Don't kid yourself; David Letterman has the nerves of a burglar.
There were moments on Monday night's show where things started to lean a little, to borrow a word Letterman used last week, "hinky."
Like when young Lea Michelle from Glee showed Dave the tiny new tattoos on her feet and bragged about being the big risk taker on the cast. Letterman could only restrain himself with an I know what that's like remark.
Yet when the segment ended, Letterman did what he always does when he has a babe on--he reached out and took her hand and kissed it like a gentlemen.
The message was delivered--same Dave, still classy.
First guest Steve Martin had the gravitas to goof a little at Dave's expense. "It proves you're human," he told the host to some applause. "We weren't sure before."
Letterman sailed along, not letting anyone see him sweat. He mocked himself all through last night's opening monologue, pausing half way through jokes about Bill Clinton and Elliot Spitzer, knowing he could no longer go there with the sex scandal punchlines. Check out the full monologue below, a note perfect tour de force in self effacing comedy:
"I got into the car this morning and the navigation lady wasn't speaking to me." Funny.
Letterman joked that he spent the whole weekend "raking my hate mail." Hey-O. Shaffer set the table with his best Ed McMahon cackle.
Letterman later took a completely different tone, admitting he was in real hot water at home and that he had a lot of work to do making all of this up to his wife Regina, who he said had been "horribly hurt" by the scandal. He also put tabloid reporters on alert, warning them to lay off his staff. He wielded the same old power ands authority and didn't seem to be wounded one bit.
It was artful and fascinating, again riveting television. Letterman's one misstep was at the end of his latest mia culpa he apologised one more time to Sarah Palin. That was bitter and insincere and slightly pulled the rug out of what went before.
Still, Johnny Carson, who used to wince and take it on the chin over his many divorces--spinning his own discomfort into comedy gold--he would have been proud of Letterman last night.