The tributes to David Letterman will come fast and furious as we approach his final show on May 20, and his late-night colleague — and Late Night successor — Conan O’Brien got the ball rolling today with a love letter in Entertainment Weekly. The letter focuses mainly on the impact Letterman’s brand of anarchic comedy had on the comedy world in the early 1980s, influencing an entire generation of performers, including a young Conan. The whole thing is worth a read, but here’s the hammer:
Not one single writer/performer in the last 35 years has had Dave’s seismic impact on comedy. Every day, I read that a new comic has ‘changed the game,’ and admittedly there is an absurd abundance of talent and creativity out there right now. But in today’s’ world of 30 late night programs, it’s tempting now to take Dave for granted. Do not. Dave was a true revolution—and I believe his innovations are up there with the light bulb and the Twix bar. Like all revolutions, it was such a seismic shift that it was disorienting and a bit messy at first, and it has taken us time to realize the sheer magnitude of the shift.
Letterman’s prime years were a little before my time. My introduction to weird, groundbreaking comedy was actually Conan’s show, in the years after he took over when Letterman left for CBS. So, to see one of the guys who blew my mind and shaped my idea of comedy talking about someone who blew his mind and shaped his idea of comedy is very cool. Again, definitely worth a read.