Take a seat! David Letterman has made his name as a popular comedian and late-night TV host.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to be. My sophomore year in high school they offered a public speaking class. So I signed right up,” the Indiana native recalled during a May 2015 appearance on CBS Sunday Morning. “First day of class, everybody has to stand up and give an impromptu speech about themselves. And I got up when it was my turn and I gave the speech, it had to be, like, two minutes or something. And I sat down and I said, ‘Wow that was easy,’ to myself. And I had never said that about any other class in my academic career prior or after. …I couldn’t do it in any other class.”
The Mark Twain Prize winner, who got his start on TV as a local weatherman in Indianapolis, rose to fame in the 1970s when he started pursuing a career in stand-up comedy. By 1978, Letterman landed recurring gigs on Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary variety show and on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
“It’s white-hot adrenaline. That’s all it is. Then you go and you sit down and you talk to Johnny,” Letterman told CBS anchor Jane Pauley in 2015. “And it’s like you’re sitting on the knee of the Lincoln Memorial and Lincoln is talking to you. You know, it’s like, ‘Holy God, it’s the guy on the $5 bill is talking to me.’”
After a string of popular comedy appearances, the Mork & Mindy alum landed his first morning show. The David Letterman Show premiered in 1980, nearly two years before Letterman was entrusted to lead NBC’s Late Night. (Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers have since succeeded Letterman.)
“[Johnny] Carson was my model,” Letterman told New York Magazine in March 2017, explaining his early hesitation to make political jokes. “All of that changed because of Jon Stewart … he made it so that not doing political stuff got to be the elephant in the room. And also it was having [the news story of] Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton. It was hard to ignore that.”
He added at the time: “We’re always looking for the easiest path, the most obvious joke. … We changed our attitude to make it easier on ourselves. And again, what defense do you have for ignoring these topics? None, really.”
The Indiana native eventually made the move over to The Late Show With David Letterman, which aired on CBS, in 1992. Letterman hosted the show for nearly 23 years before retiring, in which Stephen Colbert took over the time slot. Two years later, the Peabody Award winner returned to TV for his My Next Guest Needs No Introduction series on Netflix. He has since interviewed the likes of Will Smith, Kim Kardashian and activist Malala Yousafzai for the streaming giant.
“Everybody would come to me and say, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I kept saying, ‘Well, jeez, I did what I wanted to do,’” Letterman told The New York Times in August 2017. “[This new show] feels like exactly what I want at this stage of my life.”
In his personal life, the Worldwide Pants founder has been with now-wife Regina Lasko for more than two decades. Letterman and Lasko — who share son Harry, born in 2003— wed in March 2009. The Emmy Award winner, who was previously married to Michelle Cook for seven years, admitted six months after their nuptials that he had been unfaithful, having affairs with several women who worked for him on The Late Show.
“I have no one to blame but myself,” Letterman explained during a January 2013 OWN interview. “I think if you’re going to have a flow chart of the responsibility for this circumstance, this sex scandal, my name is at the top. I’m not sure what it means, but I’m taking responsibility for it, trying to atone for it.”
The Late Show Fun Facts author and Lasko eventually worked through their struggles and stayed together. “I can’t forgive that behavior,” he said during the 2013 sit-down. “I’m still trying to fix it. It hasn’t gone away. It will never go away.”
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