David Letterman bid viewers one last “Thank You, and Good Night” Tuesday night, before officially ceding his throne atop the late-night comedy hierarchy to incoming heir Stephen Colbert.
The send-off ceremony, which garnered Letterman his largest viewership since 1994 with 13.7 million viewers, was replete with archive videos and photos from The Late Show With David Letterman’s 33-year stint on the air, a record run among late-night shows.
Debuting in February of 1982, Tuesday’s finale was the 6028th episode of The Late Show With David Letterman.
“Mr. Letterman never lost his arch, ironic self-awareness,” said the New YorkTimes’ Alessandra Stanley. “He did not sink into the easy, quid pro quo conventions of late-night talk shows, but kept defying them.”
The farewell installment of The Late Show featured cameos from prominent show alumni and contemporary comedy heavyweights like Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey and Steve Martin. They joined Alec Baldwin, Julia-Louis Dreyfus and others in a knee-slapping segment entitled “The Top Ten Things I’ve Always Wanted To Say To David Letterman.”
“Dave, I don’t know what I’ll do when you go off the air,” said Jerry Seinfeld. “Oh, wait. I just thought of something. I’ll be fine.”
The evening reached its comedic climax when clips were played from Letterman’s former “Dave Talks To Kids” segment, in which one girl declares salt to be her favorite food, and another asserts Letterman isn’t funny. “Kids love me,” Letterman declared.
To close out the show, Letterman introduced his favorite band Foo Fighters, pointing out the role their song “Everlong” played in his recovery from quintuple bypass surgery in 2000. The band performed the song on Letterman’s first show after his surgery, and were “joined together at the hip ever since,” Letterman said.
The group proceeded to perform “Everlong” against a dizzying montage showcasing the most memorable moments of the Late Show‘s more than three-decade run on the air.
But a legacy as enduring as Letterman’s is bound to bear the stain of scandal – and amid the gushing tributes to Letterman are the inevitable references to his career gaffes, namely an affair with an intern in 2009 which resulted in an attempted blackmailing.
Twitter was abuzz with Letterman chatter on Tuesday as well, but not everyone was commending his humor or charm. On the contrary, many lamented the departure as overdue, and the comedian himself as overrated.
I’ve never seen a single episode of Letterman in my entire life so I’m not going to pretend I have and watch his last show tonight.
— Vin (@vinnie_vici) May 21, 2015