This year’s line-up of Kennedy Center Honorees was revealed this morning, and it includes Dustin Hoffman, guitar legend Buddy Guy, ballerina Natalia Makarova, the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant) and David Letterman.
What immediately jumps out from this list — aside from the fact that it would be kind of delicious if a Kennedy Center regular like Audra McDonald covers “Kashmir” during the Zeppelin tribute — is that last name: David Letterman.
Commenters on both the Post’s story and the Kennedy Center Web site seemed surprised by the selection of Letterman. Personally, I think he’s deserving — no individual has had a greater influence on the contemporary (note: I said contemporary) late-night sensibility than he has.What surprises me is that he’s actually going to show up at this annual black-tie exercise in adulation to accept his award.
Letterman hates this sort of stuff. He presumably enjoys having his work recognized, sure. But he has always come across as someone with no patience for anything that reeks, even a little, of glad-handing or Hollywood self-congratulation.
When he hosted the Oscars in 1995, it was easy to see, even as the Academy Awards ceremony was happening, how stupid he thought the whole thing was. For me — and I realize I may be in the minority here — that was actually what made it kind of great.
But the idea of watching Letterman sit in the crimson Kennedy Center balcony with a medal around his neck, potentially flanked by President Obama and Benjamin Braddock while he blows kisses to whoever is singing his praises onstage is . . . well, it’s pretty impossible to imagine. Which is why watching him go through this weekend-long acknowledgment of his own wonderfulness is going to be a potentially bizarre and fascinating experience.
The Kennedy Center has not yet announced who will be paying tribute to this year’s honorees; that usually comes later. But it seems fair to assume that Conan O’Brien — the man who took over Letterman’s 12:30 slot at NBC and is a regular at Kennedy Center events — will certainly be tapped. Stephen Colbert, who was among those making recommendations about whom to honor this year, also seems like a natural.
Here’s hoping that longtime Lettermen loyalist Bill Murray — another guy who has a history of throwing deliciously bracing cold water on awards ceremonies — also makes an appearance. And that goes double for Chris Elliott. The banana dance at the Kennedy Center? Someone, please, make this happen.