Tomorrow evening will be David Letterman’s final night of hosting late night television. It will be an emotional evening for many involved. Not surprisingly comedians all over the place are paying tribute to one of their comedy icons. We’ve heard from the likes of Jim Gaffigan, Norm MacDonald, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon about what Dave means to them. Today, Patton Oswalt, who for some reason always seems to have the right words to say in instances like this, penned letter to his late night hero and it goes something like this.
David Letterman’s last show is Wednesday night. I’m writing this now because I know I’ll lose it after watching him talk to Bill Murray for the last time tonight So, briefly, while still of sound mind:
My freshman year of college I was a mess. Obnoxious, drunk, completely out of my depth socially and intellectually. I was a riding lawn mower that someone had set on fire and placed a brick on the accelerator.
Too squat for sports, too mush-mouthed for theater, too friendless for frats and too broke for much of anything else, I spent most weeknights on the attic floor of my dorm. Madison Hall at William and Mary. There was a television on a little table. Couple of couches.
Me and a tiny circle of “friends” — friends by default, now that I think of it, ’cause we’d shit-headed ourselves out of all the other social circles — would drink Mickey wide-mouths and watch re-runs of M*A*S*H* and Barney Miller on some local Tidewater channel. And then, at 12:30, we’d switch on Letterman.
I’d never watched much David Letterman in high school. I was aware of him, of course, but for some reason — probably ’cause I felt like i had a better handle on the world when I was a high school senior rather than a college freshman — his twilight circus of irony, sweetness, freaks and geniuses didn’t call to me.
Now it was all I wanted to know. Up in that attic, pretty much from August of 1987 through May of 1988, I was a Letterman acolyte. I was watching a show where the awkward, outcast and un-confident seemed to be having the time of their lives. Harvey Pekar, Brother Theodore, Pee Wee Herman, Chris Elliott, Flunky the Late Night Clown and, yes, Bill Murray. Everyone had their own rhythm and they didn’t care whether or not the world was tuned into it. It was a rebuke to my false idea that, once you were an oddball, you needed to punish the world for it. Letterman thanked his lucky stars for being out of sync with the smooth and beautiful. Smooth and beautiful was a terrific life if you lucked into it, but crooked and weird led to better adventures.
In July of 1988 I did my first open mike. There were a lot of things that led me to getting on that stage. But the thing that most made me want to inhabit the world AROUND that stage — a world of the socially awkward, and obnoxious, and funny and genius and memorable — were the nights spent watching Late Night With David Letterman.
So thanks, Dave. I only got to meet you once, when we shook hands after my first and only stand-up set on your show (that’s a pic of my setlist, written in my hotel room that afternoon of the taping). You were friendly but distant, but I could tell you wanted me to do well. One comedian to another.
And thank you for NEVER putting yourself above the oddness you so clearly delighted in.