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David Letterman Left a Great 'Late Show' Laughing

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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David Letterman closed out his version of the Late Show with a star-packed, extra-long edition that initially seemed as though it wasn’t going to benefit from its celebrity quotient and length. But as the night went on and the famous faces faded away, the last Letterman Late Show became a wonderful experience, intimate in a grand context. 

It was nice — and I mean “nice” in the sense that it made me feel as old as Letterman — to hear him tell jokes and make references you’re likely never to hear on TV again, such as Letterman saying he’d been on television so long, the reality show he remembered was Keeping Up With the Gabors. (If you don’t get the reference, you already never watch a late-night talk show from start-to-finish in real time.) 

The final Top 10 List, “Things I’ve Always Wanted to Say to Dave,” featuring celebs including Alec Baldwin and Chris Rock, took forever, what with the entrances and the applause and having to guide Barbara Walters to her mark on the stage. Funniest line hands-down was given to Julia Louis-Dreyfus: “Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale” as Jerry Seinfeld stood by feigning disbelief.

There was a completely wonderful montage of Letterman’s interactions with children, often during the annual kid-scientist segments he’d do — excellent stuff because, unlike the man from whom Letterman said he’d stolen the idea, Art Linkletter (I know, I know, you have no idea who…), Letterman never overrated to the kids’ cuteness or set up “funny” reactions; he just let the children react any way they wanted to. 

Remember how I said a couple of weeks back that CBS’s primetime Letterman-salute was nice but unfortunately obvious in its selection of the most over-exposed famous moments? Well, leave it to Letterman to repair that on his own farewell show: When this show went into or came out of a commercial, he chose mostly clips from his less-than-a-season 1980 morning show, rather obscure and frowsily funny. 

I enjoyed the fantasy-sequence “Day in the Life” taped segment that showed working for Letterman to be a non-stop chuckle-fest presided over by an endlessly amusing, benevolent boss. We knew it wasn’t true, but what Letterman devotee didn’t want to see Letterman sit around in his track shorts, pitching grapes into a glass of Perrier while a staffer looked glum that her desk was going to get wet? Great stuff, especially Letterman’s throwaway line: “You know what I’m going to devote my life to? Social media.” Why, it’s like he was reading Jimmy Fallon’s mind!!! 

About an hour in, Letterman spent a good amount of time thanking the writers and crew, and his wife, Regina, and son, Harry. Harry was as poker-faced self-conscious as any 10-year-old would be, but he lit up when Letterman, almost as an afterthought, introduced the kid sitting next to Harry, his “buddy Tommy” — both boys were as delighted as Letterman was. Letterman concluded this particular segment with a well-deserved thanks to CBS Entertainment President Les Moonves for being “more than patient with me.” Indeed: Not many executives these days would put up with a moody autodidact who wasn’t pulling in ratings competitive with the competitor who’s No. 1 in the ratings. 

But that’s the kind of loyalty — even, I’d go so far to say, devotion — Letterman inspired in people. If you were on his wavelength, you really wanted him to stick around for as long as possible. 

He did. We got everything from him we could possibly want.