Eleven floors up, the actual New York skyline twinkling outside her dimly lit office, Jude Brennan, Dave’s longtime producer, has this to say about her boss getting the Kennedy Center’s big rainbow necklace for “exemplary” contribution to the culture:
“We’re very proud of Dave. But it’s probably the worst thing that could happen to him.”
His finest hour
There are only a handful of people in the country who put on a suit every weeknight and sit behind a desk on TV to riff and razz on America. There are the third-generation hosts of late-night TV: Fallon and Ferguson, Kimmel and Conan, Stewart and Colbert and Maher. Decades after Joan Rivers guest-hosted “The Tonight Show,” women are staking claims on the format (Chelsea Handler on E! and Kathy Griffin on Bravo) and in January ABC will tugboat Jimmy Kimmel, 45, to the 11:35 time slot to compete with the second-generation elders who’ve hauled the template into the 21st century: Jay Leno, 62, and Letterman, 65, sons of Carson.
One of these sons is now a Kennedy Center Honoree, a title bestowed on Carson in 1993.
“I know it’s not on merit.”
This is Dave in mid-November, 20 minutes after wrapping No. 3,759.
“I know I’m not worthy of it.”
His ostrich legs are crossed in slim dark jeans. He’s wearing a sourpuss face italicized by clear-rimmed glasses and a silvery dollop of hair, and a white T-shirt underneath a tuxedo jacket with shiny silk lapels.
“I’m thrilled for my family. They’re looking at me like, ‘He’s not this dumbass now.’ It’s ‘Oh, my God!’ So that’s good. To me, I’ll take that. I’m looking forward to it.”
“But please, I want people to understand: I know it’s not right.”
Any true perfectionist would be suspicious of praise, interpreting it as a misunderstanding of what an art form truly requires, and therefore believing a commendation is really an invalidation. But this doubt, this self-defeatism — it’s all an essential part of who Dave is and what he does. And it’s an essential part of why it’s worked for so many years.
There are those Americans, after all, who want to feel coddled and anesthetized as their eyelids droop in front of the television. There’s at least one late-night program that satisfies this want; it does slightly better in the ratings.