Tuned In

Letterman's Mea Culpa, Take Two [Updated]

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After having said he wouldn’t have much more to say about his sextortion case and his relationships with women on his staff, at tonight’s taping, David Letterman did say more, including offering an apology to his wife and his staff members. Here’s a preview excerpt (from CBS, which took down YouTube video of Dave’s original revelation):


See also the report from the New York Times, which includes this tidbit:

Last week, some of his staff members suggested that Regina Lasko, Mr. Letterman’s wife, might make a statement of support. But that did not take place.

Ahem. We can only imagine what did take place.

Update: A few thoughts on Dave’s full monologue after the jump:

* Could Dave be his own Hugh Grant? I don’t make predictions, and no one really knows how this will ultimately play out. But Letterman is dealing with this as befits someone of his talents: he literally owns the biggest hot-button topic in late-night comedy, and he’s going to use it. And while his apology to his wife and to his female staffers may have been meant to smooth things over at home and at work (and especially with female viewers), I wonder if his jokes are not his best damage control. As guests Martin Short and Steve Martin did a ventriloquist-dummy gag on stage, Dave ad-libbed: “One more minute on his lap and you’re gonna get blackmailed.”

* Which reminds me: one of the first things I heard after this scandal broke was that Letterman couldn’t deal with it like Carson, who joked about his divorces on air. Why, exactly? People loved Johnny, but it’s not like they were unaware of the subtext of his divorce jokes. As I noted in a column about him after his death, as beloved as he was, “In private Carson was standoffish and in his marriages admittedly no saint. His jokes about his serial monogamy endeared him to viewers, but you don’t rack up three divorces by being a harmless sweetie.”

* Another of the most common pieces of conventional wisdom in this scandal is that it will make it hard for Dave to joke about politicians’ sex scandals. He played off this idea last night, starting abortive jokes about Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford, and Eliot Spitzer. But in the process, Dave may be showing that he can joke about sex scandals.

* Speaking of which, I’ve never really got the argument anyway that Dave is a “hypocrite,” because he’s made endless fun of politicians’ sex lives in the past. I think this argument essentially misunderstands late-night sex jokes. They’re not made out of moral indignation; they’re made because sex is a ridiculous, hilarious thing that everybody cares about and gets big laughs. Comedians don’t make jokes about sex scandals because they themselves are morally beyond reproach. They make jokes about sex scandals because sex scandals are funny.

* In any case, Dave’s becoming quite used to the public multi-apology, as he referenced in another joke: “And now also–because what can it hurt?–I’d once again like to apologize to the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. I’m terribly, terribly sorry.”