Bathtubs Over Broadway

Before David Letterman’s rise to mainstream TV megastardom, his humor appealed largely to nerds and geeks, obsessives and completionists who yearned to be hip, even if they were still ambivalent about that urge. Dave was known for his loyalty to his staff, and here he rewards one of his longest-serving writers, Steve Young, by acting as executive producer and interviewee for this delightfully oddball documentary about Young’s fixation on arcane industrial musicals from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, lavish extravaganzas funded by corporations as educational incentives for their salesmen and staged at private company functions. What started as a production duty—finding obscure LPs for a recurring Late Night bit about Dave’s record collection—became a mission for Young as he grew fascinated by these shows written by such Broadway teams as Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock (Fiddler on the Roof) and John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret) that sang the praises of bathroom fixtures, cars, fast food, and polyester, sometimes to the tune of $3 million a pop. It makes you ponder, from the standpoint of cultural anthropology, the differences between then and now, with conglomerates today hell-bent on enriching shareholders by decimating workforces. The film includes Young’s own career crossroads, when Letterman retires from CBS and Young plans what’s next after a 25-year stint crafting jokes. Dava Whisenant (also a former Letterman staffer) directs this chronicle of a comedy writer’s second act, his embrace of a profound new passion, and the unexpected friends he’s made along the way.