David Letterman mines new laughs while apologizing for fallout from sex revelations
After he revealed a failed extortion attempt last week, and well aware that he couldn't just pretend nothing was happening as journalists were unearthing female staffers who allegedly had sex with him, Letterman seemed to make every joke possible about his situation in Monday's show.
"Did your weekend just fly by?" he deadpanned to the studio audience, drawing huge laughs as he then segued into another famous face stuck in a sex scandal, philandering South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. "Right now I'd give anything to be hiking the Appalachian Trail."
Unlike employer CBS -- which scrubbed Web sites such as YouTube of video featuring Letterman's initial admission, while declining to post their own clips -- the comic seemed to understand that holding back on cracking wise would be an elephant his room just couldn't stand.
So his first new show Monday since making the revelations public was filled with references to the scandal, while old pals Steve Martin and Martin Short jumped onstage to lend support, just by being seen on camera with him. ("It just proves you're a human being," said Martin, before stepping on his own punch line. "We weren't really sure before.")
As he did last week, Letterman even managed a few more serious words about the scandal, apologizing to his staff for unleashing the efforts of tabloid reporters on them, as a side effect of his surprise admission Thursday (not sure I'm buying his contention that he never realized this was a possible side effect).
And he also noted wife Regina Lasko "has been horribly hurt by my behavior . . . let me tell you folks, I got my work cut out for me."
This seemed directed at those who argued Letterman did nothing wrong because he wasn't married until March of this year; he's lived with Lasko, the mother of his son, Harry, born in 2003, for more than 20 years. Insisting "I still feel I did the right thing," by alerting authorities to the extortion attempt, resulting in an arrest, the comic also gave a shot to those who insist he or CBS would do anything to avoid a messy, public trial. ("You can't be victimized by criminals," he said a moment earlier.)
Questions remain: Most notably whether CBS is going to investigate Letterman's behavior or sanction him at all. Many corporations have policies against supervisors sleeping with subordinates, regardless of their age.
Still, by applying the same unerring sense of sarcasm he's used in carving up Sarah Palin on himself, Letterman avoided looking hypocritical (the comic eventually apologized to her, too, Monday). Even Craig Ferguson, whose Late Late Show follows Letterman's program on CBS, joked a bit about the incident -- despite the fact that Letterman owns the show and is, in effect, his boss.
"If we're holding late-night hosts to the same moral accountability as politicians and clergy, then I'm out," Ferguson said, adding later, "If I inadvertently say something that gets me fired -- then I hope it's funny."