Top 10 ways David Letterman changed late-night talk shows

May 19, 2015 at 2:37 p.m. ET
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When David Letterman? took the NBC stage in 1982, nighttime became infinitely funnier.

Johnny Carson may have been the "King of the Night" in terms of humor, but Letterman brought our first collective dose of LOL. This gap-toothed former weatherman from Indiana was someone worth staying up late for because it was like checking in with an ornery pal. His caustic way of mocking normal human behavior is what the current lineup of after-dark hosts offer, but Letterman was the first to bring it.

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Here's how:

1. He has the maturity of an eighth grader

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Whereas we've seen his hair turn gray in the past 33 years, his love of "destruction by gravity" never seems to retire. The polished and cool vibe we got by sharing an hour with Hollywood insider Johnny Carson was replaced with the feeling you get in a frat house. Bombs away!

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2. He goes rogue instead of following a script

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You could almost see his wheels turning as he decides to give in to comedic impulse. And, although you could never quite see them, I'm pretty sure there are some red, pointy horns just below the surface of his scalp. Joan Rivers got it. And luckily, so did we.

3. Sometimes, the human behavior is his

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You can't feel like a buddy with someone without going through some hard times along the way. When Letterman came clean about an affair with a staffer and apologized to his wife, he did so in front of us.

More: David Letterman welcomes Stephen Colbert on The Late Show

4. He isn't just showing us the absurdity of pets

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Seeing people do things on TV that all pet owners do at home is entertaining. But I contend it is the humans behind the pets that Letterman was spotlighting.

5. Goofy is contagious

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Whether wearing a suit of Velcro, magnets, Alka-Seltzer or sponges, Letterman was doing his part to share scientific findings with the rest of us who were merely wearing jammies.

6. He can take what he dishes out

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It hasn't been all smiles and handshakes — there's been a good dose of verbal sparring in there, too. Letterman had testy run-ins with Madonna, Oprah, Bill O'Reilly and Shirley MacLaine, but none quite as entertaining as when Cher called him an asshole.

7. He's a mama's boy

Today we know the mothers of Kathy Griffin, Andy Cohen and Mike Rowe, but it was David Letterman who first took us into his mom's kitchen for a little visit to the home front.

8. He put the reality in TV

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When Crispin Glover came unhinged before our very eyes, nobody was more surprised than David Letterman. I'm not sure what was more engrossing: Glover coming unglued or Letterman figuring out what he was dealing with.

9. He's not just the guy next door

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He was the guy driving around SoCal with Zsa Zsa wolfing down fries. Or, sometimes, he was the voice in the squawk box at Taco Bell or McDonald's, seeing just how far he could push customers' patience.

10. Even his BFF is hilarious

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Paul Shaffer is no mere laugh-at-the-boss's-jokes sidekick like Ed McMahon was. The mutual admiration society between the musician and host somehow — magically, thankfully — includes the rest of us.

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