Culture

David Letterman’s Crazy-Old-Coot Phase

(Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
His unhinged rants are nowhere near funny and usually don’t even make sense.

People are criticizing Donald Trump, and David Letterman has had enough of it. “What I’m tired of is people, daily, nightly, on all the cable news shows telling us there’s something wrong,” he says. “I just think we ought to direct our resources and our energies to doing something about it. . . . Let’s just stop whining about what a goon he is and figure out a way to take him aside and put him in a home.”

Wait a minute — who’s “we,” Pappy? Because if you’re talking about the American people, “we” elected this guy and “we” are a nation of laws where a president can be removed only under a few very specific circumstances that “we” agreed upon in the Constitution.

But maybe Letterman isn’t talking about that “we.” Maybe he just means “people . . . on all the cable news shows.” In other words, the media. Hey, it’s an idea. Let’s do something about Trump, kids! Let’s “take him aside”! CNN could seamlessly transition into Coup News Network. It wouldn’t be bad for ratings to see Wolf Blitzer scaling the White House fence with a Bowie knife in his teeth before the Secret Service opens fire. I haven’t watched CNN since Election Night, and even I would tune in for that.

I didn’t vote for Trump, and as someone who worshiped David Letterman as a teen — his, and Chevy Chase’s, and Bill Murray’s casual, smirky sarcasm seemed the ideal blueprint to build my personality around — I say this wincingly rather than in triumph: The man has lost it. He’s become America’s Bad Grandpa, the whiskery old coot who makes you cringe every time he opens his mouth. Between the strange if vigorous 71-year-old president and the 70-year-old ex-funnyman who looks like a batty 1850s gold prospector mumbling about El Dorado under the influence of severe sunstroke, Trump isn’t obviously the one who looks like he should be padding around in sneakers and a tatty bathrobe.

Letterman is over his head, over his pay grade, over his skis. He used to be funny, and at times still is, but he has forgotten he’s the guy we loved for jumping into tanks of water wearing a suit covered with Alka-Seltzer tablets. When he attempts punditry, you might as well be trying to make sense of what your parakeet is telling you.

In a previous interview in which Mike Pence’s name came up, the Hoosier Letterman started with a not-bad joke (“He only got elected because he looks like Bobby Knight”), then immediately slipped into pundit mode: “Jeez, Pence scared the hell out of me. There was a therapy. . . . Yes, conversion therapy. That’s when I just thought, Oh God, really, Indiana? I don’t care if you’re a fundamentalist Christian — even they have gay relatives.”

When he attempts punditry, you might as well be trying to make sense of what your parakeet is telling you.

So the main reason Pence is scary is because Letterman thinks he’s linked to “conversion therapy.” Pence is not now pushing and never has pushed gay “conversion therapy.” There is zero evidence that he ever backed it in any way. Pundits should keep track of these details, otherwise known as “facts,” because if they don’t, their commentary becomes useless and unmoored from reality. Comedians rely on exaggerating or distorting reality. Letterman has gotten his wires crossed, and he thinks his fictitious notions about Pence are worth being “scared” about.

As for the Obama administration’s attempt to set up a national bathroom policy, Letterman thinks any entity below the federal government saying, “Thanks, I think we can handle this ourselves” is ruining lives. “Look, you’re a human, I’m a human. We’re breathing the same air. We have the same problems,” Letterman said on the matter. “We’re trying to get through our day. Who the f*** are you to throw a log in the road of somebody who has a different set of difficulties in life?”

Letterman openly admits that, after doing nonpolitical comedy for many years, he started to pay attention to Jon Stewart, or at least to pay attention to the attention paid to Stewart. It inspired his late-career political awakening. Initially, “Carson was my model,” he told Vulture, citing the late Tonight Show host’s policy of not mentioning the Vietnam War. But Stewart “made it so that not doing political stuff got to be the elephant in the room.” Letterman got political, and his ratings steadily declined. This turned out to be a career-capping, long-playing Stupid Human Trick, and CBS gently ushered Letterman out the door. “If anybody f***ed me up, it was me, by getting old and stupid,” he now laments.

Letterman has become the sad guy in the common area shouting back at the TV while he waits for somebody to bring him his Salisbury steak and chocolate milk. “I’m lonely, I can’t stop talking,” he told Vulture, and “This is like visitors’ day at prison for me,” and “You’re talking to a man who has nothing to do,” and “I’m sorry for rambling. I’m afraid something has happened to me hormonally. I can’t stop talking.”

His teenaged son Harry, Dave allowed, is a bit uncomfortable with Dad’s evident manic streak. Letterman says he told the lad, “‘Harry, I get the sense sometimes you don’t like going places with me in public.’ And he said, ‘Well, you have bad people skills. Just be normal.’” Sorry, Harry. It’s too late for that.

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