Wednesday, October 28, 2009

David Letterman: Why I Don't Still Care About His Affair

A commenter on this post asks: "After reading this article, do you remain unconcerned by the revelation of Letterman's affairs?"

First and foremost, one thing I think got lost in the initial tabloid feeding frenzy (remember the New York Post's "Dirty Dave's Harem" headline?) is that Letterman was the victim here. A CBS employee was trying to gouge him for $2 million. As much as Joe Halderman's showboating lawyer Gerald Shargel would like to make the case all about Dave, the truth is that in the eyes of the law, Letterman committed no crime. In fact, Worldwide Pants' sexual harassment guidelines do "not prohibit sexual liaisons in the office, provided they're not 'unsolicited and unwelcome.'"

By all accounts, Letterman's relationship with Stephanie Birkitt was entirely consensual. None of Dave's other alleged paramours have come forward to accuse him of being a cad or a scoundrel. If it hadn't been for Halderman, it's likely we never would have known about Letterman's affairs.

But what about his wife, Regina Lasko? Isn't he a dog for cheating on her? As far as I'm concerned, that's between the two of them. As I stated previously, Letterman has never held himself up as a poster boy for monogamy. After his first marriage ended in divorce, he resisted making a return trip to the altar for over three decades. That doesn't exactly seem like the behavior of someone who is eager to commit to one woman. Yes, sneaking around on Lasko was a bit sleazy, if indeed that's what happened, but you know what? I still watch "30 Rock" despite the fact that Alec Baldwin called his daughter a "thoughtless little pig" on that leaked voice mail, and I didn't throw out my Roxy Music CDs when lead singer Bryan Ferry dumped his wife of 20 years for a woman half his age.

Having said that, I do believe that Nell Scovell makes some valid points about the difficult work environment that can result when the boss is messing around with his female underlings. Of course, Scovell worked for Letterman during his NBC tenure, when the staff was no doubt much smaller compared to the current Worldwide Pants empire. Judging from the recent New York magazine article, the Letterman of today is a man who has walled himself off from the world, dealing only with a handful of trusted employees. Many of his closest staffers, such as Barbara Gaines and Jude Brennan, are women. I think the fact that they have stayed loyal to Dave for decades speaks for itself.

No other figure has influenced my sense of humor, and in some ways, my very outlook on life, like David Letterman. I feel kind of sorry for the younger generation who never had the opportunity to watch his old "Late Night," when he was practically redefining the talk show genre on a nightly basis. Indeed, I stopped watching "Late Show" regularly when he settled into a more conventional talk show groove; despite the cranky charm he displays during his chats with Paul Shaffer, I can't help but miss the brilliant stunts and innovation of the old days. I hope someday, Letterman takes a page from his mentor Johnny Carson and makes his old shows available for purchase.

But despite my appreciation for Letterman the comedian, I've never had much interest in Letterman the man. Unlike, say, Stephen Colbert or Craig Ferguson, he's not someone I could imagine myself having a cup of tea with. It was probably his refusal to be a jovial gladhander like his former time slot rival Jay Leno that lost him the "Tonight Show" gig he so coveted. For his audience, the only thing that should matter is that one hour a day when Letterman is on TV. If you enjoy watching him, you should keep on doing it, even if he isn't a paragon of morality and good behavior in his personal life; if you don't, well, Conan O'Brien appears to be happily married.

I do agree with Scovell that it would be nice to see more female writers on late night shows. Hiring people other than white males doesn't necessarily have to be a sop to mediocrity or tokenism; look at "The Daily Show," which used to get a lot of criticism for its on-air roster of white men (plus Samantha Bee). The show responded by hiring the extremely funny and talented Wyatt Cenac and Aasif Mandvi, who have both brought a different and hilarious perspective to the broadcast, and made a good thing even better. "Daily" has two female writers and the writers' assistant is also a woman, a sign that they're interested in nurturing female talent. There are plenty of funny women out there, and they should be welcomed into the writing rooms.


  1. Anonymous said...

    I feel terrible that I didnt get to watch Dave in the earlier days of his career. Dont make me feel worse about it TSN! lol.

    But yes, I agree with Sue about the shows hiring more female writers. Comedy and humor are not limited to just one subset of people (white males), and the writer's room should reflect the real world more accurately.

    That said, as other commenter mentioned on another post, the Late Show DOES employ many women in various crucial positions, so the instant notion of sexism and discrimination one might take from articles like the Vanity Fair one, is not entirely accurate either.


  2. Judd said...

    Right, because comedy writing isn't about being funny, it's about meeting race and gender quotas.

  3. Talk Show News said...

    Anyone who believes talk show comedy writers' rooms are a complete meritocracy should check out "The Larry Sanders Show" episode "The New Writer" (with Sarah Silverman). From what I hear, a lot of this 10+ year old episode still rings true today.

  4. Anonymous said...

    @Judd: So, what? are you essentially saying women are less funny than men? If you are, then Id have to disagree with that wholeheartedly cuz gender doesnt have anything to do with a persons humour.

    Im not saying, hire a bunch of unfunny women just to meet the "quotas" youre mentioning. Im saying, give funny women a shot too. Not just hire for the sake of equality.


  5. M.P.C. said...

    Satiago, I agree with your comment about 60 percent.

    But I think you are missing few important facts:

    1. Historically there have always been more male comedy writers than female ( I mean, its not even close--I read an article where it says--out of 100 applicants--almost 95 percent are male)
    that doesnot mean there are no opportunity for females--it just means more males are interested to be the writers on comedy shows.
    For example--there are more male truck drivers than female--that doesnot mean females are discriminated--and more female nurses than male.

    2. What proof do you have that makes you think that letterman or conan or Leno are hiring only male writers. letterman had some female writers in the past, now he has male writers--there is nothing wrong with that. cuz he has females on other position like executive producers--which is not bad. and his company employes about 58 percent females ( letterman does).
    Bottom line: people need to calm down--you guys are making big deal outta nothin'
    Just enjoy the show --and go to bed.