From the Archives: David Letterman’s Final Show

***David Letterman came out of nowhere in a surprise appearance in the 2020 Emmy Awards. It made me nostalgic about him and how much I missed him on TV every night. So I figured I would republish the below post that I originally wrote in 2015 before his final Late Show.***

David Letterman has been on television for longer than I have been alive. That’s what makes him stepping away after 33-years so difficult for me to process. He has, quite literally, always been there. 

My earliest Letterman memories are just like a lot of people’s first memories with late night TV — watching with my parents. Playing the “I can’t sleep, can I watch TV with you for just a few minutes?” card is a time-honored childhood tradition that dates back to Carson and will last long after Jimmy Fallon retires. 

It was during some of those fake bouts of sleeplessness that I discovered David Letterman and developed a lifelong passion for comedy. Most of the topical jokes went over my head at the time but I still remember the first joke that stuck with me. Dave was doing one of his man-on-the-street bits where he was working a McDonalds drive-thru. A guy ordered two No. 3 meals and Dave said to him that he was just gonna give him a No. 6 instead. 

It was a simple, throwaway joke that just about anybody with decent comedic chops that was given the assignment to mess with fast food customers could make, but to me it was the funniest thing I had ever heard. It was like a gateway into the world of comedy. I still think about that joke all these years later whenever I see a fast food place. 

Soon after the Great McDonalds Joke of 1996 I convinced my parents to let me have a TV in my room and I began watching Dave every night. I have always had an odd sense of humor and that’s why I was always so drawn to Dave — he made me realize there are like-minded people out there. While Leno always went for the safe and easy, Dave would go for weird and bizarre. I could live to be 300-years old and dropping stuff in water to see if it floats, Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli, Beat the Clock, updating an Oprah Log every day for months, and asking a drummer if his drums are rentals will always be funny to me. 

Part of what has made Dave’s final run so great is everyone — both those who know him and and rubes like me and you who watched him — sharing their favorite Dave memories. It felt like in the viral world we live in that we forget about Dave for a while. But in these last few months he has gotten the sendoff he deserves. 

If it’s true that you can tell a lot about someone based on what their peers think of them, then Dave truly is one of the more beloved people on earth. Between former writers and producers telling behind the scenes stories, the cavalcade of guests including current and former Presidents, and comedians like Jimmy Kimmel, and Norm McDonald breaking down in tears, it has been a joy to watch. Some cynics may wonder how genuine some of the tributes and emotion is, but let me ask you this, what do you remember about Jay Leno’s final shows?

So I say thank you to Dave for a literal lifetime of jokes and joy. Whether from laughing hysterically or from one of his more human moments like his post-September 11th monologue or returning from quintuple-bypass surgery, David Letterman has brought me to tears multiple times in my life. I’m guessing one more will be added to that list tonight.