When David Letterman signs off Wednesday night after 33 years in late night, first at NBC and then at CBS, he would be remiss not to include — what else? — a final Top 10 list.
The trademark segment during "Late Show with David Letterman" has included a Top 10 lambasting the likes of Justin Bieber, President Barack Obama and even his own prickly personality.
But for all of the funnyman's snarky side comments, there are some remarkable facets of his life and career. Here's a countdown of the best:
10. His cantankerous nature is his charm
While late-night legend Johnny Carson was known for his cool detachment and former archrival Jay Leno was largely inoffensive, Letterman has always been the crabbiest of the talk show talents. The 68-year-old has had no problem showcasing a self-deprecating sense of humor and annoyance with certain guests (see Paris Hilton, John McCain and Bill O'Reilly).
9. He knows a 'stupid' pet or human when he sees one
Highlighting human and animal talent is a staple of many talk-variety shows. But Letterman preferred to feature talent that was part silly ... and, well, stupid. Examples: A girl playing the violin on a pogo stick, children who jump rope with their dog and the woman who can scratch the inside of her eyelids.
8. He was a wacky weatherman early in his career
Long before landing his first late-night show, "Late Night with David Letterman," on NBC in 1982, Letterman was an anchor and weatherman with an Indianapolis television station. His sense of humor shone through even then: Sometimes he gave the forecast for fake cities.
7. He proved he was a stand-up guy in Hollywood
After forgoing his weatherman career, Letterman pursued his true passion and moved to Hollywood to become a stand-up comedian. His dry wit eventually got him gigs as a writer on TV, and among his big breaks was as a cast member on a 1978 CBS variety show starring Mary Tyler Moore. The "Mary" show, however, was quickly canceled, but Letterman bounced back, filling in as a guest host on NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
6. Before ruling late night, he dared to take on daytime
NBC eventually gave the gap-toothed gagster his own a.m. talk-variety show, "The David Letterman Show," which debuted in June 1980 and ran for 90 episodes. The screwball show won two Emmy Awards, and even introduced Letterman's "stupid pet tricks," but it failed to catch on with viewers and was canceled that October.
5. He turned an Academy Awards bomb into a badge of honor
Letterman hosted the 1995 Oscars and began the show with an odd turn that introduced Oprah Winfrey to Uma Thurman. ("Oprah? Uma. Uma? Oprah.") The joke fell flat and fueled talk that he was feuding with Winfrey. While Letterman was widely panned by critics for his hosting duties, he inevitably had the last laugh: The show was, at the time, the highest-watched Oscars broadcast in 12 years.
4. He gave us comfort after the 9/11 terrorist attacks
When the nation needed laughter and a sense of familiarity, Letterman was the first late-night talk show host to return to the air. "There is only one requirement for any of us, and that is to be courageous, because courage, as you might know, defines all other human behavior," he said in a touching eight-minute monologue.
3. He can make death threats a laughing matter
In August 2011, the FBI said it was looking into a threat by an alleged al Qaeda associate calling for Letterman to be killed and his tongue cut out because he made fun of one of the terrorist group's leaders. In his first show after the threat was reported publicly, Letterman didn't back down: “I wish I had a nickel for every time a guy has threatened to cut my tongue out,” he said. “I think the first time was at the Academy Awards — during the Academy Awards.”
2. He's ready for whatever celebs throw at him
The "Late Show" has been more than on-air antics, stunts and music. Among celebrity interviews, there are many memorable moments to choose from. Julia Roberts smooched him, Drew Barrymore flashed him, Madonna dropped the F-bomb, a bearded Joaquin Phoenix acted bizarrely and Michael Richards apologized for a racist rant.
1. He always keeps us guessing
Letterman is retiring from his late-night perch, but that doesn't mean he's out of the entertainment industry for good. After all, he has his own production company, Worldwide Pants. But for his final hurrah on Wednesday after more than 6,000 episodes, he and CBS have been largely mum about what he plans to do and who will be on. The last edition of Letterman’s “Late Show” airs at 11:35 p.m. ET.
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