Conan O’Brien paid a heartfelt tribute to David Letterman yesterday, and urged viewers to switch off Conan, and watch Letterman’s last show instead. Conan used his opening monologue to thank and pay respect to Letterman, calling him “the North Star for me and for every comic of my generation.” He recounted how Letterman pretty much saved Late Night with Conan O’Brien with his February 28, 1994 appearance.
Before Letterman came on the show, it looked like Conan’s tenure on Late Night would be pretty short. The following is in his own words.
“I got the s**t kicked out of me, okay? Critics despised me. The ratings were bad. My skin broke out … And my network started to make it clear that I probably wouldn’t be around very long.”
At first, Conan said he didn’t believe that Letterman actually wanted to come on his show. He was sure it had to be a prank.
“Dave wasn’t just the biggest late-night star at that time, he was the biggest thing on television. He didn’t go on other people’s shows. It was like The Beatles asking Maury Povich if they could stop by and sing a couple of tunes. It was that absurd. And at the time, I was convinced it was a prank.”
But it wasn’t. Letterman came on, and “blew the doors off the place.” Conan clearly wanted his fans to know that without Dave, he likely wouldn’t be around.
“Here’s the point. The point behind all of this is that I just want you to know tonight, that if you have ever liked any silly or stupid thing that I’ve done on television over the 22 years… You must know that it probably never, never would have happened if it weren’t for Dave.”
Conan promised that at the moment the Late Show with David Letterman was starting, he’d let them know — so viewers could switch over. As long as the viewers recorded Conan and watched the commercials three times, joking “that’s how we make the money.” He kept to his word. As Letterman started, Conan and guest Patton Oswalt waved viewers off, yelling goodbye, with Conan adding, “but hit record!”
Later, Conan paid tribute to Letterman again, this time taking to Twitter.
It’s absolutely absurd to thank David Letterman for all he’s done in a tweet. But that’s the world we live in now. #ThanksDave
— Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) May 21, 2015
Conan was far from alone in paying tributes to Letterman, with other memorable farewells coming from Bill Murray and Ellen DeGeneres. Other tributes came from people as varied as Rudy Giuliani, Dane Cook, and James Cameron. Giuliani told Vulture that he was thankful that Letterman stayed in New York at a time when it seemed just about everyone was heading elsewhere.
“My favorite memory of David Letterman is the fact that when everybody was leaving New York, he stayed. That was in the bad times. That was before I was the mayor. That’s when we were on the front cover of Time magazine as ‘The Rotting of the Big Apple.’ That’s when, remember, Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show to California. We couldn’t get a movie in New York. They were filming New York in Toronto. And Letterman’s staying, I always thought, helped the city a lot. That’s why whenever he asked me to go on the show, I never refused him.”
In an essay published in Entertainment Weekly on May 1, Conan had called Letterman a unique talent, and stressed that he shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“Not one single writer/performer in the last 35 years has had Dave’s seismic impact on comedy. Every day, I read that a new comic has ‘changed the game,’ and admittedly there is an absurd abundance of talent and creativity out there right now. But in today’s world of 30 late night programs, it’s tempting now to take Dave for granted. Do not. Dave was a true revolution—and I believe his innovations are up there with the light bulb and the Twix bar.”
After an incredible 33 years, Letterman signed off for the last time yesterday. Now it’s time for Conan to carry his flame.
[Photo via Teamcoco.com, featured image via Team Coco’s YouTube Page]