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April 6, 2014

DUVALL: Letterman leaves immense legacy in late night

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — The real secret behind Letterman’s genius is he’s unafraid to be unfunny. It gave him the freedom to experiment with zany, goofy, cranky.

You can find traces of Letterman in all the great comedians today — Louis CK, Jon Stewart, Colbert. The list goes on and on.

After all, there’s a reason Letterman, and not Leno, is a Kennedy Center honoree.

Leno practically begged his audience to like him. He started off shows high-fiving the front row. Letterman was just as likely to make fun of someone who turned up to watch his show.

But Letterman, despite the darts sent into the crowd from time to time, deserves credit for the admiration he demonstrated for his viewers. Letterman trusted his audience, the highest praise a comedian can give and a prerequisite for any groundbreaking funny man. If you trust the audience they will follow you where you want to take them.

Letterman, with his trademark wit, deadpanned his retirement announcement thusly: “What this means is Paul and I (longtime band leader Paul Shaffer) will finally be able to marry.”

It has been evident for a while now that Letterman’s time in TV was nearing an end. He’s sunk to last of the big three broadcast networks in the ratings. It feels like the rising generation of comedians has overtaken Letterman’s place. Jimmy Kimmel exudes LA cool and Leno’s replacement on NBC, Jimmy Fallon, is a smooth, multi-talented performer who understands the emerging role social media play in engaging an audience.

It’s Letterman’s time to step away. But he leaves behind a legacy that’s as large, if not larger, than any late night comedian to grace the airwaves.

Thanks for the laughs, Dave. It won’t be the same without you.

Contact Managing Editor Eric DuVall at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.

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