Today, David Letterman turned 70. (I know, I know, *only* 70.) This milestone would probably not elicit much merit if not for two things: an extensive, newly released biography written by NYT comedy critic Jason Zinoman, as well as Dave's typically self-deprecating induction of Pearl Jam into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. The former has been years in the making, the latter happened on 48 hours' notice after Neil Young backed out. Both have vaulted the erstwhile late night funnyman back into the spotlight, albeit with some reluctance.
The first time I was ever allowed to stay up to watch a late night talk show was Dave's first CBS show in August 1993. I had just turned nine, and I only knew of Johnny Carson et al. by reputation at the time. Even at the formative age, I found his sardonic wit and no-guff approach refreshing. My father, however insisted on watching Jay Leno most nights; I had my first taste of Leno's Tonight Show a night or two later, and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Once I had my own TV, I didn't hit the hay until after I watched Dave.
If you want a better understanding of how Dave was the late night sui generis, I highly recommend visiting Don Giller's YouTube page. Where Carson and his predecessors hosted a talk show that happened to air after the late news, Letterman reinvented the whole sub-genre of late night comedy. These clips, mostly from the "Late Night" years (1982-1993) are not just of historical value but are still fairly entertaining.
Also, if you want to read my tribute to Dave from three years ago, you can click here.