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Who is David Letterman?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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David Letterman is a popular talk show host who is known for his quirky and dry wit, his willingness to take on or make fun of guests, and also for his philanthropic work and his love of automobile racing. Born in 1947, in Indiana, Letterman’s first job in broadcasting was at the student radio network at Ball State University, from which he graduated in 1969. He majored in telecommunications, and began his television career on the local Indianapolis station, WLWI.

Even though David Letterman worked as a straight man, doing weather forecasts and then anchoring the news, he exhibited signs of his terrific sense of humor, and was much enjoyed by Indianapolis residents, but a bit irritating to network executives. Weather couldn’t be delivered without joking about it, and Letterman enjoyed predicting things like hailstones the size of canned hams. In fact, this reference may be one of his longest standing jokes because he still occasionally gives canned hams to his audience members.

Hollywood and the possibility of a standup comedy career beckoned by the mid 70s, and in 1975, David Letterman moved to the west coast. He soon found jobs as a writer, and performed standup routines at prestigious comedy clubs like The Comedy Store. He also made a few guest appearances on television shows, including ones on Mork and Mindy, and Mary, and he became a guest on several game shows.

His acerbic wit caught the attention of Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, and he became a frequent guest on the show. Carson and David Letterman became excellent friends, and when Carson retired, it was very clear he wanted Letterman to replace him as the Tonight Show host. The job was instead given to Jay Leno, because Letterman’s show, Late Night with David Letterman was very popular. The broadcast network NBC owned both shows, and didn’t want to give up the audience Letterman had garnered on his own show.

This decision of NBC executives left Letterman feeling distinctly ill used. Under Johnny Carson’s advice, he switched to hosting a show on the network CBS in 1993, which was in direct competition to Leno’s show. Initially Letterman’s ratings were much higher than Leno’s, but over time, Leno gained in popularity and consistently beat Letterman. Though he occasionally required absences, especially due to heart bypass surgery in 2000, Letterman’s show still has a huge fan base. Some of the popular aspects of the Late Show include segments like Top Ten Lists and “Stupid Pet Tricks.”

David Letterman is not universally appreciated and has had some notable feuds with other celebrities. The most famous of these was a ten-year feud with Oprah Winfrey. The pair amicably resolved their differences in 2007. Letterman also was noted for his unsuccessful turn as host of the 1995 Academy Awards. Jokes fell flat and have become the fodder of many a comedian.

Letterman’s interest in racing prompted him to invest in co-ownership of two racecars competing in Indy 500 events. He’s also formed his own production company, which has produced several hit shows, including Ed, and Everybody Loves Raymond. Letterman expressed his philanthropic tendencies by creating a charitable organization called the American Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming. Though the name sounds like a joke, through the foundation, primarily endowed by the talk show host, Letterman has given over two million US Dollars (USD) to numerous programs supporting children’s education and health.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia...
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