Jake Tapper salutes Letterman in farewell

Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperAly Raisman defends former teammate Biles: 'I'm proud of her' House Republican calls second bout of COVID-19 'far more challenging' Fauci says vulnerable populations may need vaccine booster shots MORE, anchor of CNN's "The Lead," will host a CNN special on Tuesday night saluting David Letterman as the comedian hangs up his hat this week after more than three decades in late-night TV.


The CNN host will review Letterman's career and battle against late-night rival Jay Leno in interviews with Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer and comedians including ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, TBS's Conan O'Brien and NBC's Seth Meyers.

Tapper shared his thoughts on Letterman's legacy with The Hill ahead of the special, which airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.

The Hill: What's the impact of late-night shows on politics? Lighthearted Weiner jokes or serious opportunity to reflect on politicians?

Jake Tapper: Like it or not, a lot of Americans get their news from late-night comedy shows these days and certainly people in politics take the temperature of the public when it comes to gaffes or political scandals based on where the jokes are being aimed.

Letterman was never an overtly political comedian, though certainly in recent years he's been more comfortable expressing his views on, for instance, the religious freedom law in his home state of Indiana.

But his show became a place where, for instance, politicians could go to do a Top 10 list making fun of themselves. More importantly it was a place where the nation turned after 9/11 for one of the most moving and important moments in late-night television when Dave returned to the air and spoke off-the-cuff about the madness that had happened in his city just days before.

The Hill: In an age of Colbert and Stewart, are there comedic elements Letterman contributed that will stick, and if so, which ones?

Jake Tapper: Letterman's influence on comedy and late night was more in terms of exploding the concept of what these shows could be. Nowadays every show allows the viewer to see the seams –– to take quick tours backstage, to show mess ups, and crew members who weren't supposed to be in the shot. But when Letterman did it he was the first one and it was completely innovative.

The Hill: Letterman has his critics, including conservatives outraged by his joke on Bristol Palin in 2009 some said alluded to rape. Has he ever told a joke that made you cringe?

Jake Tapper: That one, certainly. Kids of politicians should be off-limits, but he apologized.

To read The Hill's Top 10 times Letterman made an impact on politics, click here.