Of the various Letterman retrospectives this one struck the truest chord with me.
Later in the hour, Bill Murray came out as the first guest and, after a long and characteristically weird interview, performed a sloppy rendition of Olivia Newton-John’s inescapable hit song of the moment, “Physical.” It was a much needed exorcism ritual. I know sorority girls of the 21st century like to dress up in Day-Glo leg warmers and declare it “’80s Day” (so fun!), but if you remember anything about the actual 1980s, then surely you remember how oppressively vacuous most of the mainstream culture was, especially on television.I'm not sure you can appreciate, if you weren't there at the time, how valuable a little oasis of snark was. It's easy to find and connect with subversive or "alternative" media and comedy now. In the 1980s, for a kid in his early teens, this was about as edgy as it got. And it was useful. Probably Letterman, more than any other performer, informed my ideas about what is funny. I'm certain I'm not alone in this.
Here at last, brought to us in the form of David Letterman, was a show that knew that there was a glory to be found in acknowledging the awfulness around us. “Late Night” was counterinstinctive art disguised as harmless filler.
One example of "glory to be found in acknowledging the awfulness around us" was Letterman's (particularly during the NBC years) use of the grime and corruption and... well.. glorious awfulness of New York as a foil. Jokes like these would stoke my imagination about what it must be like to live there. And I don't doubt it fostered my continuing appreciation for the glorious awfulness of New Orleans as I got older.
Anyway, that's it. You can go back to reading the ten thousand similar posts about this now.