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It's fun watching David Letterman's early Late Night shows because they feel "weird," like a cable access show

  • Letterman's new YouTube channel, with a slew of clips from his 33 years in late-night, features him putting his "fascinatingly rough early years on display," says Tim Grierson, adding that "it would be inaccurate to say that Late Night emerged fully formed on February 1, 1982. Just watch some of the clips on Letterman’s channel for proof, especially the interviews. In the first few months of his show’s run, he talked to an irritable Paul Simon — 'Do we have to go through the history?”' the songwriter peevishly replies after Letterman asks him about starting a solo career after Simon & Garfunkel ended — and an intense Martin Scorsese, who hadn’t yet developed into the confident chat-show guest he’d eventually become. Those and other interviews — like Fred Rogers from February of that year, or the Gloria Steinem conversation that took place a few weeks later — are ultimately pretty interesting, but it’s almost in spite of Letterman. It’s not that he’s 'at a remove from his guests' — it’s that he’s fumbling badly, clearly out of his depth. Plenty of talk-show hosts have to find their sea legs when they’re starting out — the early years of Conan O’Brien’s interviews were excruciating — but Letterman’s nerves are especially endearing because they contradict the surly, sarcastic persona we’ve come to associate with him. The Letterman in these clips is a guy who’d lost his previous program, a 1980 morning show called The David Letterman Show, after only about four months, the prospects of this one-time weatherman suddenly not looking particularly promising. You can sense that he knows that he’s got to make this show work. But it’s not just Letterman’s discomfort that’s striking. Those initial Late Night episodes just generally feel weird, like a cable-access show that isn’t concerned that nobody’s watching at home. Guests come on with only applause, no music. The guests’ name occasionally appears on screen below their face when they’re talking, as if identifying a rare breed of exotic bird. And sometimes the audience doesn’t seem to know if they’re supposed to laugh or just listen." ALSO: Here are more of the best videos from Letterman's new YouTube channel.

    TOPICS: David Letterman, YouTube, Late Night with David Letterman, Retro TV