Saturday, January 31, 2009

Love, Laughter and Truth

I like David Letterman. I first saw his show when I was 11 years old, sleeping over at a friend's house, and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen. He read a list of the top ten excuses for being late (#1: "I'm Batman!") and later went to a supermarket to buy canned hams for everyone in his audience. I didn't quite understand why I thought this stuff was funny, but I did.

Over the years, I've remained a fan of Letterman and tried to catch his show at least a few times a week. Recently, though, I'd internalized some of the arguments against him: he's too old, his show on CBS can't measure up to his days on NBC, he doesn't care anymore, he's got nothing left in the tank but cynicism and bitterness.

Recently, Dave's undergone a bit of a renaissance after a few memorably snarky interviews in which he dressed down a succession of vapid young stars. But even that didn't really prepare me for what he had in store on Friday night. His only interview that night was with Mary Hicks, mother of the late comedian Bill Hicks. Mary was there to talk about her son and his controversial appearance on The Late Show in 1993, a performance which was completely removed from the airing of the show that night.

I'm afraid I'm not very familiar with Hicks's comedy, but this was a pretty heartwarming thing. Certainly the lead-off interview on any late-night talk show is a valuable chunk of airtime, and there is no shortage of actors who would be eager to plug whatever dire January movie they're currently appearing in. Instead, Dave spent two segments chatting with an elderly woman in order to make amends for a 15-year-old incident.

Letterman has a reputation as a cranky old man, but moments like that (and the show devoted to Warren Zevon's final performances) reassure me that the guy's really a big softie.

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