Wednesday, September 12, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 205



Staff Editorial


Tom Carpenter        Ken Fountain 
Nikie Johnson          Keenan Singleton       Audrey Warren

David Letterman, Nice Guy

In the 20 years that David Letterman has been a fixture on late-night television, he's been called many less than flattering things -- mercurial, mean-spirited, hostile and even misanthropic. His
acid tongue and irony-laden delivery have scorched the ego of many a guest -- Cher, Tom
Cruise, Richard Simmons -- some never to return.

Some say this dark side of Letterman is a result of some deep insecurity. Others say it's at the heart of his comedic genius. Whichever it may be, it's turned many against him. In his first (and
presumably last) appearance as host of the Motion Picture Awards telecast, most of the worldwide audience just didn't know what to make of Dave chanting "Oprah--Uma-Opra-Uma."

But occasionally, Letterman shows a kindlier, gentler side. One of the most famous examples
was last year, when he made his first appearance after undergoing emergency heart surgery.
He opened the telecast with a monologue that was by turns touching and hilarious, even
bringing the medical team that he credited with saving his life onstage to thank them.

But Monday night, Letterman outdid himself. Nearly a week after terrorists in hijacked airliners
leveled the World Trade Center towers in the heart of Manhattan (not far from where "The Late
Show" is taped), Letterman, Paul Schafer and the rest of gang returned to the air.

If you missed the show, particularly the opening, you missed one of the most riveting broadcast
moments in quite some time. The show opened without the usual theme song, just Dave sitting
alone at his desk.

"Bear with me folks, but if I'm going to do a show tonight, I've got to say some things," he said

He proceeded to talk, in extremely personal terms, about the effect the tragedy had on him.
Visibly struggling to find the right words, he said he'd even wondered if he should ever do a
show again. He was finally convinced to do so again by no less a personage than New York
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who told him that doing so would help New York, and America, on its
way to recovery.

Letterman was effusive in his praise of the tough-guy mayor, who has been the target of any
number of the comedian's jabs. "If you didn't know how to behave, all you had to do at any
moment was watch the mayor. Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage."

In his own way, Letterman himself showed a special brand of courage. As one of the most
familiar figures in American pop culture, for him to let down his famous guard and let his
audience see the real man behind the barbs, Letterman personified the tragedy with a special

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