Saturday, August 19, 2017

the last book I ever read (Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, excerpt six)

from Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman:

The most famous example of Hal Gurnee’s cutaway might have been the time, a decade later, when Madonna cursed more than a sozen times during an interview that quickly turned awkward. Gurness, recognizing Letterman’s discomfort, took control of the segment by shifting the point of view to an elderly couple in the audience. As Madonna cursed and Letterman groused, Gurnee simply kept returning to shots of members of the audience, which gave the host something else to talk about.

What other television director would take the focus away from the biggest pop star and television comedian of the era with a simple camera switch? Who even had the leeway and courage to do it? Gurnee did, and it worked, getting a big laugh.



Friday, August 18, 2017

the last book I ever read (Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, excerpt five)

from Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman:

More than any other comedy figure, Letterman redefined countercultural cool as knowing, square, and disengaged. Authenticity, the currency of cool for ages, was out; only a fool still believed it existed. What mattered was signaling that you knew it. You saw this clash of old and new styles play out when the pop star Billy Idol appeared as a guest on Late Night.

Idol adopted a glossy version of Sex Pistols style with all the usual signifiers of a punk rock aesthetic: black leather jacket, shock of white spiky hair, a scowl. Idol told Letterman that his songs were so popular that drug dealers were naming their products after them. Instead of chuckling merrily or changing the subject, Letterman injected some antagonism into the exchange and sneered, “You must be a very proud young man.”



Thursday, August 17, 2017

the last book I ever read (Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, excerpt four)

from Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman:

By late 1983, Late Night with David Letterman had reached a crossroads. About half the writing staff had left the show. At one point, there were only six writers. “I do remember there being a small element of desperation and fear,” said Steve O’Donnell, who replaced Downey as head writer. Letterman was concerned. When another Lampoon writer, Jeff Martin, interviewed, Letterman asked when he could start. Martin said he could quit his job tomorrow. “That’s just the kind of loyalty we’re looking for,” Letterman said sarcastically.

But Martin would become part of a new team of writers who stayed together for around six years, through the first explosion in popularity for the show. This new group was composed entirely of white men. This blanket homogeneity was in part a reflection of the comedy scene, marked by institutional sexism and racism, but it was also specific to the show. Its only female writer was its first, Merrill Markoe, who had a major role in hiring the first group of writers. One of the lessons she took from the morning show was that the disparate voices on the staff didn’t mesh well. She aimed to get people who could do one thing: write for the sensibility of the host. Having people who were similar seemed like an asset. “That seemed good to me back then, because it was harmony,” she said, “people who all thought the same.”



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

the last book I ever read (Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, excerpt three)

from Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman:

George Meyer also wrote satire, though he favored nonsense, abstract jokes like the giant doorknob. In one sketch, he wrote a character who would interrupt Letterman, shout about Stupid Pet Tricks being fixed, and then get dragged off the stage. He became known as the Conspiracy Guy and was played by Chris Elliott, then a runner on staff. This sketch set the template for a series of characters played by Elliott in the same vein, including the Guy Under the Seats, the Panicky Guy, and the Fugitive Guy.

In a segment Meyer proposed, two stagehands participated in a contest between a humidifier and a dehumidifier. Letterman called this “the single most brilliant idea on the show ever.”



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

the last book I ever read (Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, excerpt two)

from Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman:

Merrill Markoe was thrilled when she got offered a job writing on a new variety show starring Mary Tyler Moore, called Mary. The day after spending the night with Letterman, she went to work on the show for the first time. At the writers’ meeting, she checked out the list of cast members and was shocked to see Letterman’s name. Even though they were spending most nights together, he had never mentioned he was working on the same show. She later learned he had known she was up for the job. Looking back, Markoe said this was “a portent of many things to come.”



Monday, August 14, 2017

the last book I ever read (Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman, excerpt one)

from Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman:

New York’s drinking age was eighteen, and Letterman took advantage of it. He left the tour of CBS and walked to the bar at the Hotel Edison. Later, he and his friends headed uptown to check out the Sigma Chi house at Columbia University.

On their last day, Letterman and two friends went to a bar to watch a Rangers hockey game, got drunk, and lost track of time. When they check the clock and realized their train was about to leave, they rushed to Penn Station, late. They hadn’t packed their bags, so Tomlinson had to send someone to the hotel. When they returned to Ball State, Tomlinson called them into the office and said they could be expelled for their behavior.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

the last book I ever read (An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira, excerpt ten)

from An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira:

Like a Mater Dolorosa, Krause held the unconscious body of his friend and master, under crowns of foliage multiplied to infinity. The trills of a sky-blue cephalonica encircled the silence. Night was falling. It had been falling for some time.

In the last, miraculously drawn-out light, soldiers and ranchers gathered at the fort to debrief. The horses were exhausted. The riders hung their heads, speaking in mournful grunts; all were grimy, their faced powdered with dust, some were falling asleep in the saddle. Krause joined one of the parties, with Rugendas slung over the back of his horse, sleeping off a dose of powdered poppy extract, his head hanging level with the stirrup, which gave it a ding like a bell’s clapper at every step. The mantilla, however, had remained in place. Night had fallen by the time they reached the fort, and they reached it none too soon, for the darkness was absolute.