August 30: Top Ten Day

Today is the anniversary of the The Late Show with David Letterman which premiered on CBS on August 30, 1993. Letterman had previously spent eleven years as the host of Late Night with David Letterman, but after he was passed over as the host of the The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired, he signed a multi-million dollar deal to move to CBS. This put him in direct competition with Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny on The Tonight Show.

Many aspects of Letterman’s show follow the basic pattern of the late night talk show genre, established and perfected by Johnny Carson. Letterman has added a few new wrinkles of his own that have become staples of his show and focus points for his fans.

One of Letterman’s trademarks is “found comedy”: people, places, and things found on the streets of the city that become the subject of Letterman’s ironic wit. These consist of actual items found in the newspaper, viewer mail, “stupid pet and human tricks” performed on the show, esoteric videos, or person on the street interviews (1).

But perhaps Letterman’s best know feature is his nightly Top Ten List. Based on a topic from current events, each list counts down ten hilariously warped responses. The very first list, for example, featured TOP TEN WORDS THAT RHYME WITH “PEAS”:

10. Heats
9. Rice
8. Moss
7. Ties
6. Needs
5. Lens
4. Ice
3. Nurse
2. Leaks
1. Meats

While this was probably not the funniest top ten list, it is interesting to note that the Top Ten began on a poetic note.

Today’s Challenge: TOP TEN TOP TENS
Below are some of the list topics from David Letterman’s first book of Top Ten Lists. Select one of the topics and try your hand at comedy writing. Visit the Top Ten List Archive for inspiration.

1. Top Ten Ways Life Would Be Better If Dogs Ran The World
2. Top Ten Ways To Pronounce “Bologna”
3. Top Ten Unsafe Toys for Christmas
4. Top Ten Prom Themes
5. Top Ten Questions Science Cannot Answer
6. Top Ten Things We As Americans Can Be Proud Of
7. Top Ten Interview Questions Asked Miss America Contestants
8. Top Ten Reasons To Vote
9. Top Ten Reasons Why TV Is Better Than Books
10. Top Ten Rejected Provisions Of The U.S. Constituion

Quote of the Day: Based on what you know about him in history books, what do you think Abraham Lincoln would be doing if he were alive today?
1) Writing his memoirs of the Civil War.
2) Advising the President.
3) Desperately clawing at the inside of his coffin.
–David Letterman


2 – Letterman, David and the “Late Night with David Letterman Writers. The Late Night With David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.