Monday, April 07, 2014

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 110

The Time Mookie Video Taped David Letterman Every Night

Many years ago when I was in high school, I LOVED "Late Night with David Letterman." I thought he was the funniest thing on TV, and had a sense of humor I totally related to. It was witty, clever, off-the-cuff, and most times just "way out there." The best thing about it was that no one else on TV was doing anything like that. Once I started watching, it was like a train-wreck I couldn't turn off. The Top-Ten lists, Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, Larry "Bud" Melman, and Paul Schaffer with the "World's Most Dangerous Band" were my mandatory viewing five times a week.
Dave in the early days of Late Night

The downside to the program was that it was on at 11:30 PM my time, and being the good student I was in high school (pshaaah!) I wasn't always awake to watch it. So every night before I went to bed, I always made sure that the family VCR had a tape in the machine and the timer was set for 11:25. The next morning I would wake up at 6:30, and eat my bowl of Cheerios while I watched the show from the previous night. It totally made my mornings. Some days my Dad would sit and watch part of it with me before he went to work, and we'd laugh at the silliness that Dave and Company embarked on every night. Then when I got to school that morning, I could enjoy the show even further because my friend "Rick*" essentially did the same thing I did - he taped it and watched it the next morning or after school.

Certain and phrases and comments uttered by Dave became fixtures in our daily conversations. Even today I will occasionally recite something I heard on David Letterman 20 years ago.

A prime example is from the one time Dave presented a variety of sentences you "must-have" if you were going to a Spanish speaking country.
"Mi tocadisco es decompuesto." Translation - My record player is broken.
"Donde esta la playa nudista?"  Translation - Where's the nude beach?
"Estoy muy borracho y me quiero morir."  Translation - "I'm very drunk and I want to die."

I seriously remember this crap after 20+ years and it still makes me laugh. Another one I still remember is him saying "Nicely packed bag boy." He said it, and then he had an old lady say it in a particular skit -  and it was just so wonderfully odd that it made me laugh uncontrollably.

Above them all though, my most favorite David Letterman quote of all-time is still:
"I don't believe there's a man, woman, or child alive today who doesn't enjoy a lovely beverage."
To me, these are comedy gold.

My friend Rick and I were OBSESSED with the Top Ten lists, and went as far as spending class time and study halls making our own. Each one dumber and stupider than the last - but completely hilarious to us.

Then much to our delight - after Dave had done 8-10 years of Top-Ten Lists (and throwing the note cards through the backstage setting - followed by the sound of broken glass), someone at NBC got clever and made a couple books of his previously used Top-Ten lists. I remember sitting in English Lit - the most boring class I took in high school -  and reading the Top Ten books. While the teacher and the smarty-pants kids were discussing what some author was really saying in some mundane short story about sheep, I was trying to stifle my laughter and tears while reading about how "Snuggles" the fabric softener bear secretly mauled someone. These books were comedy gold.

Then of course there were the guests: Bill Murray (who still is over the top when he's on Dave's show), Drew Barrymore (who did a dance and "flashed" her breasts Dave), Madonna calling him an "f*cking asshole," Cher (who also called him an asshole), Tony Randall (who had endless walk-ons while holding Eagle brand potato chips), and all the great musical guests. They all knew that when they went on Dave's show, they should expect the unexpected.

Then there was the whole NBC/Leno/Tonight Show debacle, and Dave (rightfully) jumped ship to CBS to start "The Late Show with David Letterman." In the end, NBC tried to claim "trademark infringement" on many aspects of the show and tried to prevent him from doing the "same" show on a different network. To Dave's credit, he stuck to his guns and continued to not only deliver some of the same shtick in a different way - but also made new material that was even better than before.

As Dave has aged, the wackiness is still there but there is definitely a different "voice" coming out of the TV. Some of it is due to maturity, some have called it "curmudgeon-ly," but it is one that definitely has made - and continues to make - an impact. As an example - The Late Show was the first to come back after the 9/11 disaster, and he gave what many described as one of the most sensible and on-point responses to the situation anyone could give. Another one of his great shows was his first back after having open-heart surgery. He individually brought out and recognized each member of the team of medical professionals that "saved his life." In the end it showed that underneath that sarcastic wit and sometimes harsh persona - there was a warm and affectionate man.

Then there were the tense-but hilarious moments - like when John McCain bailed as a guest at the last minute due to what turned out to be a full-on lie. It was found out mid-taping of Dave's show that McCain was right then - sitting down with Katie Couric. For the entire show Letterman tore McCain (and Sarah Palin) to pieces, but somehow did it in a respectful manner. It was classic Letterman and one of his finest moments. Another was when Paris Hilton came on to plug one of her pointless ventures, and Dave kept asking her questions about her then-recent jail stint. "So how was jail?" he asked to roaring audience laughter and obvious uncomfortableness on Hilton's part. When she tried to change the subject, Dave kept on pushing the jail topic until Hilton finally said "I didn't want to talk about this." Dave came back and essentially said "OK. But this is my show and I want to talk about it."  This is why Dave rules.

This past Thursday while driving home from work, I heard that Dave was announcing his pending retirement on that night's show. While I admittedly do not watch Dave much anymore due to the hustle and bustle that having a family and job provides, I do have to say I felt a definite feeling of sadness in hearing this. This guy created something no one had ever seen before, and more-or-less had to create something again when he went from NBC to CBS. The guys doing what they do in late night TV today couldn't have done it without Dave paving the way.

Even more importantly, David Letterman gave me a bright spot to look forward to each and every morning before I went off to school. Like most kids, I pretty much did not care for high school and found a lot of it to be a drag. However, David Letterman gave me a reason to laugh in the morning and to know that it was "OK" to have the odd sense of humor that I do. It was OK to laugh at things that some people might not think are funny, and that I wasn't a total weirdo for doing so. David Letterman did that for me - and I will forever appreciate it.

While I am sad that he will be leaving TV, I am happy for him as he gets to do it "his way" (Something his peers Leno and Conan were unable to do - and were "told" that their time was up). Dave gets to go out on his terms and he truly deserves it.

As he begins his way "out the door" over the next year or so, I'm sure the tributes will rain down upon him much in the same way I have just rambled on for the last several paragraphs. They will be well deserved, and I hope by the time its over - he knows that over the years he has been a bright spot in the lives of a lot of people.

Letterman was once quoted as saying:
“I'm just trying to make a smudge on the collective unconscious.”

To that, I say job well done.
Thanks Dave.

(*) - Names changed to protect the guilty/innocent.

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