Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman (5 out of 5)

I have to tell you that most of my coworkers were stumped as to why I was reading this. Let me explain. I’m 44 and they’re all in their early 30’s and younger. They get their kicks on Route 66 watching the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and James Corden. I tell them the best Kimmel was when he was Ben Stein’s sidekick on “Win Ben Stein’s Money”. I get blank looks. It’s a generation thing. The same applies to David Letterman. I grew up being allowed to stay up all hours of the night and watch almost anything on TV. My mom was a huge Letterman fan. My Dad loved Johnny Carson. We had the best of both worlds watching the two Kings of late night. But as with many other points, this book raises the excellent point that Carson and Letterman were opposites in many ways, not just the general format of the show, but also their styles of comedy. If you didn’t actually watch either, this book is a great starting point. And the younger generation really did miss out if they have no idea of the comic malevolence of Letterman. Their loss. I’m also sure that my many years of watching him prepared me for the acerbic, dry wit of several close friends of mine. I’m real fucking glad I was exposed to many years of his show. This book is a worthy companion to those years. 

David Letterman’s brand of comedy wasn’t for everyone. The author puts forth many examples of this, not just from the vantage point of network execs, but from Letterman’s detractors and even guests and those who worked with him. We get the full background from his childhood in Muncie, IN (With a family that wasn’t demonstrative in affection in the least, it shouldn’t be a surprise that his general contenance was exactly as it was on his show and in real life), to his days as a weatherman, to his first televised MORNING show. Yes, morning show. There was a morning show BEFORE Late Night. Late Night was a show that he personally suffered over, time and time again. The phrase “He suffered for his art”, had to be written with Letterman in mind. His first significant partner, Merrill Markoe, suffered along with him, a yin to his yang, for many years. The reader gets a very concise understanding of how Late Night’s writing staff (among them well-known oddball comedian Chris Elliot) and guests of infamy (Andy Kauffman, Bill Murray, Paul Reubens) shaped the show from beginning to end. What to like about this biographical portrait? Everything. What I really liked? No muck raking into his private life. There is intermittent information brought forth by the author, in regards to his relationships with his first wife, Markoe, and his second wife Regina Lasko, as well as the cheating scandal, and the birth of his pride and joy, son Harry, but it’s done with aplomb and sensitivity, not some absurd “National Enquirer” tilt. And that is what separates this from some unauthorized tell-all. When Zinoman shares his admiration for Letterman and his disappointment at being tricked by one of Letterman’s producers back in the day, you feel sorry for him, but not terribly surprised. If you’re a long-time Letterman devotee, the story will not surprise you. This is the mindtrust that brought you “Stupid Pet Tricks”, after all. If you count yourself among the fans, go pick up this book. 

~ by generationgbooks on April 23, 2017.

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