to save his family.
I hope so. He spent 35 years entertaining us; if ever a happy show business retirement was earned, his has been.
Doesn’t mean we won’t miss the Hell out of you, big guy.
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