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In a career spanning more than thirty years, David Letterman redefined the modern talk show with an ironic comic style that transcended traditional television. While he remains one of the most famous stars in America, he is a remote, even reclusive, figure whose career is widely misunderstood. In Letterman, Jason Zinoman, the first comedy critic in the history of the New York Times, mixes groundbreaking reporting with unprecedented access and probing critical analysis to explain the unique entertainer’s titanic legacy. Moving from his early days in Indiana to his retirement, Zinoman goes behind the scenes of Letterman’s television career to illuminate the origins of his revolutionary comedy, its overlooked influences, and how his work intersects with and reveals his famously eccentric personality.
Zinoman argues that Letterman had three great artistic periods, each distinct and part of his evolution. As he examines key broadcasting moments—Stupid Pet Tricks and other captivating segments that defined Late Night with David Letterman—he illuminates Letterman’s relationship to his writers, and in particular, the show’s cocreator, Merrill Markoe, with whom Letterman shared a long professional and personal connection.
To understand popular culture today, it’s necessary to understand David Letterman. With this revealing biography, Zinoman offers a perceptive analysis of the man and the artist whose ironic voice and caustic meta-humor was critical to an entire generation of comedians and viewers—and whose singular style ushered in new tropes that have become clichés in comedy today.
“Zinoman’s ambitious work succeeds in capturing Letterman’s cultural impact while unearthing the human being behind the frequently inscrutable television icon.”
“Top-notch research bolstered by one-on-one interviews make this a must-read for Letterman fans.”
“Well researched, incorporating a nice mixture of interviews…the Letterman biography fans have been waiting for.”
“Sharp, revealing…This incisive, illuminating book shows the personal toll that success took on all responsible, the price paid for laughs.”
“I devoured this book. Not only a rare and richly detailed account of the life of one of my comedy heroes, but I loved that you can feel Zinoman’s curiosity about, and admiration for, Dave’s singular sensibility on every page.”
Billy Eichner, star, executive producer, and creator of Funny Or Die’s Billy on the Street
“Jason Zinoman is simply one of the sharpest, most supple-minded, and most fearless cultural reporters and critics working today.”
Brett Martin, author of Difficult Men