CBC Digital Archives

David Letterman's sharp humour

Whether they're homegrown comics or jokers from abroad, CBC has hosted more than its fair share of comedians over the years. From Buster Keaton of the silent-film era to a young Jim Carrey, CBC Digital Archives presents a selection of guests that have kept us laughing.

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"When I'm writing for anybody, it's kind of a standard procedure. If I come up with anything funny, I keep that for myself. And then they get the junk, whatever it is," 30-year-old David Letterman states in this 1978 interview on 90 Minutes Live. The comedian who would go on to host his own hugely popular late night program aptly demonstrates his acerbic and witty side. When a fellow guest, Austrian filmmaker Otto Preminger, makes fun of his tie, Letterman says "I tell you what Otto. If they don't let you stay in Canada, let me give you my name and number...." Letterman also shows great political awareness in mocking Canadian politician Francis Fox, who was forced to resign earlier in the year over a forgery scandal.
• Letterman was born in Indianapolis, where he attended Broad Ripple High School and was voted class Smart Alec.

• His father, Joe Letterman, was a florist. His mother Dorothy, a church secretary, is one of the most popular regular guests on his TV show.

• Letterman graduated from Ball State University in 1969 with a degree in telecommunications. During his four years there, he spent time as a disc jockey on student-run radio station.

• The comedian got his start on TV as a weatherman in Indianapolis. He once drew the producer's ire by congratulating a tropical storm for being upgraded to a hurricane. He also once referred to hail as "the size of canned hams."

• Letterman's hero is Johnny Carson. During Carson's tenure, Letterman guest hosted The Tonight Show 51 times. After he was passed over as a replacement for Carson when the longtime host stepped down in 1992, it was widely rumoured that Carson wanted Letterman, not Jay Leno, as his successor. Carson went on to appear on Letterman's program but never appeared on his old show with Leno.

• His guest hosting of The Tonight Show led to his own morning program, The David Letterman Show. It lasted only a summer and was quickly transformed into the late night event that quickly became legend. College students fast made him a cult favourite. They were attracted to his irreverent sense of humour and his quirky segments, such as "Stupid Pet Tricks" and "Stupid Human Tricks."

• Letterman owns a production company called Worldwide Pants, which produced the TV comedy smash "Everybody Loves Raymond."

• In 2000, Letterman underwent quintuple bypass surgery. Before that, he hadn't missed a day due to illness in his 18 years of late night television. After the surgery, he petitioned to get a highway in his hometown named "the Dave Letterman Bypass."

• His sidekick Paul Schaeffer, the bandleader on his late night show, is from Thunder Bay, Ont.

• Letterman has one son, Harry, born in 2003 to girlfriend Regina Lasko and named after his father.

• Like Jay Leno, Letterman was a writer on the 1970s comedy series Good Times.

• He is also a racing fan and owns an Indy Racing League team, Rahal Letterman Racing, with racing legend Bobby Rahal.

Medium: Television
Program: 90 Minutes Live
Broadcast Date: Feb. 24, 1978
Guest(s): David Letterman, Otto Preminger
Host: Carole Taylor
Duration: 6:43

Last updated: April 11, 2014

Page consulted on May 5, 2014

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