David Letterman was never “my” late night guy, he belonged to my parents. Late Night with David Letterman debuted in February 1982 and my parents were married in October 1983. Unsurprisingly, TV nerdom runs in the family and many stories of the early days of their marriage involve them ordering pizza at midnight so they could properly enjoy watching Late Night. We also have boxes upon boxes of VHS tapes filled with Late Night and Late Show episodes that were recorded when my Dad missed the show because he had to work late. They even saw the show live in 1985 when Late Night did a week of shows in Los Angeles. (I guess technically I was there too because my mom was about 2 months pregnant with me. So, hey I’m cool too!)
My parents’ enjoyment of Late Night and later, the Late Show gave Letterman an air of credibility in my young eyes. The stars I grew up loving didn’t really make it until they appeared on Letterman. Even as an adult, if Dave (yep, in our household, he’s just “Dave”) liked one of my favorite celebrities, that made them even cooler. My heart was inexplicably warmed in 2012 when he straight up fangirled to Amy Poehler about how much he loved Parks and Recreation and he was so tickled by Billy Eichner’s first Late Show appearance that he asked him back a few months later and they taped a remote segment together, something he hadn’t done in ages. Jennifer Lawrence was always in rare form whenever she visited Dave and it was always a toss-up whether I was more amused by her antics or his bemused reaction to her antics. Likewise, Dave was so admiringly bewildered by Amy Sedaris she made a staggering 34 appearances on the Late Show. (And to be honest, it didn’t really “hit” me that Dave was leaving until Amy said goodbye.)
I always enjoyed watching Dave with my parents but by the time I was old enough to develop my own late night TV tastes, my go-to guy was Conan, Dave’s successor on the Late Night show. 11:35 wasn’t cool, my parents were still up! (And what were they doing? Watching Dave of course.) 12:35 is where the weird, dangerous late night happened but I knew even back then that if it hadn’t been for the transcendently bizarre tone Dave set during his tenure at Late Night, there wouldn’t have been a place for the often surreal comedy of Conan’s Late Night With Conan O’Brien. (And if I hadn’t been raised on such weird late night television, would I have even developed the appreciation for it that I currently have?) Even now Dave’s Late Night spirit lives on whether it be through James Corden’s recent Late Late Show broadcast from a random viewer’s home or through the aforementioned Billy Eichner’s Billy on the Street game show.
David Letterman was never “my” late night guy but I learned to love late night from watching my parents watch him – not just late night TV but a specific type of subversive, unapologetically weird late night TV – and for that, I am grateful. Thanks, Dave. My family misses you already.