April 3, 2014 at 9:29 PM ET
It will be a long time before we actually have to say goodbye to David Letterman, who announced Thursday that he'll retire from his late-night talk show in 2015. But in the spirit of his famed top 10 lists, here are our top 10 reasons why that 2015 day will come far too soon.
Top 10 lists
Before there was ever a Buzzfeed or even the Internet, there was Letterman and his hilariously random Top 10s. From the Top Ten Papers Written by Brooke Shields at Princeton to the Top Ten Things Overheard At New York City Pay Phones to Dan Quayle's Top Ten Pickup Lines, Letterman and his writers never ran out of ideas. Recently inspired by Justin Bieber’s depositions in which the 20-year-old pop singer claimed to not know much, Letterman came up with this winner.
Letterman is a master at provoking his guests, veering off their approved topic lists, and giving it right back to them. When Madonna infamously cursed and made fun of his hair in 1994 by asking if it was a “rug,” he didn’t miss a beat and asked her if she was wearing a swim cap. Last year, Chelsea Handler called the host out for being a “small man” and then made it worse by saying he’s “dainty.” He shot back, ““You’re kind of hefty for a broad." But everyone loved Joaquin Phoenix's bizarre bearded appearance in 2010 when Letterman asked, "What can you tell us about your days with the Unabomber?"
Stupid pet tricks
Americans had no idea how talented their furry friends could be until Letterman came along. We’ve seen Rogue driving a car, other dogs doing high jumps and somersaults, a couple of Dachshunds jogging on a treadmill. But a skateboarding Sheltie?
Stupid human tricks
Why should animals get all the glory? Letterman was astute enough to realize that humans could be just as stupid as their furry friends. Take the guy who works in “high finance” and eats goldfish crackers from a treadmill or the one who crushes a can on his skull by kicking himself. Not to mention the segment’s first husband-and-wife team, or as musical director Paul Shaffer put it, “a stupid team of humans,” who played Ping Pong without a table, only one paddle, and a wide-open mouth.
Van Halen. Bonnie Raitt. Rod Stewart. The Strypes. Lady Gaga. Most of the biggest names in music, as well as emerging potential talent, have performed on the "Late Show's" Ed Sullivan Theater stage. In fact, it was Letterman’s musical guests (Joseph Arthur and former R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills) who broke the news of his retirement on Twitter minutes after he announced it to his audience. Four years ago, the show started the “Live on Letterman” concert series in which artists performed from the stage: Adele, Lorde and Band of Horses were among the featured guests. Jay Z and Eminem played on the roof together.
Viewers were always in good hands when Letterman’s monologue got rolling. He’d cut effortlessly to video packages, chit-chat with Shaffer, and mix newsy items with self-deprecating asides, all guided by the crisp, sharp hand movements of an orchestra conductor. When a joke hit, he’d pounce on it like a puppy with Christmas wrapping, when it bombed, he’d face front and take his licks, impishly dwelling on his own failure. The fun only doubled when Tom Hanks showed up and asked why Letterman didn't go to his Broadway show, getting in a sly diss at the same time. "That's OK," Hanks said. "We gave the tickets to Jimmy Fallon."
Dave and Paul, the perfect team
Every host needs a sidekick, a second banana, a straight man, and few hosts had a better one than Letterman had in his good friend, musical director Paul Shaffer. Patient Paul put up with skits, jokes about his appearance, sang catchy little theme songs for various segments ("NEW BOOKS, NEW BOOKS!"), and always managed to stay alert for whatever the host demanded. For the show's 4,000th episode, Shaffer even joined in the list of "Top 10 Thoughts I've Had 4,000 Times," delivering his own supposed frequent thought: "I should have never left Canada!" Aw, hoser, we're glad you did, eh?
Dave can relate to regular guys
Not everyone who ends up in Letterman’s chair is an A-list superstar. Sometimes the biggest laughs came when Letterman hosted regular Joes and Janes, people who weren’t quite sure what the goofy gap-toothed guy was going on about, but were game to play along anyway. In 2013, he hosted former Bismarck, N.D. anchor A.J. Clemente, whose disastrous first news broadcast included him swearing on-air, then getting fired for it. Letterman turned what could’ve been an uncomfortable moment into a light-hearted but honest look at a viral goof. “This is nothing,” he assured the young journalist, even showing him clips of other anchors who'd accidentally sworn on-air — and then campaigning to get him rehired.
He was always honest about himself
Letterman was no perfect Ken doll-style host sent over from Central Casting. From the gap in his teeth to his personal relationships, the host was more than willing to make himself the butt of the joke. But he was always honest and forthright with viewers, even if it was uncomfortable for him. He faced the music, and the audience, when a joke about Sarah Palin's daughter, teen mom Bristol, was decried by Palin, who said it was about her younger daughter Willow. And he even sat down with Confessional Queen Oprah Winfrey to discuss his depression and the infidelity scandal that rocked his life in 2009.
Dave hearts New York
The Big Apple was more than the place where the Letterman show was shot, it was an integral character. Whether he was bashing the heat and humidity by showing the city switching on a giant electric fan as if it were the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, or visiting with neighbors such as Hello Deli owner Rupert Jee, Letterman always found the humor and the heart in the City that Never Sleeps. But after the 2001 terrorist attacks, he showed that underneath all the jokes, he was as fierce a defender of New York as Batman was of Gotham. “If you didn’t believe it before, you can easily believe it now,” he said. “New York City is absolutely the greatest city in the world."