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  • theaptPORTFOLIO

    theaptSHOWS


    May 18, 2015

    dave grammy

    I’m starting to think Letterman’s booker is not going to call…

    I was 19 years old when I got off the proverbial boat from my native France, landing in the port of New York City in order to attend Parsons’ School of Design‘s Photography program, which I would quit after just one session so as to move my images around to NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts in the Film department. In between those dark rooms and even darker rooms, I would come to learn most of what a rosey-cheeked French boy would have to in order to fit in with these American teenagers from my context: getting used to bagels, Kools and tightly fitting baseball caps but above all, television…

    See, I wasn’t exactly a friend-magnet back then, with one notable exception, and spent a LOT of time alone, walking and observing the streets, getting used to the subtleties of paying for sex in the meatpacking district and staying up late upon my return in front of the colorful glowing tube to watch what this marvelous culture, of which I only heretofore knew about in terms of Miles Davis and Converse All-Stars, had to offer. That is when, after a painfully long lead-in addiction to Arsenio Hall, I was introduced in September of 1989 to the gift that was, and is, Mr. David Letterman. This was the first show I saw:

    Of course, I didn’t understand most of his references, mine being mostly cigarette and beret-driven, but to start any form of televised entertainment with a list of the Top Ten numbers between One and Ten blew my mind. I don’t want to say literally blew my mind but close enough. Every single number he read had me in bewildered stitches, and not just because the bit was that funny but because I couldn’t believe this was actually being televised! The fact that it wasn’t really a joke at all, something that can perhaps be said about the whole run of the show, rather simply a compendium of disparate characters, circumstances and words never before put together, was the incredible thing about it. As I sat through that show, devouring another American success story with a glass of whole milk and almost every night of the last 26 years, give or take a vacation, I have been in awe of this man’s pioneering spirit in the arena of buffoonery. He didn’t seem to simply want to amuse us, he needed to amuse himself, and the confidence required to do that in front of people was astounding to me, unknown really, especially in a man who seemed to seek no other form of fame than that lent by that daily hour, and even-so, reluctantly.

    As a film student, I was starting to think of people who did things I liked or loved as other, people like Orson Welles, John Williams or Gordon Willis, whether legends or craftsmen, they seemed untouchable. Not so with Dave. First of all, Dave… What kind of an on-screen name is that for someone I should aspire to be! But that was never his pitch, never his aim. He seemed much more excited in setting a table, summoning people he thought interesting to it and then invited us in, on equal footing with anyone in his chair. That’s why when he made fun of Madonna…

    we were with him. When Cher called him an asshole…

    we were with him. And, most significantly to me in my young years, when Sandra Bernhard manically flirted on the air…

    my lord, was I WITH him! And of course when, quite a few Septembers later, the lights came up on Dave without an opening credit sequence…

    we were with him all the way, now and forever, like Cats. And when Ted Kopple interviewed him about that moment…

    that “I’m not sure” is heartbreaking… Perhaps because we felt as he did, not sure of anything, really, anymore.

    We knew then, as we know now, that Dave is not only a simple clown dipping his be-Alka-Seltzered body into a human-sized cylinder of water, but a thoughtful man, one who might even pass his own test of being able to take a cross country road trip with and come out better on the other end. When I watched him, I didn’t just seek mindless amusement, those who did would soon switch to Leno, I wanted to see my own strange perspectives, my own creativity, my own shamelessness, somehow represented before a national audience, as if to say “did you see Dave last night? That’s how I feel all the time!” Surely not as articulate, witty or humble as his, our generation’s muddled vision had finally found its champion, even better because he desired to represent no one but himself. Dave pointed the way, my whole American life, 26 years running, to a perspective of existence that included, nay demanded, irony, a quality able to remove ourselves from the misery we all feel and into a temporary state of discerning spectatorship, enabled by those before he, from Twain to Carlin, to laugh at everything. For that perspective, I and millions of us owe him an ENORMOUS debt of gratitude. Without that perspective, borrowed and then torn from the pages of another gap-toothed hero in Mad Magazine and thrown on television, there is no Funny or Die, there is no Tim and Eric, there is no Kimmy Schmidt. He provided a safe doorway to subversion.

    Through him, I was introduced to Bill Murray, to Steve Martin, to Andy Kaufman and Regis Philbin. Thanks to him, I felt welcomed into the American psyche. Thanks to him, I grew up to accept weirdness as a pro, not a con. Which is why I was thankfully ready to subsequently accept Larry David, Garry Shandling and Jon Stewart into my life. He upped the quality of my viewership from mere passive occupation to an almost active form of craft, that which demands knowledge and understanding in its audience, without which The Wire might just have been a show about a wire.

    As I moved to Italy a couple of years ago and only able to watch snippets on the YouTube which present only the highlights chosen by the staff, I miss the segments in which Dave truly shines, the in-between moments, the non-sequiturs, the silences, the mistakes, the times in which Dave dares put his discomfort on display, even at the more mainstream 11:30 hour, because being a host is being human, being a host is not what he does, it’s who he is. And all my adult life I dreamt that I might do something good enough, popular enough or odd enough to warrant my phone to ring with an invitation to that chair and a guest at his party, I would have loved to look him in the eye and said:

    Thank you Dave for giving us more than a voice but a language with which to speak, thank you for being even a reluctant patron-saint to the man and woman child in all of us, we will forever be grateful.

    dave smile