Brandon Wetherbee is the host of the You, Me, Them, Everybody talk show. See him Thursday, May 21 at saki records in Chicago and Saturday, May 23 and Sunday, May 24 in Omaha as part of the CROM Comedy Festival.
This is not going to be an eye opening and rewarding behind the scenes about David Letterman’s late 80s and early 90s runs on NBC and CBS. Grantland already ran that.
This is not going to be an ode to why late night is the best its ever been. The Guardian published that.
This isn’t even going to be about one, specific, relative obscure episode from the mid-80s NBC run. Blogs like The Angry Skipper have been doing that.
This is a call (Dave just loves the Foo Fighters!) to recognize the last of a soon-to-be dead breed. David Letterman ran a show without caring for the things that made money. After tonight, there will be no more hosts on network or cable that could care less about the bottom line.
I agree with The Guardian, this is not a bad time for late night television. If you want to be popular, watch Fallon. If you want to be viral and slightly less popular, watch Kimmel. If you want to know funny (he’s on TBS, get it?), watch Conan. If you want to say, “Really!” watch Meyers. If you want to be an Anglophile, watch Corden. If you want to feel political, watch Stewart or Wilmore or Oliver. If you want to feel political and be an asshole, watch Maher. If you want points, watch Hardwick. If you want to feel less white, watch White Guy Talk Show. There’s something and someone for nearly everyone. But Letterman is the last host to genuinely not give a shit about the flavor of the month. Or his boss. Or himself. And his show benefited.
He was not alone. A year ago we had Letterman, Craig Ferguson and Chelsea Handler. Though they may seem different in both format and structure, they had the same general ethos. All three did a nightly (or four times a week) talk show that did not pander to teenagers or movie stars or products. Each delivered an original monologue that was difficult to tweet. Each took the piss out of their guests. Each was willing to be the butt of a joke. Handler and Ferguson may have had smaller platforms, but each performed in the vein of Letterman, freewheeling and as natural as one can be while wearing makeup in front of a camera. Dave had more experience so he was able to operate even more comfortably when dealing with both people and people trapped in televisions.
Letterman knew his strengths and knew what he liked. Given the freedom to program the show following Late Show, he picked Tom Snyder, the not funny Tom Snyder, to follow him at the beginning of his CBS run. The relatively serious interview show was not watched by a younger demographic. Whatever. Good is good. Then came Ferguson, a guy that had the younger demographic when Conan began to fade and before Fallon reminded people that cute talk show hosts make the most money. After his recent late night retirement came an extremely fascinating series of Late Late Shows hosted by a series of comedians and actors. This episode with Adam Pally and Ben Schwartz is an excellent sample of a show that knew what it was and didn’t care it wasn’t something else. If you have 38 minutes to spare, please watch it.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR2ZnQX9IMc
It’s difficult to sell this type of show. Most people think they’re natural. They’re not. That’s OK. There are amazing aspects of every single show listed above, even Maher. Hosting a talk show isn’t easy. David Letterman knew it wasn’t easy but made it seem easy, or at least like he was easy. He flirted at a perfect level, he self-deprecated at a perfect level, he knew when a band was a great band at a perfect level.
Side note: fuck every list that ends with ever, specifically the Entertainment Weekly listicle The 17 Best Letterman Musical Performances Ever because it doesn’t mention the above song and I used the word fuck because that Iggy Pop song makes it feel appropriate.
There will be no more hosts without care. Hopefully Colbert or Samantha Bee (my money is on Samantha Bee but I don’t have a lot of money) will inherent Letterman’s irreverence. If he doesn’t, that’s fine. There are enough clips to enjoy that I’ll be Dave’s current age before I get bored of Dave.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0m9N7GxryV4
Letterman made fun of his bosses. Letterman made fun of his guests. Letterman did things for seemingly no reason other than his own enjoyment. Letterman didn’t care about the boss or the commercial advertisers or celebrity culture. But he did care about ‘regular’ people and important causes and natural conversation. He didn’t care about the fickle but cared deeply about what matter.
After tonight, we will most likely never have another host who acts like viral videos don’t exist. Damn.