Letterman was a pioneer of being a mainstream, beloved subversive TV personality who came up with a generation of stars like Alan Alda in “M.A.S.H.” or Roseanne Barr as well as Bill Murray in “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters” or Matthew Broderick in “Ferris Bueller” who brought the same persona to the big screen.
In the beginning, his underdog battles were about taking down the sacred image of the talk show format along with his clueless bosses at General Electric, but later on it became about taking down George Bush and other dumb ass Republicans for creating the war in Iraq and other foolish policies.
Although he wasn’t very comfortable in the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert-style of news satire that developed around the time, after 9/11 his overt passion for New York City and the issues affecting us became greater and greater. In his final interviews with Bill Clinton and President Obama he showed a clear interest in how we can better both America and the world around us….and him telling Bill O’Reilly that he is full of it to his face was something we truly needed. Watch him in action here.
Luckily, even though we will also lose Jon Stewart this year, I’m sure Stephen Colbert will admirably fill Letterman’s shoes while Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien continue their smart-assery as well as almost all of the late nights hosts will have been impacted by his legacy in some fashion. Interestingly, as of September, FIVE of them will have hosted a show that David Letterman created.
But especially in sitcoms and the movies it seems like the Smart Ass is a dying breed. Over the last 20 years we have seen the rise of the Dumb Ass (or caricature of it) in our culture from Jim Carrey to Adam Sandler to Will Ferrell. Meanwhile, sitcoms are nearly dead as a vehicle for the Smart Ass….yet Tim Allen still has a job.
The reason why this is most concerning is that somehow the Dumb Ass is even getting more gigs in politics too. With the rise of Fox News, George Bush and the Tea Party it seems like being an arrogant moron without the irony of an Archie Bunker in “All in the Family” is a trend that holds back some of the great progress we have made on some social issues like LGBT rights.
But we know that Smart Ass-ness sells….often even better than the Dumb Ass.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s team triumphed over Sarah Palin’s team, but that was when everyone was watching.
Besides being smarter than most of his competitors, Obama’s zingers against Mitt Romney and White House Correspondent’s Dinner speeches have shown his excellent wit and based on his appreciative comments on his last “Late Show” appearance I think he learned a few lessons from Letterman that we could all benefit from.
Politicians and Activists often give impassioned policy arguments and criticisms of foolish things their opponents are saying but sometimes the best thing to do is be a Smart Ass rather than preach in a fashion that only the choir cares about.
I am not sure if a President can get away with too many “sarcastic” talking points but being smart and entertaining is something we can all do to cut to the chase in a fun and creative way.
So, long live the “Smart Ass”....now ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do to insult the “Dumb Asses” in our country.
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