Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Letterman, Kimmel & our late night disappointments

The flat-out funniest thing I heard any of our nearly one dozen national late night comics say this week was when David Letterman took it upon himself to diagnose a mental problem with rival Jay Leno.

“He’s maybe the most insecure person I’ve ever known.”

This from a man whose most substantial adult relationship seems to involve about 90 seconds of superficial banter with Paul Shaffer.

We treat David Letterman like he’s a national treasure.

David Letterman’s a mess.

Of course, that seems to be the No. 1 qualification to host a late night show.

The endless and increasingly pointless late night wars are again in the news this week after the Letterman-Oprah sit-down and with ABC moving the Jimmy Kimmel Show to 11:30.

It confuses me when people we look to to make us laugh seem incapable of finding any happiness themselves

It isn’t that way with Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby or, I guess, the late George Carlin. 

I’ve watched Letterman since he was on NBC -- in the morning. Yes, he had an NBC morning show in 1980. It was genius. Within two years, I was one of the cult Letterman devotees who stayed up every night waiting to see if people like Cher called him an asshole on live TV (she did).

I’m no longer cult-like in my devotions to any TV star. Well, maybe Jeff Probst.

Letterman, I guess, lost me about 10 years ago when it began to dawn on me that maybe Cher was right.

I still tune in when he has a good guest. Loved it last month when Mick Jagger delivered the Top 10 things he’s learned after 50 years in Rock ‘n’ Roll (No. 1: “You get into rock ‘n’ roll so you can take drugs and have sex. Now, you take drugs so you can rock ‘n’ roll and have sex).”
Letterman looked so happy. It was fun to watch.

But on night’s without marquee guests, he looks miserable. He looks bored.

He told Oprah he sees a psychiatrist once a week -- and, oh, the ratings if that were pay per view.

“For a long time I thought I was a decent guy,” Letterman said. “But yet, thinking I was a decent guy, I was still capable of behavior that wasn’t coincidental to leading a decent life. That’s what I’m working on. I want to really be the person I believe that I was. I want to be a good person.”

If I was his shrink, I’d advise him to quit TV. It depresses me watching depressed people go through the motions.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of late night comics.

Which brings me to Jimmy Kimmel.

I DVR’d it and watched it this morning with my wife. Here’s her capsule review: “How can a guy this boring rip on Leno?”

The monologue was routine. They aired a funny man-on-the-street segment involving people opining on things that haven’t happened. It was fun watching celebrities read aloud mean tweets strangers had written about them, and a segment where people sent in YouTube videos of themselves angering sports fans was amusing.

In short, “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” is most watchable when Jimmy Kimmel isn’t on it.

This became most apparent when guest Jennifer Anniston came out and destroyed Kimmel’s “desk” with sledgehammer. It was poorly staged and not the least bit funny, but I watched the whole thing in the hopes the heavy sledge would slip and take Anniston’s knee out, which would have been genuinely funny.

They spent the rest of the segment talking about their recent vacation together to Cabo San Lucas.

This was a huge mistake. We don’t want to see pictures of our late night hosts vacationing with celebrities. We want to see them ripping on celebrities.

Of course, the celebrity they’re most likely to rip on is Jay Leno.

Conan The Borebarian, Letterman, Kimmel all despise Leno, as does their spiritual godfather, the increasingly irrelevant Howard Stern.

I’ve tried to understand why they hate him so much and, of course, the answer is obvious: He’s funnier than any of them will ever be.

That’s not me talking.

It’s Letterman.

“He is the funniest guy I’ve ever known,” Letterman said during the same Oprah interview. “If you go to see him do his nightclub act, he’s just the funniest, the smartest, a wonderful observationalist and very appealing as a comic.”

I agree. Jay still consistently makes me laugh.

I’m warming to Jimmy Fallon. Craig Ferguson cracks me up and I think, by far, the funniest man on TV is Stephen Colbert.

Why do comics alone seem to have this misanthropic bent when it comes to colleagues?

It’s not that way with musicians. They achieve great things when they come together, as they did during the outstanding Sandy relief concert.

Maybe all our late night comics could achieve some personal harmony if during the next natural disaster, they did as a group something humanitarian.

Of course, there’s no need to wait for a disaster.

The disaster is their combined contributions to late night TV.

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