Another of my favorite pop culture icons is about to walk off into the sunset.
I’ve been watching David Letterman for as long as I can remember. My mother always loved him, and I remember wanting to stay up late with her watching Stupid Human Tricks or the Top Ten list while she painted her nails in front of the TV.
Then I went to college and stayed up late watching Dave on many nights I should have been studying, or at least drinking beer. He was always there, that awkward, gap-toothed, smart aleck When he moved to CBS and a better time slot I was psyched that I could watch him more, until career and babies got in the way.
I’ll admit in recent years I haven’t watched Dave much. But I’d often check who he had on and sometimes record it for later. Unlike Leno, he was a terrific interviewer who asked great questions and actually listened to the answers. A rare bird in TV talk shows, he seemed quite happy to go off script and take the lead of his guests down a path of uncertainty that almost always ended up in some funny place.
When I heard the news that Dave was retiring I wanted to see him live one last time. (I went once in the 90’s when the guest was Rosie Perez and we sat right up front and laughed all night.) I turned to my own personal TicketMaster, Wilson’s brother, Jon. As it turned out, Jon had not given me a birthday gift yet so he was happy to make a few phone calls and get me tickets to see Dave.
A parade of celebs have visited the Dave set in the last few weeks, saying goodbye to the legend. Howard Stern tried to make out with a disgusted Dave who ran away, Julia Roberts giggled and kissed him one last time, Tom Hanks told funny stories, and Tina Fey made quite an exit by whipping off her dress to reveal just a leotard-spanxy thing that said “Bye Dave” on the front and #LastDressEver on the back.
One of my favorite last guests was Ray Romano, who choked up several times while recalling how doing standup on Letterman 20 years earlier led directly to the creation — by Worldwide Pants, Letterman’s production company — of Everybody Loves Raymond, which made him a star and very, very rich.
There were amazing musical guests who paid homage with performances on Dave’s show this month, and credited him with launching their success, including Dave Matthews, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Eddie Vedder.
In the present all-Jimmy landscape it’s easy to forget that Dave was a powerhouse with an eye for talent.
With all that star power I was hoping for a good guest on the evening we went to see the show. On the Late Show website it looked like Bruce Willis, but when I got there, it was Jack Hanna, the director of the Columbus Zoo. Waaah, waaaah.But you know what? Hanna was great. He brought a ton of exotic animals and reminisced with Dave about all their goofy segments over the years. Hanna has appeared on Letterman 104 times! (The only two people who appeared more were Marv Albert and Regis.) Hanna got weepy and hugged Dave a lot and when the segment was over, he went around and shook hands with every single member of the crew, which was really sweet.
It was fun to see Paul and the CBS Orchestra, and I had forgotten all about Biff and Rupert. John Popper of Blues Traveler played all his hits with Paul and the band, which was cool. The other musical guest– John Fogerty– played a medley of old songs and proved an old guy can still rock.
The CBS pages were very clear that no photography/cell phones were allowed inside the Ed Sullivan Theater, which was a huge bummer. As you know, I like to document such things. But I’m also a wimpy rule follower and getting kicked out of the show would be mortifying, and might hurt Jon, who got the tickets from CBS.
So this was the best I could do… at the end of the show… from my cell phone camera… from inside my purse. You can kinda make out the stage below, right?
Dave seemed relaxed and at ease, if not a little nostalgic and embarrassed at all the fuss. It was good to see him, like putting on an old sweater you love but haven’t worn in a long time.
In 2013, Dave surpassed Johnny Carson as the longest running late-night talk show host in TV history. Jimmy Fallon had a really nice bit on his show Monday night about what Dave has meant to him… and out of deference for the last show, Jimmy Kimmel will air a rerun Wednesday night.
Chances are, you watched a lot of Letterman over the last 33 years. So even if you haven’t been able to stay up late enough to watch Dave recently, you’ll be happy you were there when he says goodbye Wednesday night. I hope he gets huge ratings for his farewell.
Thanks Dave, for taking risks, and showing us you can be silly and smart at the same time. Late night won’t be the same without you.