It’s really over, isn’t it? It feels almost impossible to imagine television without David Letterman, but after 33 years as the host of The Late Show, the legendary funny man signed off on Wednesday night. The series finale of The Late Show was a star-studded, hilarious, and decidedly unsentimental yet sweet trip down memory lane. And quite frankly, it was the perfect send-off. It’s awfully difficult to sum up a landmark show and career that’s unfolded over the course of 6,000 episodes, but Letterman’s series finale found the right balance of nostalgia, wit, and gratitude. There’s a reason why #ThanksDave was trending, and it’s because so much of us grew up with Letterman and were inspired by his brand of comedy.
Dave wouldn’t be Dave if he wasn’t being self-deprecating, which is exactly how he kicked things off. President Barack Obama, along with former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all declared, “Our long national nightmare is over.”
The first minute was posted online earlier in the day, but I still got goosebumps watching the host enter and take his mark to the chants of “Dave” and a wildly deserved standing ovation from that very lucky audience. The opening monologue was peppered with hilarious zingers (“It’s beginning to look like I’m not going to get The Tonight Show“), segments like “Comedy We Would Have Done Tomorrow,” and Dave saying goodbye to his staffers via hologram. It all felt like quintessential Dave. The guy was going out swinging.
The final show had plenty of surprise guests (more on that in a sec), but there were some delightful taped farewells, including a hilarious send-off from The Simpsons and Wheel of Fortune. (The latter had a puzzle that spelled out, “Good Riddance to David Letterman.”)
Now, of course, we knew the final Top 10 list was going to be a special one. With the help of 10 longtime guests and friends, “The Top 10 Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Dave” were:
10. “Of all the talk shows this is the most geographically convenient to my home.” – Alec Baldwin
9. “Did you know that you wear the same cologne as Muammar Gaddafi?”- Barbara Walters
8. “Your extensive plastic surgery was a necessity and a mistake.”- Steve Martin
7. “I have no idea what I’ll do when you go off the air. I just thought of something…I’ll be fine.”- Jerry Seinfeld
6. “Honestly, Dave, I’ve always found you to be a bit of an over-actor.”- Jim Carrey
5. “I’m just glad your show is being given to another white guy.” – Chris Rock
4. “Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale.” – Julia Louis-Drefyfus. (Seinfeld’s dead pan in the reaction was priceless.)
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3. “You are to comedy what I am to comedy.” – Peyton Manning. (Dave seemed most tickled to have Manning there, which was a delight in and of itself.)
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2. “Thanks for finally proving men can be funny.” – Tina Fey
1. “I’ll never have the money I owe you.” – Bill Murray
As Dave looked to the future (and whatever that may hold) he wished his replacement Stephen Colbert well (“I think he’s going to do a wonderful job”), and he took the time to reflect on the past. Clips from Letterman’s morning show, as well as iconic moments from The Late Show — including his hilarious off-the-cuff interactions with kids and his memorable turn as a Taco Bell employee — were shown throughout the episode. Watch once more, and enjoy:
While longtime fans like myself were overjoyed with the memories and nostalgia of it all, the incredible, a behind the scenes look at Letterman and the Late Show in the making did. I could have watched an entire hour of what Dave was like around the office and everything that went into making The Late Show happen for over three decades.
Dave knew he wouldn’t be there without the cast and crew, and spent the final 10 minutes of the show showering them with the praise they so richly deserved. He eloquently paid his respects to Paul Schaffer (“As good a friend you can have on television, as good a friend as you can have in life”) and the CBS Orchestra, the “tremendous crew,” the writers (“Who deserve more credit for this show than I ever will”), and some of his noteworthy long-time co-workers, including announcer Alan Kalter and stage manager Biff Henderson.
Dave remained true to himself and decidedly un-sappy, but he did get lovingly personal when he shared an anecdote about his mother Dorothy (a mainstay on the show for many years) and thanked his wife Regina and their son Harry, who were in the audience. “Thank you for being my family,” he proudly told them, adding, “Nothing else matters, does it?” To top that, Dave brought out his all-time favorite musical guests, the Foo Fighters (they played “Everlong” over a montage of countless incredible Late Show moments). Before introducing the band one last time, Dave told his devoted audience of viewers and fans: “Thank you and goodnight.” No, Dave, thank you.