And now, in honor of David Letterman's retirement, my Top 10 Favorite David Letterman Shows of All Time:
10. The Warren Zevon show, when the singer/songwriter, who was dying from cancer, appeared on the show one last time -- Letterman was a big fan of his -- as the only guest, so Dave and Paul Shaffer could celebrate his music and say goodbye.
9. The first show after 9/11, when Dan Rather burst into sobs while talking about the firefighters.
8. The first show after Dave's quadruple bypass surgery, when he had the whole surgical team on to thank them for saving his life.
7. The first show after son Harry's birth, when he talked about his own dad, after whom Harry is named.
6. The John McCain show in 2008, when McCain canceled his appearance at the last second, claiming he had to fly back to Washington to deal with the financial crisis -- only to have Dave discover that McCain actually was stiffing him in order to be interviewed by Katie Couric. Letterman put the live feed from the interview on his own show, along with his snarky commentary, a la "Mystery Science Theater."
5. The Velcroman show, when he donned a suit made of Velcro and bounced off a trampoline onto a wall covered by fabric. The idea was to see if he would stick to the wall. He did.
4. His famous running feud with Oprah Winfrey, which kept getting funnier the longer he dragged the joke out.
3. The annual Christmas show, featuring Dave and comedian Jay Thomas taking turns trying to knock the meatball from atop the Christmas tree with a football, Thomas telling the Lone Ranger story (Google it if you haven't seen it), and Darlene Love singing "Santa Baby Please Come Home," with the sax player stepping out from someplace surprising to play his solo.
2. The first show after his idol Johnny Carson's death, when his monologue consisting solely of jokes that Carson had sent him.
1. His annual Thanksgiving show, featuring his mom Dorothy on a remote feed from her kitchen in Indianapolis. Dave would try to guess which flavor pies she baked for Thanksgiving dinner, with mixed success but always with lots of love.
Notice anything odd about that list? Most of those shows were about serious subjects. For a guy who always protests that he's a funnyman and nothing more, Letterman doesn't shy away from the somber, or even the sentimental.
But that doesn't mean he isn't funny. He's the premier comedian of his generation, as Carson was for his and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are for theirs. His contribution to comedy was irony, and the younger generation of comics picked that up from him.
Yeah, I know Leno got higher ratings. But he pandered to the crowd too much to be truly funny. Letterman never would have begun each show by exchanging high-fives with the audience.
The only question now is, "What's going to happen to the Piedmont High School bird callers, who will appear on his show for the 18th and last time on April 25?" I'll have some thoughts on that in the next column.
Reach Martin Snapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.