Ed Driscoll

From The Home Office In Branson, Missouri

Ace of Spades responds to David Letterman’s latest rumble with Bill O’Reilly, reminding his younger readers, “Kids, you might not believe me, but there was once a point when Dave Letterman was considered funny:”

I finally realized: The joke’s been on me for ten years. I thought I was in on the joke as he wasted the network’s time. But the network was still selling ads, weren’t they?

The only people having their precious time wasted were those still watching Letterman. The network people weren’t watching these long, tedious supposedly funny-because-it’s-not-funny Larry “Bud” Melman appearances. I was.

And I was forcing myself to laugh because I wanted it to be funny. I caught myself doing that at one of Woody Allen’s sad later “comedies” — Shadows and Fog, I think — and realized there, too, that if I had to force laughs to show support, maybe I shouldn’t be supporting Woody Allen anymore.

And so I stopped. I hadn’t been watching Letterman much for years, but I still tuned in on occasion. (The show I tried to stay up to watch had become Conan O’Brien’s.) But now I stopped even bothering to check what guests Letterman might have on, or tune in to an early comedy bit hoping for a laugh.

And so now we see an old, unfunny, cranky old man, who attacks Limbaugh, etc., for stating their political opinions and for being “too smart to believe the crap they say,” even as he turns his non-comedy show into a nightly hour-long advertisement for the Obama Administration.

And speaking of being too smart to believe this crap– Edward R., who tipped me, says that Letterman also casually brought up the “death squads” Paul Bremmer had brought with him to Iraq. That’s not in the clip, so I’m not 100% sure he said that, but it sounds par for the course.

And while Letterman always had a hard-on for Johnny Carson — a kinda embarrassing case of hero-worship — the irony is that Letterman is rejecting the Carson model of joke first, joke second, joke last, politics never, and moving into Lenny-Bruce-reading-his-court-transcripts-on-stage mode. While Leno, who didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about Carson, is emulating Carson’s style of giving it to all sides equally.

I concur completely with the Woody Allen comparison–both are men who were once revolutionary in their fields (and coincidentally, shared managers), but hardening of the attitudes and a surprisingly punitive shared world view has caused them to become sclerotic and reactionary. The danger of having an endlessly self-deprecating, “it’s only TV/it’s just another movie” attitude is that when the brilliance wears off, so does the joke.

A couple of years ago, Woody told an interviewer:

I’m not a perfectionist. I like to do a film every year and throw a lot of stuff up on the wall; what sticks, sticks, and what doesn’t, doesn’t. I don’t like to make a big production of every film and dine out on the successes and brood over the failures. I just like to make them, take the money and move on with my life.

And as I wrote back then, the sad thing is that he’s not joking. And for the last eight or nine years, neither was Letterman.