I don't watch David Letterman much anymore, but when I was younger I watched him pretty religiously. He was one of my TV comedy gods, along with SCTV. I cottoned onto Letterman very early on, when he had a daytime talk show on NBC in the late seventies. These were the days before VCRs, so I would watch the show while holding a microphone up to the TV and into a cassette recorder, stifling my laughter for posterity's sake and then listening to the tapes over and over again. I wrote a letter to the network when the show was cancelled, replaced by two game shows, Las Vegas Gambit and Blockbusters!
Letterman spent most of career trying to be the heir to Johnny Carson, but in reality he was the new Ernie Kovacs. It's striking to look back at clips from the early days, as I have been since hearing of the passing this week of one of his regular go-to weirdos - Larry "Bud" Melman (real name Calvert DeForest). How bizarre and innovative this show was. Compare this to, say, Jimmy Kimmel trying to be surreal.
Larry was a gigantic muffin - a little old man straight out of a Drew Friedman panel, with a tiny voice, giant spectacles and a sense of timing that seemed to be transmitting from Mars - always a second or two behind, and always chipper about it.
Here's a typical set-up; Larry welcoming arrivals at the Port Authority terminal with hot towels. For no reason. For five minutes.