Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night

When David Letterman retired in 2015, after 33 years hosting his late-night comedy talk show, "he received a send-off befitting a secular saint," writes Jason Zinoman, comedy critic for the New York Times. Letterman's two TV series (CBS's Late Show and NBC's Late Night) were wildly inventive, outrageous, combustible and influential. But backstage they were a hotbed for dysfunction, with Letterman the nucleus of it. Described as "a spectacularly committed hypochondriac," Letterman "never enjoyed the successes and scrutinized every failure, musing darkly about the implications and pivoting from self-criticism to despair in a blink," writes Zinoman (Shock Value).

His uncompromising and eye-opening biography is a love letter to the magic created on both shows, but never ignores the hostile and combative atmosphere behind the scenes with a "difficult, fascinating and self-lacerating character who hated revealing himself in his work but couldn't help doing so." Zinoman's knowledge is encyclopedic and his insights are perceptive. Letterman is filled with surprisingly candid recollections culled from Zinoman's interviews with the comedian, his writers (including co-creator and ex-girlfriend Merrill Markoe), producers, directors, production staff and frequent guests like Steve Martin and Sandra Bernhard.

This biography offers a fascinating look at how David Letterman's comedy and personality evolved over the years, and how his TV shows mixed absurdist, conceptual, satirical, slapstick, silly and sophisticated humor--and somehow made it cohesive. Letterman is a frank tribute to the painful process of creating comedy. Fans of TV, comedy and celebrities behaving badly will find it irresistible. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

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