David Letterman said he felt like he missed out on Al Gore's Internet. Compared to guys who showed up in his wake, like Jon Stewart and either of the Jimmys, Dave didn't have much of a virtual presence at all. Sure, he had a web site. So most plumbers. What he was confronting was the way we get our entertainment these days. There are plenty of amazing and amusing bits from the Letterman vaults, one of which he chose to showcase on his farewell show: Dave Works At Taco Bell. It was those kind of filmed pieces that took the late night talk show off on new tangents, to places they hadn't been with Johnny Carson or Jack Paar. His celebration of the ordinary, including his own mother, made watching her son's show a great big inside joke.
Back in the day, before DVR and twenty-four hour news, before point and click to review what had happened just moments before, there was staying up late to see what happened after everyone else had gone to sleep. When he moved up an hour and jumped to CBS, that secret society diminished still further. What seemed anarchic after midnight was being sponsored by Chevy and on after your local news. To be sure, Dave had earned his spot at the grown-up's table, but it also meant that he was no longer the upstart. There was no Monkey-Cam. Things didn't tend to fall from five story towers. NBC held on to Larry "Bud" Melman. Letterman and his staff had to make funny in ways that would appeal to those who might be persuaded to switch from Jay Leno if only to see a little hipper musical guest. Then Jimmy Fallon showed up and hired the Roots as his house band. And he got Bruce Springsteen to play himself in the inspired "Whip My Hair" duet with Neil Young. And the lip-syncing and general goofiness that pushed those boundaries once pushed by Dave. All ready for uploading with a Twitter feed that filled in the blanks for anyone who might have missed the show as it streamed through whatever portable device they might have connected to at the moment.
Just like bookstores stopped being just down the street, late night comedy might have a brick and mortar location from whence broadcasts originate, but it now blooms and flowers on Al Gore's Internet.
It makes me pine for those days when I went out with my brothers and my flashy new camcorder, some thirty years ago, and we ran over water balloons as big as a coffee table, and wandered around the University of Colorado asking strangers all manner of questions as "Mister Curious goes to Campus." We were making comedy, without the intent of putting it on a computer network for millions to view. We were having fun. Amusing ourselves. The thumbs-up we got all came from people who watched the tape in our living room. Do I regret never sending any of our tape to Dave and getting a chance to appear on "Stupid Pet Tricks" with our dachshund Rupert doing animal impersonations? A little. But mostly I am glad to have had the chance to laugh along, from the inside, for thirty-three years. Vaya con carne, Dave.