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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and a News Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently a journalism student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

The Top 10 Reasons Why David Letterman Will Be Missed

{Image Credit: AP Photo/CBS Broadcasting}

This Wednesday, late night icon and comedic genius, David Letterman will be saying goodbye to audiences from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, and signing off for good from his talk show, Late Show with David Letterman. As he retires this week, it’s arguably evident that no other late-night host has catapulted such unique wit and humor into the world as efficaciously as Letterman did in his 33 years, while changing the late night landscape forever.

It’s hard to believe that we’re reaching the end of era and saying goodbye to someone as remarkable as Letterman. Between Late Night on NBC (1982 – 1993) and Late Show on CBS (1993 – 2015), Letterman has been the longest serving late night talk show host in television history. Throughout the years, the 68 year-old has proven time and time again that his ironic, sarcastic, and somewhat cranky sense of humor made for solid laughs and memorable evenings that we will never forget.

When the final episode of Late Show airs this Wednesday, Jimmy Kimmel of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, gives his mentor the ultimate tribute by standing down that evening, airing a rerun of his late night talk show as an intentional tip to the man he believes as one of the most influential comedic artists of our generation. In an interview with the New York Times, Kimmel says, “I have too much respect for Dave to do anything that would distract viewers from watching his final show. Plus I’ll probably be crying all day, which makes it hard to work.”

We all might be crying that day. And with David Letterman soon passing his beloved show’s torch to The Colbert Report‘s Stephen Colbert, it would make sense to count it all down, right? After all, Letterman’s Top 10 lists have become household staples and souvenirs in some way for the delighted viewer. Way before anemic lists plagued the Internet and robbed buzzing writers of thoughtful writing, Letterman devised Top 10 lists for gags. In the Fall of 1985, the late night host in a ploy to poke fun at magazines like Good Housekeeping, started a Top 10 list that comprised of useless content. (His first list was “Top 10 Words That Almost Rhyme with Peas.” Oh, it’s a good list.)

So, in the spirit of all that fun and without further adieu, here are “10 Reasons Why David Letterman Will Be Missed.”

#10: Never Forgets His Hoosier Roots

The David Letterman Communication and Media Building Building on the Ball State University campus in Muncie, Indiana. {Image Credit: Ball State University}

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Letterman is a proud Hoosier, and maintains that “Hoosier Hospitality” everywhere he goes. Frequently visiting his home state of Indiana, the Broad Ripple native pursued his studies at Ball State University in Muncie after realizing his grades were not good enough for Indiana University. As a self-described “average student,” The David Letterman Scholarship, established in 1985 and funded for telecommunications students at BSU, aims to assist “C” students with a creative mind. In 2007, the university dedicated a $21 million dollar, 75,000 square foot building to the late night host. Letterman attended the opening ceremony with thousands of university students, faculty and local residents. The popular alumnus grew emotional and gave a speech, touching on the struggles of being a college student, along with a Top 10 list that read, “Good Things About Having Your Name on a Building.”

In 1993, Letterman formed “The Letterman Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming” (LFCG), with the foundation’s largest beneficiary being the Child Advocates of Indianapolis, Indiana. From 2001 to 2004, the CASA affiliate organization received donations each year up to $290,000, with a four-year totoal of nearly a million dollars. Over the years, LFCG has donated a total of over $9.2 million to various foundations and other organizations.

#9: An “A-Team” of Writers

In the past 30 years, Letterman has had the very best at his side. From hilarious writers like, George Meyers, Max Pross, Tom Gammill, and Jeff Martin, all of The Simpsons, to current writer and co-executive producer, Eric Kaplan of The Big Bang Theory, there have been many talents that have written for the late night host. And let us not forget Letterman’s right-hand “woman,” Merrill Markoe, and director, Hal Gurnee, whose previous acclaimed position entailed working for Jack Paar of Tonight with Jack Parr.

The writing team has beamed bright ever since their debut. Letterman’s team of writers earned their first daytime Emmy for “Special Classification of Outstanding Individual Achievement” in 1981, with many more to follow in the next few years. In 1985, Late Show with David Letterman earned their first prime-time Emmy for “Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program.” Since then, the team has gone on to earn 67 nominations, 11 wins, and a total of five Emmys.

#8: Appreciated Music of All Kinds

Letterman chatting with friend, the late Warren Zevon on Late Show. {Image Credit: CBS/Worldwide Pants}

From mega stadium performers to intimate club artists, Letterman appreciated music of all kinds on Late Show. He made it a point to bring more cutting-edge music to his talk show and introduce audiences to new sounds. It’s evident that the 68 year-old doesn’t succumb to competition with his choices. In recent weeks, his last few shows have showcased more independent or lesser known artists than his late night rivals. If it shows anything, it’s that David Letterman genuinely loves music and values the meaning behind all of it, whether mainstream or indie.

With the heart Letterman has for his fellow man, it’s no surprise that he would give someone like the late, Warren Zevon so much airtime on his talk show—a friend and frequent musical guest during his lifetime. Letterman devoted an entire episode to Zevon after the artist announced he was dying of lung cancer and one of the only people ever to be the lone guest on the show. In the interview, Zevon told Letterman, “You’ve been the best friend my music has ever had.”

#7:  Big Kid at Heart

One of the last “Kid Scientists” segments from earlier this year featured students from a Naperville, IL middle-school. {Image Credit: CBS/Worldwide Pants}

When you think of children, you might not think to pair the late night host with children, but it just so happens that Letterman has an amazing rapport with the young tykes. Though the kid segments were infrequent during these last few years, these segments are among the most charming you’ll encounter in late night television.

Since the start of Late Show back in 1982, Letterman has featured some very smart, enterprising kids who just might be contributing to a positive future with the annual “Kid Scientists” segments, and the seasonal “Kid Inventions.” By showcasing these young minds, not only does it mix up things in the late night circuit format, but it’s always been fun to watch because kids really do say and do the darndest things.

#6: Comedy Here, Comedy There

Letterman found comedy in the absurd and made it a point to go along with it as it come by, which really worked for the show. Casual viewers might have misunderstood his sense of humor, but fans loved the recurring gags like the Top Ten List, Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, “Will It Float?”, “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches” (a personal favorite), and throwing random things off a five-story building. Sure, they seem like boring and anti-climactic sort of jokes, but that’s the whole point! Letterman’s sense of humor optimized the average and normalcy of everyday life and made it far more entertaining.

When the monologues would start, audiences knew they were in for a treat. From the sharp and effortless humor, to the back-and-forth banter with the show’s band leader, Paul Shaffer, Letterman would excitedly unwrap fresh humor every night with a mix of self-deprecation and newsy items.

Sometimes the talk show host would film remote segments that had him going on location, interacting with unsuspecting individuals, unaware of his crazy, boyish, gags. Channeling his inner Steve Allen with man-on-the-street bits, there have been several that Letterman filmed over the years that have become fan favorites like, eating fast food in L.A. with Zsa Zsa Gabor.; or, the remote where he simply takes his car for a drive; or, the iconic and hilarious Taco Bell remote with the immortal late night line, “She’s already gone, chief.” The segment features Letterman as a difficult drive-thru attendant, refusing to get orders right and telling customers disturbing stories about losing his toes in a lawn mower accident. It was random and awkward, which made for sensational humor.

#5: Some of the Best Interviews Late Night Has Seen…

Letterman has seen some of the very best in guest bookings over the years… and sometimes the worst. Never afraid to ask the hard-hitting questions to any of his guests, the talk show host puts his journalism skills to good use with opening up important dialogue to keep his audiences entertained (and informed). He has had some amazingly delightful interviews with guests over the years that have helped make the show what it is today. With their love and admiration for Letterman, it’s been fun to see so many returning to that hot seat beside him because that affection and love goes both ways, and makes for enjoyable interviews.

Julia Roberts giving David Letterman one last hug on an episode from Late Show earlier this month. {Image Credit: CBS/Worldwide Pants}

No matter how eccentric or weird a guest was though, Letterman made it a habit to always break the ice, like with Joaquin Phoenix during his “rapper” period, or—well, nothing can explain that Crispin Glover interview. But Letterman did his very best, and was willing to mix it up with everyone appearing on the show, whether they be A-listers, lesser known musicians, comedians, politicians, presidents, or just “real people” doing real things. When Letterman would bring real people on the show, like “Subway Superman” also known as Wesley Autrey, those sorts of stories brought a deep sense of humanity and heart to the late night circuit. Talking to people making a difference in our average lives not only brought forth a sincere harmony, but an abundance of inspiration to audiences. At the core of it all, Letterman has always known that living in this world with the intent to help others matters the most in this life.

That being said, Letterman didn’t appreciate some of his guests pulling the celebrity card or, for lack of a better word, bull. He would call them out. In a 2006 interview, Letterman shut Bill O’Reilly down, saying to him, “Sixty percent of what you say is crap.” While it may have shocked audiences, Letterman felt it necessary to unleash on the political commentator because of the information and opinion the FOX News host shared on his network.

As the talk show host grew older, his profound (yet hilarious) lack of interest in youth culture and what many deemed “celebrity” evidently annoyed him. In 2007, Letterman invited socialite, Paris Hilton to the show only to ask her about her jail stint despite the party girl having her reservations. Leaving Hilton uncharacteristically speechless, the late night host continued to mock her with his line of questioning throughout the interview. A few years later, Letterman would invite Justin Bieber onto the show to chat about music, but the interview began going into an unpleasant direction after the teenager referred to the Sistine Chapel as the “Sixteenth Chapel.” Letterman unleashed mockery on the kid, who tried his best to smile through the chat but finally said he felt uncomfortable. Letterman delivered a loud laugh and said, “That’s what I do: I make people uncomfortable.”

#4: Honesty is the Best Policy

If there’s one thing that David Letterman lives by it’s that he’s more himself than anyone else on television. Over the years, he has been one of the more honest and open talk show hosts, presenting to audiences that honesty really is the best policy. Like everyone, he too has made mistakes but with great heart and courage, has owned up to them. It was Virginia Woolf who said, “If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.”

This rang true for Letterman through every little thing he shared on his show. In 2009, Letterman admitted to his audience that he had sexual relations with female members of his staff, committing infidelity, and that he had given into a blackmail threat where he paid $2 million as part of an extortion plot. The candid share put a spotlight on the life of a private man who prefers keeping out of sight. But because Letterman admitted to everything, honesty served him well. In an April interview with the New York Times, Letterman revealed, “I think [CBS] would have had good reason to fire me. But at the time, I was largely ignorant as to what, really, I had done.”

#3: Bill Murray Everything!

Bill Murray channeling his inner Liberace on a 2013 episode of  Late Show. {Image Credit: CBS/Worldwide Pants}

This week, as David Letterman says goodbye to audiences, his final guest will be the same as his first—Bill Murray. Over the course of three decades, Murray has appeared on Letterman’s talk shows a whopping 43 times, and every appearance has had the audience in stitches. Being the most of any guest on a talk show, ever since the two first met in 1982, every interview between them has been hilarious and odd but equally charming. Murray, with his off-beat humor and Letterman with his diffident sort of attitude make for continuously riotous segments. But with the tone of this last appearance, we might see some tears between the two of them. Who knows.

#2: It’s Okay To Be Vulnerable

Being vulnerable is not just about showing others the parts of you that you like, or are shiny and pretty. Being vulnerable means you reveal a part of yourself that you keep hidden from others. There were two incidents on Late Show where Letterman showed us that it’s okay to be vulnerable, no matter how old or experienced we are in this life.

In 2000, through a routine check-up, doctors discovered that an artery in Letterman’s heart was severely obstructed. Rushed to emergency surgery for quadruple bypass, the talk show host would return a month later and invite all the doctors and nurses on his stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater who performed the surgery and took part in the recovery. Letterman teared up a bit, showcasing his vulnerability, saying, “It was five weeks ago today that these men and women saved my life.” And though he cracked jokes about the bypass surgery and lobbied his state of Indiana to rename the freeway circling Indianapolis (I-465), “The David Letterman Bypass,” it was evident from that point on that the surgery truly affected him.

A year later, 9/11 happened. Letterman returned to his show six days after the attacks, being one of the first hosts to do so, but it was what the nation needed. It was a somber affair, and the episode remains one of Letterman’s best as the talk show host grapples to find words for such a horrific tragedy that none of us could fathom in that moment. He captured a very human and realistic struggle that wasn’t staged or scripted. Instead, he captured a mood and undeniable feeling that a grieving nation felt. He tried his best to keep his composure while talking about dead firefighters, policemen, the disease that is religious zealotry, and courage. He then proceeded to share a story about a small town in Montana where he and his wife Regina would get married, and how despite their economic downturn, were raising money for New York. Letterman goes on to say, “If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the spirit of the United States, then I can’t help you, I’m sorry.”

With vulnerability, you experience true connection and because of that, you then begin to attract people who are inspired by your openness. Letterman has the knack for being that kind of guy and being that open.

#1: Iconic Comedy Voice:

David Letterman is going to be severely missed. Late night television just seriously won’t be the same without him. As fellow late night host, Conan O’Brien notes in an op-ed for Entertainment Weekly, Letterman disrupted the comedy medium with his style. While Jay Leno broadened the comedy standard to reach more audiences and Jimmy Fallon treads old school elements to seek humor, Letterman’s instincts and offbeat humor were all about invention during the moment. It was a new kind of comedy, and one we were all blessed to witness.

Letterman had massive every-man appeal, not looking or ever acting like anyone but himself. David Letterman changed comedy by marking his fingerprint on the talk show medium by injecting a sense of cheeky humor and ridiculing pop culture through skepticism. He was able to reinvent what a good show was after the Johnny Carson era and bring back class and humor to the 11:35 p.m. slot, no matter the network he resided with. Letterman’s sharp and socially awkward, razor wit humor was the center of the show but with an underlying intelligence that brought mass appeal. We have all grown up with him, learned from him, been inspired by him—Letterman is an icon in every way, deserving of love and respect, now and forever. He was someone we could rely on each night after a hard day at work or school, and is a man of many distinctions. There will never be another quite like him. 

As President Barack Obama said during his last appearance on Letterman this past May, “You’re part of all of us.”

{Image Credit: Damon Winter/New York Times}

* * * * *

Catch David Letterman’s last episode of Late Show with David Letterman on May 20 at 11:35 p.m. ET on CBS. Check your local listings. Keep up with the comedy icon on Instagram. What were some of your favorite Letterman moments? Share with us in the comments below.

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4 Comments on “The Top 10 Reasons Why David Letterman Will Be Missed”

  1. SLIP/THROUGH - Dan May 19, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

    Wow. This was just what I needed. I really enjoyed your thoughtful analysis. By the end, you got me all choked up. Thank you.

    Other Letterman highlights I loved was the Dave’s Mom segments, staffers like Biff Henderson, and the local community, like Hello Deli and Mujibar & Sanjay

    I hope this is all some Stupid Human Trick and Dave isn’t calling it quits. But I know that’s not the case. Maybe we will see Dave next streaming live somewhere soon?

    Great stuff. I can’t for that Bill Murray segment tonight!

    • Tania Hussain May 20, 2015 at 12:57 am #

      Glad to hear you enjoyed reading the article—you’re very welcome! I loved the mom segments too. So many great moments!

      Happy to see Letterman brought Rupert back for tonight’s show, along with one of his best remotes. That was really funny. I actually don’t remember ever seeing that one, so it was pleasantly refreshing!

      What a great Bill Murray segment. Loved seeing him pop out of that cake, that collection of all his best moments, and of course, Murray running out in the street—haha, perfect way of saying goodbye. Classic Murray.

      Definitely going to miss Letterman. I’ll definitely need another tissue box for tomorrow’s final show.

      • SLIP/THROUGH - Dan May 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

        Last night with Murray had some great moments, like how te audience was excited to get cake smeared in the face.

        Tonight is the night we bid farewell. I wonder what surprises are in store? I’ve also got tissues ready.

        Thanks again for writing a grwat article for nerds like me to enjoy. Ah, melancholy…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Top 10 Reasons Why David Letterman Will Be Missed | westlifebunny - May 25, 2015

    […] in the spirit of all that fun and without further adieu, here are “10 Reasons Why David Letterman Will Be […]

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