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Tom Shales

Double-Breasted Dave

July 30, 2007 9:21 AM

Something funny’s going on with Dave Letterman—other than the obvious, that is. Still the fastest wit in late-night TV, maybe in all of television, Letterman hasn’t been quite himself lately. Or maybe he’s been himself and then some.

For a few weeks, Letterman has eschewed the stupid double-breasted suits that he used to habitually button and unbutton during his monologue and the rest of the show. No longer does he make the occasional mad dash from the wings onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater as he was wont to do in months past; months past; he has lost oomph. He’ll sit at his desk during some segments with his single-breasted suitcoat still buttoned, which looks uncomfortable and awkward. (See??? We don’t just write about how Katie Couric looks. We’re not sexists around here.).

I was worried, seriously, that Dave was ill or that there were some problems associated with the lifesaving heart bypass he underwent a few years ago. Unfortunately, Dave goes ballistic if anyone on his staff talks to the press about him, even if they talk to, say, a TV critic who has slathered Dave with praise for more than 25 years, so it’s hard to get anything confirmed or denied.

Thus we have to formulate a theory and this is the one that seems most plausible and the least worrisome: DAVE IS GETTING FAT. He’s putting on weight. He’s packin’ pudge. He’s developing what’s commonly called a beer belly whether from beer or not.

It is possible. After Johnny Carson traumatized the nation by leaving NBC’s “Tonight Show,” one of the first things he did was pile on pounds, elated not to have to be constantly mindful of his weight any more. The irony about Dave getting chubby, if that’s what’s happening, is that the proverbial and perhaps immortal “fat guy” has long been one of Letterman’s favorite joke targets.

He does it so often that it appears he thinks of fat guys as some freakish, separate and distinct group apart from the normal population. The fat jokes used to bring occasional remonstrance from occasional nut-fringe guest Richard Simmons. In a 1991 show, back when Dave was on NBC, he tried to reassure Simmons and any fat folks watching about “people with weight problems.” He told Simmons: “I like them, I know them, I care about them.” He said he had an “Uncle Earl” who weighed “680 pounds.”

Would there be some cruel justice in this habitual fatty-basher plumping up himself? Yes of course, but not the kind we should take any pleasure in. Getting fat could be a sign of depression, but then, Dave seems to have been depressed ever since he first stepped in front of a TV camera. A happy Dave is not the real Dave—any more than a Fat Dave would be.

Dave, Dave, Dave—listen to the voice of experience: If you go down that road, you may never be able to turn around and come back. Lose it now or forever drop the fat jokes from your repertoire.


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