UPDATED with video: David Letterman took the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater tonight to deliver his final monologue after 33 years as a late-night TV host:
“I’ll be honest with you; it’s beginning to look like I’m not going to get The Tonight Show. I’ll tell you something else … I know people are well meaning, but I’m sick and tired of ‘What are you gonna do now that you’re retired?’ You want to know what I’m going to do now that I’m retired? By God, I hope to become the new face of Scientology.
“Don’t kid yourself, emotions are running high in this building. I was talking to a sound guy backstage, Dutch. Come to think of it, that may not be his name. For the last 20 years I have been calling everybody ‘Dutch’. Speaking of emotional farewells, here now is my goodbye to the staff. I hope you enjoy it.”
[VIDEO of Dave appearing before staff in lunchroom, blowing a kiss]
“It was moving for all of us. People are saying to me, ‘When did you know it was time to retire?’ I said … one of the signs came from the cue card kid who said, ‘Dave, for the love of God, I can’t write the words any bigger!’ Oh this is a great segment! The name of this segment is ‘Comedy We Would Have Done Tomorrow’. You see? This is stuff we had planned for Thursday.
[VIDEO of gags they would have run Thursday]
“Here’s some statistics: Paul and I have been doing the show for 33 years. That’s 6,028 shows. Earlier today, we got a call from Stephen Hawking. And he, bless his heart, had done the math, because he’s a genius and stuff, and 6,028 shows, he said it works out to about eight minutes of laughter.
“Here’s the problem when you don’t have your own show anymore. When I screw up, and lord knows I’ll screw up, I’ll have to go on someone else’s show to apologize.”
“I’ll tell you this: It’s been hard on my family … my son keeps saying, ‘Why does Daddy have to go to prison?’
“I remember, Paul, you remember when we started the show, there were mixed responses. On the one hand, some said, ‘This show doesn’t have a chance.’ On the other hand, the other half said, ‘This show doesn’t have a prayer.’
“I was having trouble sleeping last night. … I was up late and dialing around the channel and came across something I thought was enjoyable – maybe you saw it?
[Video of Homer Simpson laughing at Dave throwing his card and “breaking” the window, and Marge marveling that he’s still laughing at that three-decade-old gag, noting that when Dave did it first, Lisa and Bart were kids, and Maggie was a baby. Shot pulls back to show Lisa and Bart in the room, still kids, and Maggie still a baby.]
“Time gets away from you. When we started the show, the hottest show on television was Keeping Up With The Gabors.
“Listen to this. Help me out with something. Remember Elian Gonzalez? What a case that was: the kid in Cuba and where should he go? You are not going to believe this. This kid is 21 years old, and yesterday he announced he wants to come back to America. My question to you is, ‘Should I take this personally?
“Here’s the best … my good friend Paul – more than a guy who is on television with me every night: a great friend, my best friend. … We are going to continue in show business. Next month, it will be June in Las Vegas, which is the time to go to Las Vegas. Paul and I will be debuting our new act at Caesars Palace with our white tigers.
“Like I said, a lot of stuff confuses me. Here’s something else. I guess they’re trying to be supportive.
[Video of Wheel of Fortune episode, in which correct answer was: Good riddance to David Letterman]
“What? Really? That’s what we get. Paul Shaffer, everybody. It’s our final show, ladies and gentlemen.”