David Letterman has delivered a lot of weirdly wonderful moments in the last 30 years, but it's easy to sometimes forget a guy who's such a fixture, especially amid the din of latenight comedy.
Then a night like Monday comes along, with the CBS host mounting an audience-free show because of Hurricane Sandy, and creating an entire program just riffing at the desk in a manner that almost nobody else could.
When Letterman hired Tom Snyder to follow him years ago, he explained it was because Snyder was a broadcaster — a term Letterman takes seriously. A broadcaster, in his view, is somebody like Regis Philbin, who doesn't have to sing, dance or even make you laugh your ass off; instead, he or she can simply sit talking to a camera and hold an audience, day after day or night after night.
Letterman's rain-soaked show — with only titters from his crew and band — was a perfect demonstration of that quality. Even the low-tech flourishes — like a hand-scribbled Top 10 list with alternative "Frankenstorm" names (my favorites: "The New 'Hurricane Loco' From Taco Bell" and "iPaddle") — were sort of spectacularly silly.
Denzel Washington also showed up, plugging "Flight," and the absence of an audience made that portion intriguingly awkward.
Then again, the whole night was a bit more animated, mostly because you could see Letterman rising to the challenge, in the same way he seems more engaged on nights when he's booked a really novel guest, particularly from the political realm.
"Good night, and good luck, everyone," Letterman said to close the show, quoting Edward R. Murrow's signoff.
Bravo, Dave. Bravo.
Oh, by the way, the Lucy Liu photo above has nothing to do with this column. But there wasn't anything from Monday on the website, and I just kinda liked it.