Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

May 21 2015 12:32 AM

David Letterman’s Last “Top Ten” List Was a Parade of Celebrities

It started on September 18, 1985, with the “Top Ten Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas.” Since that first list, David Letterman’s “Top Ten” segment was a fixture of his late-night reign, with what began as a clever bit of media commentary ballooning into an iconic, recurring gag that neatly encapsulated the host’s off-kilter, non sequitur sensibility.

On Wednesday, Letterman ran down his last “Top Ten,” a hilarious ranking of “Things I Always Wanted to Say to Dave” presented by the likes of Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, Chris Rock, and a host of other celebrities. Come for Julia Louis-Dreyfus thanking Letterman for “letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale”; stay for Jim Carrey’s beard.

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May 20 2015 11:07 PM

In a Touching Farewell, Conan Shared the Story of How Letterman Changed His Career

On Wednesday night, Conan O’Brien implored viewers to switch channels and tune into David Letterman’s last episode of last-night television, but not before taking the opportunity to share the memory of “something incredible that Dave did for me almost 22 years ago.” That something is Letterman’s appearance, back in 1993, on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, a show that had been severely panned by critics.

Letterman’s visit, which was entirely unsolicited, was a huge blessing for the struggling show: As O'Brien notes, the host was at that time the premier personality on television, and his generous support gave Conan and his staff the confidence that “maybe, just maybe, we can earn the right to be here.”

May 20 2015 6:24 PM

This Video of “Actors Angrily Swiping Things off Desks” Is Hypnotizing and Hilarious

Of all the late-night hosts, Seth Meyers might be the most plugged in to the culture of the Internet, where movie clichés and motifs are endlessly analyzed, criticized, and repackaged into supercuts. But Meyers has better connections and a bigger budget than your typical online culture critic, so instead of making supercuts, he makes his own original videos—like this wonderfully executed, star-studded sketch of “Actors Angrily Swiping Things Off Desks.”

Stick around till the end—part of the pleasure of watching this video is in the hypnotizing repetition of a fundamentally silly motion. And you won’t want to miss excellent punch lines from Taraji P. Henson and a Muppet (I won’t spoil which), plus a typically earnest extended bit from Will Forte.  

May 20 2015 3:13 PM

The New Amy Winehouse Documentary Trailer Shows Why Critics Loved It at Cannes    

In the first full-length trailer for Amy, distorted vocals from “Back to Black” echo until Amy Winehouse herself interrupts, “Oh, it’s a bit upsetting at the end, isn’t it?” Considering her untimely death at age 27 from alcohol poisoning, her words are morbidly suggestive. Along with her coy grin, they set the tone for a documentary that will examine her simultaneous rise to fame and deteriorating personal life. “The more people see of me, the more they’ll realize that all I’m good for is making music,” Winehouse is shown saying in an interview.

Since its recent debut at Cannes Film Festival, Amy has received a shower of praise. Many critics observed that director Asif Kapadia’s approach serves as an extended close reading of the relationship between Winehouse’s lyrics and her personal life. Guy Lodge at Variety notes, “Most of her performances in the film are accompanied by onscreen lyrics—a potentially hackneyed device that nonetheless highlights the arresting turns of phrase and lethally acute observations sometimes disguised by her cool, offhand delivery.”

May 20 2015 1:47 PM

Watch Bob Dylan Perform the Perfect Goodbye Song on Letterman 

Tuesday night’s Late Show was the penultimate episode, so naturally it featured two big stars: Bill Murray and Bob Dylan. Both have a long history with Letterman: Murray was Letterman’s first Late Night guest back in 1982, and Dylan first performed on Late Night in 1984.

The second-to-last show was weird and funny and sweet (both figuratively and literally). After Murray popped out of a cake for his interview, Bob Dylan performed the melancholy jazz standard “The Night We Called It a Day” from his album of Sinatra covers, Shadows in the Night. Dylan and Sinatra aren’t obvious bedfellows, but Dylan’s Letterman performance will show you why Sharan Shetty called the album “a lovely, idiosyncratic tribute to a bygone era.” The song was the perfect way to say goodbye to a titan of late night.

May 20 2015 12:57 PM

Conan O’Brien, Tina Fey, and More Celebs Share Their Favorite Letterman Memories

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

In honor of the final Late Show With David Letterman Wednesday night, we surveyed a number of cultural figures on their favorite Letterman memories, both on and off the show. "Stupid Pet Tricks" and Chris Elliott's man under the stairs were crowd favorites, while some couldn't pick just one, choosing instead to reflect on his legacy. Most could agree on one thing, though: It's really freaking cold on the Letterman set.

Conan O'Brien
I went through my whole process of discovery with him, but it all really went back to that first time I saw him. I watched his morning show. It was such a different experience. To me, that was the seminal moment, seeing him for the first time. That’s what really changed everything. He had such a huge impact for all the comedians of my generation. The show was so different from everything I had seen on television before. It was very intimidating to meet him for the first time, I believe it was 1993. I’ve met a lot of celebrities, but every now and then you meet someone who’s had a real impact on the culture, and that’s a different experience. There’s a couple of people who fall into that category where you meet them and it’s like meeting a Beatle. They really altered the molecular structure of the society in some way. I’ve always had a great respect for his work. I was on his show. He was one of my first talk-show appearances back in 1993, he had me on when he was on Late Night. There’s no meeting Dave in the green room. [Laughs.]  That doesn't happen. He’s like a magician; you only see him onstage. It’s just the way he prefers it.

May 20 2015 10:44 AM

Jamie Foxx Got Really, Really Into His Mick Jagger Impression on The Tonight Show

You might expect Jamie Foxx to make a respectable showing on Jimmy Fallon’s “Wheel of Musical Impressions”—after all, this is the man who, in addition to recording several R&B albums, won an Oscar for his uncanny portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray. But you might not expect him to become as deeply invested in “Wheel of Musical Impressions” as he did on the Tonight Show on Tuesday night, committing to each send-up well beyond the few seconds required to earn an audience’s admiration. 

May 20 2015 9:15 AM

This Awesome Band of Developmentally Disabled Finns Was Too Punk for Eurovision

VIENNA—Nine years ago, the Finnish band Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest dressed as monsters of the underworld, stunning European audiences with gruesome makeup and other satanic accouterments, performing an elaborate fantasy titled “Hard Rock Hallelujah“ which set a high score record for the famously extravagant contest. At Tuesday’s Eurovision semi-final here at the Wiener Stadthalle, another remarkable Finnish entry managed to deliver the kind of performance the contest had never before experienced. But instead of wild makeup, pyrotechnics, and demon wings, this year the country sent the unvarnished Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät.

Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, Finnish for “Pertti Kurikka’s Nameday,” is a punk rock band made up of four men with various developmental disabilities. Kurikka, the frontman and guitarist, has cerebral palsy. Kari Aalto, the singer, is autistic. Sami Helle, the bassist, and Toni Välitalo, the drummer, both have Down’s syndrome.  

May 20 2015 8:32 AM

Watch Tyrion Lannister Drink Out of Disgust in This Wine-Soaked Supercut    

Nothing says, “Judging you,” better than a withering stare, or a side-eyed sip of wine—or, if you’re Tyrion Lannister, you might try both. The Game of Thrones character has had plenty to be disgusted by over the past few seasons, and he’s made a habit of expressing his disdain by drowning it in Westerosi vintage. Raise a glass and practice your best disdainful faces with him, in preparation for this week’s episode—surely there will be something to drink to.

May 20 2015 8:02 AM

Flash Forward: The Rise of Fast TV

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

The final stretch of Mad Men was uneventful: There was a finalized divorce and a terminal illness and at least three possible great, lasting love stories, and we watched Sterling Cooper and Partners being absorbed and dismantled by a larger agency, scattering its partners and employees to the wind (including Don Draper, who spent most of the last seven episodes preoccupied with a waitress and road-tripping West in a Cadillac). But it doled out plot in miserly increments as always, caring more about the why and how than the what, introducing major new characters whose personalities necessarily stole time away from the established ones, and generally seeming to take a Sopranos-like pleasure in thwarting what the audience craved: groups of beloved, established characters moving through a series of cathartic moments that popped one after the other like a string of firecrackers. In that sense, Mad Men, like Don himself, is one of the last of a dying breed. The newest, hottest TV-storytelling model is all about fan service, and it throws so much plot at viewers that the result sometimes recalls that old video game of the firefighter rushing up and down a sidewalk, catching falling babies in a basket.