In the wake of David Letterman’s recent retirement announcement, and the slightly more recent announcement that Stephen Colbert will replace him on the Late Show in 2015, much has been written about Dave’s impact on Late Night TV and the talk show format in general. And for good reason. He broke every convention in the book, and his influences on the likes of Conan, Kimmel, Fallon, and yes, Stephen Colbert himself, are too numerous to mention.
But it got me thinking more about his influence on advertising, and on me personally as a copywriter and creative director. Before I ever considered “writing” or “being creative” as possible career paths, I grew up watching Dave while at college, starting on an illegal 4-inch black and white TV set that I smuggled into my freshman dorm room. He wasn’t just funny, he was dangerously funny, and obviously had no respect for convention or authority. He had no problem mocking celebrities and making them the butt of the joke. And he was always determined to do things on his own terms. In other words, he was the perfect role model for a future creative director.
I’m sure countless other agency creatives were equally influenced by Dave’s humor. Most notably, Eric Silver, one of the funniest agency writers around, who actually experienced the thrill and paranoia of working on the Late Show’s writing staff for a while.
Just think of all the memorable campaigns that probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Letterman’s late-night antics. Would Wendy the Snapple Lady have gotten that gig reading Dear Snapple letters without skits like “Viewer Mail” or “Brush with Celebrity”? How about that weird Holiday Inn guy who lived in his parents’ basement? Might that campaign have been inspired by Chris Elliot’s character “The Guy Who Lives Under the Seats” in Dave’s original NBC studio? And what about “Wassup?” Clearly the idea of beating one word into the ground for comedic effect came directly from Dave’s penchant for beating one word into the ground for comedic effect. “Uma, meet Oprah.”
And the list goes on. Bud’s “Real Men of Genius” campaign? They should pay royalties to Late Show band leader Paul Shaffer, who mastered the art of overly-self-explanatory lyrics with classics like the intro to “Viewer Mail”. (Sing it with me…“Letters, we get letters, we get lots and lots of letters…”) Remember the lying Isuzu guy, played by David Leisure? He was basically half car dealer, half of Larry Bud Melman. And finally, think for a minute about the exploits of “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Do they read like a glorified Top 10 list, or what?
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Like good comedy, good advertising usually skewers the status quo somehow. For my money, no one’s skewers were sharper than Letterman’s. Now that he’s done, who’s ideas am I gonna rip off?