Anthony Bruce Gilpin, A former colleague of mine, took the words out of my keyboard:
I just read a magazine blogger who rhetorically asked whether David Letterman can still be funny as a comic and genial as a talk show host, now that he has revealed his history of having had a number of sexual relationships with women on his staff.
I think the blogger answered her own question. Letterman will no longer be entertaining – to her. Her knowledge of “Letterman the lecher” will forever color her perception of Letterman as an entertainer.
And whose fault is that?
I recall similar speculations when actress Anne Heche conducted a highly publicized same-sex affair with comedian Ellen DeGeneres. “Can Heche be convincing as an actress, playing heterosexual characters?” people mused. DeGeneres herself lost some fans after she and her sitcom character came out of the closet. “Why does the ‘TV Ellen’ have to be gay?” I remember some viewers asking.
The wonderful thing about film and video is that it allows us to test these questions. Find some footage of a performance you enjoyed in the past, and see whether you still appreciate it. If David Letterman comes off as “creepy” or “lecherous” in a way you didn’t notice before, it isn’t Letterman who changed. It’s you.
A unspoken social contract exists between a performer and the audience; the performer agrees to do his best to entertain, and the audience agrees to give him a chance. If you can’t get past your negative opinion of a performer as a person, then it’s unfair to judge his art.
Whether David Letterman can be funny in the future depends in part on how funny you think he ever was, and your willingness to check your baggage at the door and let him perform.