David Letterman sex extortion plot the story of a career jester's private transgressions made public
Friday, October 2nd 2009, 2:21 AM
Letterman shocked his audience by revealing he was the victim of a sex extortion plot.
It's not quite as serious a crime as extortion, but David Letterman played a nifty round of bait-and-switch with his audience last night.
Letterman had decided his studio audience was the crowd to whom he should break the news that someone had attempted to blackmail him. In fact, that someone already had been taken into police custody.
But the audience didn't know that, and Letterman didn't make that clear until well into a detailed narration delivered in classic Dave comic monologue style.
As he talked about finding a mysterious package in his car, the audience seemed to sense this was going to end up like one of those stories he used to tell about his driving.
By the time he got to the $2 million extortion demand, they were committed. They laughed right up to the end, where Dave said none of this was really very funny.
Really? Had us fooled.
He's right, of course, that extortion is not the stuff of comedy - except when it's framed as comedy by a pro like David Letterman, who consequently should not wonder why the media will treat this more as a celebrity "gotcha" story than as a victim thwarting a nasty blackmailer.
And honestly, it does feel like a great "gotcha" story.
When Letterman finally tied the knot with longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko in March, he joked that the holdup in getting to the altar was making sure the prenup was in order.
So now it's looking like maybe the real snag was the "forsaking all others" part.
His admission last night might make that joke either a little less funny if you are Lasko or the laugh of the year if you are Sarah Palin.
Letterman had an exchange this summer with Palin over his jokes about the sexual behavior of a Palin daughter. He subsequently apologized, and the matter seemed to fade.
Will he have similar luck with his wife?
What we don't know, of course, is whether Letterman simply had consensual relations with a fellow grownup at a time when both were free agents or whether other factors were at play, like age or job description.
We may never know, and frankly, it would be none of our business except that sometimes this stuff slips out and, okay, we love it when that happens.
In any case, Dave's performance last night ensured extortion will not be the main story here.
No, the story is a guy who almost every night jokes on television about the behavior of some famous person caught in an awkward situation.
The fact that Letterman does it with a smirk is part of his comic persona. But it's still a smirk, and that's not going to help him with, say, the women of America.
Now unless some of the inevitable leaking details prove truly lurid, it's unlikely this will derail his career.
But that doesn't lessen the bizarreness of his presentation last night.
Did any of us wake up yesterday morning figuring we'd go to bed thinking about David Letterman's sex life?