This week marks the end of an era — an era where the artifice of late-night talk shows meant something more than “viral videos of celebrities lip-synching Iggy Azalea songs” — as David Letterman has officially concluded his untouchable run as perhaps late night’s greatest gabber since Johnny Carson manned the Tonight Show stage. In honor of Letterman stepping down, The Hollywood Reporter has rounded up a collection of fond memories from industry folk such as comedian Amy Sedaris, fellow talk-show legend Regis Philbin, and president and CEO of CBS Corp., Les Moonves. There was a quote in Moonves’ testimonial that struck me as, well, curious:
“I think it would surprise people to know that Dave is extraordinarily sensitive. People see this tough-guy exterior. But he’s really careful about not wanting to hurt anybody’s feelings or stepping on anybody’s toes. He feels like that relative who’s not always easy to talk to, but good guy, a decent man.”
Is it really that surprising, though? Letterman has already established himself as a master of unleashing cutting wit and a brand of irony that survived even 9/11, a massive event that, some argued at the time, destroyed irony as a construct. On that note, here's Letterman's monologue following 9/11, a pitch-perfect mix of humor and sorrow that still rings unbelievably poignant:
More proof of his sensitive side is his on-air apology to his wife after a blackmailing-cum-cheating scandal rocked the Late Show in 2009. The entire monologue of him explaining the situation the week previous to the following clip is astoundingly funny, touching, and bizarre, but his public apology to his wife is pretty much perfect in its admittance of guilt without making excuses.
That said, it's understandable that Moonves would disclose Letterman's "sensitivity" as a revelation, since Letterman spent much of his time at CBS poking fun at the bigwig, constantly referring to him as "the owner of CBS." (CBS is a publicly held company, so the statement is patently untrue—but, if you repeat something enough, it either becomes true or hilarious, and Letterman's gag was definitely the latter.) Here's the most recent example YouTube has of Letterman making this intentional faux pas. We'll miss you, Dave.