cover image Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night

Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night

Jason Zinoman. Harper, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-237721-0

Zinoman, the comedy critic for the New York Times, expertly toggles between keen analysis and dogged reporting in escorting readers down David Letterman’s lengthy path to greatness. Letterman’s retirement in 2015 devastated the comedy world. Jimmy Kimmel called the late-night talk show host “my Jesus” and Jon Stewart deemed him “an epiphany.” The author breaks down the counterculture humor that made the landmark Late Night with David Letterman special, and he examines how success corroded the rapport between the neurotic star and his collaborators, including Merrill Markoe, his creative muse and longtime (and long-suffering) girlfriend. Comedy aficionados will savor the numerous behind-the-scene stories and tales of how Letterman evolved from an acquired taste to a mainstream star. After he became CBS’s face of late-night TV in 1993, Letterman spent less time skewering talk-show conventions and became broad and splashy. But Letterman also showed more of himself, using his show to vent his confusion over the 9/11 terrorist attacks, confess his adultery, and embrace fatherhood. Zinoman’s ambitious work succeeds in capturing Letterman’s cultural impact while unearthing the human being behind the frequently inscrutable television icon. (Apr.)