By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated December 24, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

David Letterman has always had excellent posture. But there’snothing like a three-year, $42 million contract to make a manstand really tall. Night after night these days Dave strides outonto the stage of New York City’s historic Ed Sullivan Theaterin his handsome, expensive, perfectly tailored double-breastedsuits. He hits his mark. And he does this thing that makes himlook like an elegant fashion pinup: He stands perfectly stillwhile the crowd leaps to their feet (they’re whooping, they’vesnagged the toughest ticket in town). Then he holds up hishands, palms out. He sweeps the air with his fingers. He assumesa loose-fisted fighters stance. Victory in the nighttimetalk-show wars is in those hands. He bows. He grins. He punchesout comedy like a champ.

For an inherently guarded, self-conscious, self-critical,morally conservative, easily embarrassed Midwesterner with aninclination toward nihilism, sarcasm, and the protective companyof other guys-who-are-afraid-to-play-with-gurls, Letterman’scannily handled exit from Late Night on NBC and his triumphantascent to Late Show on CBS have revealed Dave to besorta…sweet. To be shrinky about it, his manly career successhas allowed Letterman at 46 to expose his feminine side — theside that connects warmly with people. Sure, the Top Ten list isa brilliant take on current events, and the host’s ability toenhance the performance of such humor amateurs as Dan Rather,Sean Connery, and Vice President Al Gore night after night is anunderappreciated skill.

But — analyze this, Sigmund — it turns out some of Dave’s mostinventive and delightful new bursts of creative humor come fromhis unexpected display of affection and newfound social ease.These days he visits with his neighbors — Mujibar at the souvenirstore, Rupert at the deli, Fern in the copy shop. He runs outinto traffic, he kisses pro bowlers, he talks to cabbies. In oneof his most disarmingly funny recent shows, Dave dialed thecorner pay phone, connected with one Tracy from Arizona, andinvited the woman, who was initially skeptical (and tetchy — shehad waited three hours, unsuccessfully, for a standby Late Showticket), to come in and watch the show from her own special seaton the stage, charming her and us in the process.

Letterman has always had the quickest wit in the talk-showbusiness. But wit can wear thin as humor fashions change (howmany times can the word Buttafuoco motor a joke?). Whereas humanconnection never goes out of style, least of all for viewers inthe dark, looking for a laugh late at night. The surprisediscovery about David Letterman in 1993 is not only that he hasa brain and courage, but that he also has a heart.

— Lisa Schwarzbaum

Happy atop the late-night throne, he struts his fabled wit — anda newfound warmth.


Happy atop the late-night throne, he struts his fabled wit — anda newfound warmth.