Letterman is more subtle; he stares into the camera and communicates to you that he knows he’s just wasted your time, the writers have wasted his, the material just sucked but what the hell, it isn’t brain surgery, nobody got killed, it’s only show business.
14. His Intelligence. He doesn’t like to expose the fact he’s smart, he cares and he has a working brain. The post 9/11 show was a classic example of when to let us in. So too, his quick confession after his rambling ways had come to light.
13.The ad-libs. Oh dear Lord what quality. No one in the profession has been consistently better, save possibly Steve Allen.
12. His Sidekick: Paul Shaffer, musical genius, is also one of the best comic foils ever— funny in his own right, but not threateningly so. He has been an underrated part of a great late night host’s success.
11. His integrity. Dave’s shortcomings included a comedian’s insecurity about having the last and the best laugh, but he never cheated you or those he learned from or followed. I clearly recall the times he had Steve Allen on his show, and always made sure the audience knew that Dave had been inspired by Allen and indeed had all but copied some of his comedy premises.
10: Biff Henderson. And Pat Farmer. Rupert Gee. Larry (Bud) Melman. Zippy the Late Night Monkeycam Chimp. Thrust into the spotlight despite being civilians, Letterman’s “Found Comedy” troupe of inexpert players were a treasure.
8. The regular bits. I’ll miss The Trick or Treaters, Darlene Love, the Toy Lady, Jack Hanna, The Lone Ranger Story...
7. The Self-Acceptance. Night after night of standing ovations and accolades may finally have convinced Dave of the worth we all recognize, but that he’s failed to accept for most of his career.
6. The Love of Harry. Few things more humanized Dave than his son.
5. Faithfulness to Old Friends. The late George Miller, Jimmy Walker, Jeff Altman, Tom Dreesen, the Warren Zevon Goodbye. For Letterman, if you were a friend, you were a friend for life.
4. The Top Ten. Stupid Pet Tricks. Stupid Human Tricks, “Is This Anything?” Smart Science Kids, Bird Callers…He knew which to keep, which to retire. Few hosts were better interacting with kids.
3. Leaving the Studio. That essentially retired years before he did. As he aged, Dave stayed behind his desk more, sending surrogates out. But Letterman in his prime, working as, say, a fast food order-taker, was sheer genius.
2. World’s Most Dangerous Band (CBS Orchestra). A great band with a great leader. Sadly, they are now breaking up.
1. His Dependability. Dave’s been a friend I never knew for 33 years. How come I’ll miss him so much? I guess because he’s been a constant, a regular part of the night-night process, one of the few dependables in a world short of them.
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