New York Times comedy critic Jason Zinoman delivers the definitive story of the life and artistic legacy of David Letterman, the greatest television talk show host of all time and the signature comedic voice of a generation.
In a career spanning more than 30 years, David Letterman redefined the modern talk show with an ironic comic style that transcended traditional television. While he remains one of the most famous stars in America, he is a remote, even reclusive figure whose career is widely misunderstood. In Letterman, Jason Zinoman, the first comedy critic in the history of the New York Times, mixes groundbreaking reporting with unprecedented access and probing critical analysis to explain the unique entertainer's titanic legacy. Moving from his early days in Indiana to his retirement, Zinoman goes behind the scenes of Letterman's television career to illuminate the origins of his revolutionary comedy, its overlooked influences, and how his work intersects with and reveals his famously eccentric personality.
Zinoman argues that Letterman had three great artistic periods, each distinct and part of his evolution. As he examines key broadcasting moments - "Stupid Pet Tricks" and other captivating segments that defined Late Night with David Letterman - he illuminates Letterman's relationship to his writers and, in particular, the show's cocreator, Merrill Markoe, with whom Letterman shared a long professional and personal connection.
To understand popular culture today, it's necessary to understand David Letterman. With this revealing biography, Zinoman offers a perceptive analysis of the man and the artist whose ironic voice and caustic meta-humor was critical to an entire generation of comedians and viewers - and whose singular style ushered in new tropes that have become clichés in comedy today.
©2017 Jason Zinoman (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers
Expatriate American academic with high, middle, and low-brow taste.
Before and surpassing all current late-night hosts, Letterman innovated in countless ways (remote shoots, absurdist pranks such as dropping watermelons off buildings or putting a guy on the streets of NYC in a bear suit, using show staff as recurring characters, top-ten-style jokes) that today's hosts copy. What is missing is Letterman's sarcastic, ironic, hilarious detachment from the nonsense that surrounded him. The pleasures of this book are found in a briskly paced, satisfying recounting of the changing role that Letterman played in the show over the years, also including interesting stories of his youthful creative efforts. Zinoman describes Letterman's on-air personality as paradigmatic of the era. It is fun to be reminded of Dave's hilarious obsessions and routines: Larry "Bud" Melman, Connie Chung, Stupid Pet Tricks. It also convincingly explains the changes as the show became massive and softened in later years, factoring in his subject's shortcomings as well as his genius. There was no mention of Alan Coulter, "TV's Uncle Jerry," Tony the cue-card boy, or dog poetry, but you can't fit everything in. Overall a great listen, well-read.
While the book does a nice job of chronicling the various stages of Letterman's career, it fails to capture what made his show - at times - great. His personal demons and self loathing are chronicled in excessive detail while the skits and interviews are presented humorlessly. A reader who never watched his show would have no understanding why this apparently bitter, often cruel, man made it 30+ years on late night. It was depressing.
Fantastic behind the scenes look at Late Night with David Letterman. We all knew Dave was a dark soul but the book really takes it to a new level. The show and letterman helped form a generation's comedic tastes. It's an excellent read
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