After 33 years hosting late-night television, David Letterman pulls off the ultimate “Stupid Human Trick” Wednesday — he’s vanishing from the airwaves. In honor of his last show, here are my top 10 memories of his late-night run:
10: Legendary singer Darlene Love, backed by Paul Shaffer’s terrific band, belted out “Baby Please Come Home” at Christmas for years.
9: Mild-mannered Hello Deli proprietor Rupert Jee asked passersby obnoxious questions suggested by Letterman, hidden away in a van parked nearby, in fun segments called “Fun With Rupert.”
8: Dave returned to the air less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, an inspiring night in which he saluted NYC firefighters, police and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, previously the butt of Dave’s barbs. “We were told that they [the terrorists] were zealots fueled by religious fervor, religious fervor,” he said. “And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you?”
7: Actor Joaquin Phoenix showed up with a bushy beard, mumbled his answers and appeared close to passing out. Dave ended the interview with, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”
6: Dave had integrity in not exploiting the O.J. Simpson murder trial for cheap laughs, while others had no problem doing so.
5: Dave devoted a show to his dying singer-songwriter friend Warren Zevon, despite knowing it would cost him in ratings.
4: A German shepherd read poetry, a pit bull bowled a strike, a border collie jumped double Dutch rope, and a Labrador retriever danced the merengue. Yes, I’m really going to miss stupid pet tricks!
3: We got to know Mujibur Rahman and Sirajul Islam, immigrants from Bangladesh who work at a souvenir shop and were recruited by Dave to do comedy bits. They were sent on a U.S. tour, greeted as celebrities and served as “Late Show” correspondents at Super Bowl XXIX.
2: On his first show after quintuple bypass surgery, Dave brought his doctors onstage to thank them. “I couldn’t have been prouder when these guys carved their initials in me,” Dave said.
1: Despite network pressure, he kept the show in NYC for its entire run!
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.