First Click: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

May 21st, 2015

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David Letterman’s conversation with America began in 1982 when I was just 15. Letterman and Saturday Night Live formed the subversive bookends for the week: Dave appearing nightly Monday through Thursday, with SNL’s Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo finishing it off on the weekend.

At 18, I went off to college and became a regular viewer. Each weeknight my three roommates and I insisted on taking over the dorm’s TV room. Those who stayed were treated to the wonders of Letterman, and sometimes a slice of pizza. Our little posse grew over time to include more converts. Eventually, everyone knew that the 12:30AM time slot was reserved for Dave.

Letterman wasn’t Last-Exit-to-Brooklyn subversive, but for a white middle-class kid living in a midwestern suburb, Dave felt dangerous. Unpredictable. From the sweet confusion of Larry Bud Melman to Chris Elliot’s hilarious characters like Guy Under The Seats. Stupid Human Tricks. Dave’s tense, combative flirtations with Madonna. Andy Kaufman getting slapped by wrestler Jerry Lawler. Crispin Glover’s bizarre "I can kick" appearance rivaled only by a detached Joaquin Phoenix some 22 years later. Anything could happen — that’s why we watched.

Dave didn’t give a shit about celebrity, unable (or unwilling) to hide his irreverence for people like Paris Hilton. Watch the first six minutes of the interview above — it’s all you need to know about the man, his humor, and his legacy.

When Johnny Carson — Letterman’s hero — died in 2005, Dave opened the show by reading a collection of jokes Carson had been faxing him since retirement. It was bittersweet and funny, and gave me, the viewer, rare insight into Dave’s intensely private personal life. After commercial, Letterman explained what it was like to learn of Carson’s passing. "I had this strange feeling that I had been through this before," he said. "I was nearly this sad when the guy retired as when you find out that he’s actually passed away because that part of our lives…" has come to an end, he was about to say.

I haven’t watched Dave regularly for years, but his continuity was reassuring. Knowing he was out there was enough to maintain a connection to my 15-year-old immortal self. I haven’t watched the final show yet. What he said last night isn’t important to me. What’s important is that he’s already said it, bringing that part of my life to an end.


Five stories to start your day



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Goodbye of the day

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