David Letterman: Patriotism is ‘supporting your government when it deserves it’


David Letterman received the Mark Twain Award for American humor on Sunday night in a star-studded affair that included Jimmy Kimmel, Sen. Al Franken, Steve Martin and Martin Short, among others. The biggest moment came when the 2016 Mark Twain recipient, Bill Murray, presented Dave with the honor. That was due in large part to that fact that he was dressed in Tudor-attire and was a riot, but also for the poignant reason that Bill was Dave’s first and last guest on Late Night. Most outlets are noting how political the event was overall. Considering this was a Kennedy Center Honor, the presenters and the current climate in America, I don’t think its political bent was much of a surprise. But the reason it is of note in this case is Dave famously shied away from being a political comedian. In the end, however, even Dave couldn’t walk away from politics, using Mark Twain himself to convey his thoughts.

David Letterman was never known as a particularly political comedian, preferring a detached irony-drenched tone that favored the surreal and silly over topical humor. But there was an unmistakable political tint to much of Sunday night’s ceremony to present Letterman with the Mark Twain award for American humor.

Kimmel jokingly blamed Letterman for helping to bring Trump to power.

“It’s like you went out for cigarettes one day and left us in the hands of our abusive, orange stepfather,” Kimmel quipped.

He praised Letterman profusely, recalling a monologue he delivered on his show shortly after the 9/11 attack.

“You let us know it was OK to move on and OK to laugh again,” Kimmel said. “Dave, you led the way for all of us.”

Comedians Martin Short and Steve Martin, a previous Mark Twain honoree, needled Letterman about his bushy white retirement beard with a line touching on the country’s current divisive political atmosphere.

“Dave has always had excellent instincts. What better time than now to choose to look like a Confederate war general,” Steve Martin said.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama sent in a video tribute and Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder thanked Letterman for being a longtime “friend to music” and performed the song “Keep Me in Your Heart” by the late Warren Zevon, a Letterman favorite.

On Sunday, (Bill) Murray predictably stole the show with a surreal performance dressed as an Elizabethan monarch.

Murray said the perks of the Twain award elevate you above normal humans.

“You’re not exactly a god, but you’re way up there,” he said. “You will be able to walk up to any man or woman on the street, take a lit cigar out of their mouth and finish it. You’ll be able to board any riverboat in this country.”

Murray then announced he was hungry and had a burger brought to him on stage. He then ordered platters of burgers delivered to Letterman’s balcony and cajoled Letterman’s son, Harry, to toss a pickle to the masses below.

Letterman ended the evening with a brief speech and a bit of dark humor, saying, “I kind of wish this award could be presented posthumously.”

He thanked the “hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people who helped him along the way. He closed with a politically tinged quote from Mark Twain himself on the subject of patriotism: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and supporting your government when it deserves it.”

[The Hollywood Reporter]

I love most Mark Twain quotes but that one especially. It was the perfect quote to chose for both the messenger and the occasion. The ceremony was recorded and will air on local PBS stations November 20. I’m no expert on Dave so I was shocked to learn that Jimmy Walker gave Dave his first job as a joke writer. One of the few clips that was posted from the actual show was this one of Dave and his longtime band leader, Paul Shaffer. Paul also spoke during the show, saying, “I believe that Dave would run into a burning house to save my children. And I hope and know, Dave, that I would do the same for you, should you some day feel comfortable enough to tell me where your house is.” I don’t know if you all saw it but Paul and Dave were also reunited on Kimmel’s show in Brooklyn last week. Dave and Paul go together like milk and cookies.

Dave is coming back to TV with a long-format interview show on Netflix. Since Dave’s whole shtick is irony, he’ll have plenty of material to work with these days. But I also think it’s why Dave is becoming more and more outspoken about politics because I don’t really think you can avoid it in any kind of interview format. Maybe he’s trying to condition us to the new, politically-charged Dave. Or maybe he just can’t frikking take it anymore like the rest of us.

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31 Responses to “David Letterman: Patriotism is ‘supporting your government when it deserves it’”

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  1. MI6 says:

    Thank you. Respect must be earned, regardless of title.

  2. Liberty says:

    Jimmy Walker gave at least five people I know their writing start. He’s a generous man. Writing humorous material for his act was a quiet but solid way in; one is a show runner, two ended up directing and producing, two do very well writing for decent projects. One friend likes to say that Jimmy helped him make rent AND his career.

  3. Naomi says:

    Samuel Johnson on false patriotism “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”

    • Lolo86lf says:

      An example of false patriotism is when you don’t care a foreign nation meddles in our presidential election because they helped your party’s candidate win.

  4. QueenB says:

    Patriotism is just dumb. So you were randomly born in a random country and now you are proud of that? Of people who achieved things without any kind of help from you? Becaus they also randomly were born there?
    Even if patriotism wouldnt lead to terrible crimes it would still be nonsense.

    • Sixer says:

      I can’t get on the patriotism train either. It feels like putting on a pair of blinkers.

      I love the UK because it’s my home, and in a funny way, like my family. I understand it for all its vices and virtues. It’s sometimes better than some other countries and sometimes worse than some other countries. Like every other country. Loving my home doesn’t mean thinking it’s better than everyone else’s home.

      If that makes sense?

      If patriotism only meant doing your best to improve your country in your own way, I could get behind the idea. But it rarely means that, does it?

      • Naomi says:

        My grandfather is Irish, but he has basically lived in the U.K. his whole adult life, and whilst he considers himself Irish and says that he feels a deep connection to his roots and the country of his birth, he says it’s about the connection to his parents and grandparents and his family there which is dear to him, in the same way that he says that London does after living here almost 50+ years. Patriotism is an odd concept to him in that way.

      • Sixer says:

        Mr Sixer’s family is part actual Irish and part Irish heritage British, and most of them would say exactly the same thing. Which says a lot, when you consider the relatively recent history of the Troubles.

      • Liberty says:

        My maternal great grandfather said that patriotism is what you suddenly feel when soldiers from another country are shooting people from your town out in the forest.

      • SilverUnicorn says:

        I cannot get behind any patriotic feeling either, nor for my original birth country or even the ones which were my ‘hosts’ during all these years.
        @Sixer I perfectly represent one of those May’s very-much-hated citizens of nowhere lol

      • Sixer says:

        That citizen of nowhere thing that May said was just so disheartening and emblematic of where misguided patriotism gets you.

    • Esmom says:

      I hear you. My dad’s patriotism runs deep because his family escaped during WWII to come here. In fact he and his family talk about how an image of the American flag is what kept them going as they basically trekked across Europe. That to me is understandable. But his allegiance to both the US and his country of birth is strangely blind. He refuses to acknowledge or discuss certain problematic aspects of both countries and his dismissiveness of my views has definitely caused a wedge between us. It’s frustrating that he feels like patriotism means not questioning those in power (except Obama, of course). Sigh.

  5. Indiana Joanna says:

    Being a Hoosier I know four or five guys like Dave who all have a razor sharp sense of irony. It’s one of our better qualities in an otherwise bland US state. Hoosier Kurt Vonnegut is another example of irony at its finest.

    So I never was that taken with him on Late Night. But this post makes me realize I will welcome him back with open arms. Tell the truth, Dave, with your very best irony.

    • Alix says:

      I LOVE DAVE. Always have, always will. Hate the beard with a burning passion, but Dave 4EVA.

      Can’t wait to watch Bill Murray’s schtick when this airs. Dude may be sketchy, but he’s hilarious.

  6. lightpurple says:

    Letterman always did the best political interviews and throughout the past year, I really missed him. His takedown of McCain when he blew off his show for a Katie Couric interview and lied about it was epic.

  7. Megan says:

    I attended the awards. The show was far more political than expected, but that seems somewhat deliberate given that Al Frankel was the first performer. When Michelle Obama came on you could almost feel the longing in the room. She is just so freaking amazing.

    Amy Shumer was absolutely the worst. Her opening line was, ” Thank you to the four black people here.” It was so uncomfortable and inappropriate, especially since she went on after Jimmy Walker.

  8. Esmom says:

    This gave me all the feels. The event honoring him sounded like such a riot, amazing. Dave was a staple for me in college and beyond and I don’t think I realized how much I missed him until now. My son and I were visiting his alma mater, Ball State, this summer and it was nice to see a whole building dedicated to him and also all the work he’s still doing on behalf of communications and culture for the school.

  9. Lizzie says:

    steve martin gives me a fever in my pants. i am 34 – i don’t care that he could be my grandfather. i would. every day.

  10. Betsy says:

    I like David Letterman, a lot. I like that he persists in acting as an adult figure instead of the arrested development so common everywhere.

  11. Aang says:

    And calling it out when it deserves it is also patriotic

  12. Lizzy says:

    Think it’s weird to celebrate David Letterman in the midst of the Weinstein scandal when Dave was found to be sexually harassing the female writers on his show a few years ago.

    • Ktgreat says:

      Sure “we” do. He’s saying all the right things now.

      It’s almost like it’s calculated.

    • Nicole (the Cdn One) says:

      There was never an allegation of sexual harassment. He had affairs with people who worked with/for him and although some might by definition consider that power imbalance to vitiate consent, personally, I think that is an overly paternalistic view. I think it depends on the individuals involved. Personally, I wouldn’t want my agency in that situation questioned by virtue just of my position in relation to someone else. And we don’t know that he initiated the relationships, just that he had them.

      None of the women Dave was involved with ever suggested there was any form of harassment or that they felt they were inhibited from refuting a relationship with him, so there is, to my knowledge, no evidence of Dave harassing women. I think it is important not to conflate the two concepts, because you end up taking away a women’s agency, just in a different way.

  13. DesertReal says:

    This. This. This.
    When I was living in Augusta, Georgia post-9/11 the pervasive “if you’re not with us you’re against us” mentality was so disgusting & absolutely terrifying.
    The same sentiment is being echoed today.