Our theme for the month of June is “Top Ten.”
The television is in grainy standard definition. Upbeat jazz music plays as the camera slowly zooms in on a gray-haired late-night host who is tapping his hand on the table, then putting his finger up to queue the last note as if he is conducting. There is a brief in-show commercial featuring a man standing in front of a microphone holding a pump bottle of hand sanitizer. He says, “It’s got the bitter medicinal taste and high alcohol content I love.” You know what comes next, of course.
Before there were Thank You Notes with Jimmy Fallon or Carpool Karaoke with James Corden, there were Top Ten Lists with David Letterman. On my childhood bookshelf were the first two books published with scores of these lists. Since I was the eldest child, and relatively sheltered, these books were my two older brothers, sneaking me cigarettes and showing me the Austin Powers movies several years before I was ready.
I can still recite some of my favorites:
Top Ten Reasons You’ve Gone to a Bad Doctor: He giggles uncontrollably when he hears the word penis.
Top Ten Reasons You’ve Gone to a Bad Funeral Home: The hearse also has a Domino’s logo on it; on the way to the funeral it drops off a couple of pizzas.
Come to think of it, this is where I learned the word hearse.
Much like Fallon’s Thank You Notes or Jimmy Kimmel’s segment where celebrities read mean tweets about themselves, most of these lists are fairly dull (Top Ten Dog Show Titles: America’s Got Heartworm), though perhaps would hit you in the right place if you’re a dirtbag like me and watching while slightly buzzed (Top Ten One-Word Campaign Slogans: Erect). This week I checked some of the lists out on YouTube and was transported back to the early 2000s. There’s a goofy, antiquated graphic where the numbers appear on cartoon pyramids. Letterman introduces the segment with a corny anecdote and a ridiculous punch line. He speeds through the lists as if he’s trying to get to the next segment, get home, and pour himself some gin. Number ten rolls into number nine as if they are combined, meant to be forgotten. It’s like they were exclusively meant for the 11:30 p.m. crowd, a pre-YouTube era of television.
Perhaps the lack of quality comes with the territory of making five hours of television every week; it reminds me of watching Jay Leno deliver a monologue and shake his head slightly after a joke, as if to say, “I know that one was bad too.” It’s possible that the writers wanted to take risks, knowing many jokes would fail in search of a rare hit. Whatever the case, those dumb jokes made me laugh, and they taught me a few things to boot.
Matt Cambridge (’12) is a new dad to Chloe, husband to the beautiful Kendahl, and a human resources professional at Boeing. He lives in St. Louis and enjoys eating Hershey’s kisses, riding roller coasters, and watching the latest stand-up specials on Netflix. You can read more of his work at laughcrythink.com.