Northwest News

David Letterman’s final show feels personal for one Tacoma man

All week, Mitch Robinson’s co-workers have asked him how he’s doing.

Truthfully, he’s not sure. He’s uncertain what life will be like after the final airing of “The Late Show with David Letterman” on Wednesday night (May 20) .

First, he wants people to know he’s not crazy.

“I know it’s a TV show,” Robinson said.

Still, for the past 30-plus years, he has been a huge Letterman fan, even as the talk-show host bounced between networks and time slots. The Tacoma man has attended between five and 10 shows live during New York visits.

“From the day his original NBC show came on the air — February 1, 1982 — I loved his humor. I was in college at the University of Iowa, and in college you stayed up late and watched television,” Robinson said.

“Up until that time, late night was Johnny Carson. His show was very professional, but you never saw what was going on behind the scenes. David turned that format upside down, and his self-deprecating wit and sense of irony appealed to me.

“He was the guy who put on a Velcro suit, jumped on a wall and stuck.”

Born in Chicago, Robinson made his way to Tacoma some 15 years ago, where he and wife Mary have two children, Eve and Eli. Robinson commutes daily to Seattle, where he’s senior director of trade marketing for Zillow.

During his commute — Robinson takes a bus or train — he often watches Letterman and his show online on his laptop or notebook device.

“If you see a guy laughing too loud, it’s probably me watching Dave,” Robinson said.

Back in college, Robinson tried to remake his fraternity using Letterman’s humor.

“A few of us were asking, ‘How can we take this Animal House dorm and turn it into something positive?’” Robinson said. “We latched onto Letterman, did stupid human tricks, then put a six-story picture of Letterman up on the building.

Fast-forward 27 years, and Robinson was a Zillow executive on a business trip to New York City in 2012.

“My wife thought I might take in a Broadway play,” Robinson said. “I got a ticket to see Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theater.”

“Dave came out a few minutes before the show and took questions from the crowd,” Robinson recalled. “I asked him one, then he asked where I worked, and I said ‘Zillow.’ He asked me what that was, and when I told him it could find the value of a home, he loved it.

“He made it part of that night’s Top 10. He just grabbed that idea and joked about it six or seven times — and three or four times, I wound up on camera.”

Robinson met and became friends with one of Letterman’s writers, and the next time he visited New York, Robinson returned to the Ed Sullivan Theater.

“He asked if I would like to see the writers’ floor, and it wasn’t as glamorous as I thought it would be. We walked down these darkened steps and I was thinking, ‘This is where The Beatles walked when they were on the Sullivan show,’ ” Robinson said.

“I walked out on the stage and stood on the spot where Letterman does his monologue ... .”

Now 51, Robinson has an appreciation for Letterman that has matured but is no less enthusiastic.

“Did seeing him in person live up to my expectations? Yes. His humor and presence have improved over the years,” Robinson said. “We’re losing a steady voice of introspection and professionalism, someone who really grew into the role he was given.

“No one anticipated he’d evolve. I remember wondering every 12 weeks if he’d be canceled. People said he was a horrible interviewer.”

How will Robinson deal with the final show?

“I’ll try not to get too emotional, which is funny, because it appears David is finally getting emotional about his retirement,” Robinson said. “He’s been such a huge part of American pop culture. His getting emotional about it allows us to, as well.

“Before Letterman, late night was corny jokes, had no real edge. He changed it.”

And after Letterman?

“I admire Stephen Colbert, who came up through Chicago’s Second City,” Robinson said. “He’s very smart, witty and he’ll do well with the interviews. He won’t be David, but he’ll be Stephen.”

For Robinson, however, Letterman will never be unavailable.

“YouTube is a wonderful thing, and whenever I need a fix on the way to work, I’ll just pull Dave up,” Robinson said. “I’ll still be the guy laughing too loud on the train.”