Creator / David Letterman

"And now… a man who shouldn't be up this late… David Letterman!"
— Dave's first intro line from 1982.

"Well, why don't I start off with a question, here: just how pissed off are you?"
"Johnny, lemme give you a little piece of advice: you keep using language like that, and you're gonna find yourself out of a job."
Johnny Carson's opening question to Dave on Letterman's first Tonight Show appearance after NBC made their decision.

David Michael Letterman (born April 12, 1947) is an American Talk Show host famous for (re)defining the genre in the post-Johnny Carson era. Letterman's shows (The David Letterman Show in 1980, Late Night from 1982-93, and the Late Show from 1993-2015) came to be known as examples of the "Anti-Talk Show", a show that is relentlessly self-aware and intent on deconstructing the conventions of the very medium that gives it life.

From the beginning, Letterman fashioned his persona as a smartass host who was "too hip" for the talk show format, and proceeded from there to make a mockery of the entire genre as a result — for instance, he would often barely hide his contempt for almost every aspect of show business, from his producers and writers, to his wardrobe director, his celebrity guests, his sidekick Paul Shaffer, and even his own fame. All of this pales, however, in comparison to his loathing for "rival" Jay Leno, to whom he lost the coveted Tonight Show gig after Carson's retirement, a development about which he is still clearly bitter some two decades later, though it should be noted that Leno claimed in 2013 that they weren't on unfriendly terms, and even have occasional discussions about the industry.

Letterman took frequent shots at his network (first NBC, then CBS), and then his network's parent company when NBC was acquired by General Electric. He would intentionally bomb jokes in the monologue, and openly waste network airtime on ridiculous gags whose only purpose served to illustrate simply that, "Hey! I'm wasting NBC airtime here!" He eschewed the typical talk show uniform of a tailored suit in favor of a tie, a blazer, khakis...and white Adidas wrestling shoes.

He dropped random things off roofs, he blew random things up on-air, he staged impromptu audience competitions (in addition to showcasing Stupid Pet, and Human, Tricks), he used "viewer mail" segments as an excuse to break into various non sequitur-style sketches, he once did an entire episode with mannequin stand-ins and prerecorded audio, he did stunts in a variety of ridiculous suits (made of velcro, tortilla chips, etc.), and essentially offered a biting parody of the Hollywood machine from the perspective of a Midwestern "everyman" who somehow found himself trapped inside the establishment at the height of its decadence.

As a side-effect, Letterman was sort of feared in the business when it came to interacting with the guests. He was intimidating, and could be somewhat mean to them. Until the late 1990s when he started to mellow down, it was fairly well-known that his only real friends in the business were Warren Zevon and Julia Roberts. In one interview in the early 2000s, Roberts mentioned the fact that Letterman had softened up and that now every actress was a "lovely girl". Letterman's quip was "Oh, you know I'm just woofing."

Ironically, Letterman's influential "anti-talk show" sensibility ended up saving the talk show format as we know it, which had started showing signs of rust towards the end of Carson's Tonight Show stint. Without Letterman mocking the genre in the 1980s, today's genre staples (especially Conan O'Brien's shows) would likely not exist in their current form.

In April 2014, shortly before his 67th birthday, having spent close to half his life doing the show, Letterman announced he would be retiring. A week later, CBS announced his successor would be Stephen Colbert, who began his run on September 8, 2015. David Letterman taped his 6,028th and final late night program on May 20, 2015.

"From the home office in Wahoo, NE, it's tonight's Top Trope List":

  • Affectionate Parody: Shortly after moving to the Ed Sullivan Theatre, Dave would parody Sullivan's habit of introducing celebrities in the audience. The first night he introduced a confused looking Paul Newman who stood up, said "Where the hell's all the singing Cats?" and walked out.
  • The Announcer: Bill Wendell (Late Night and Late Show 1993-95), Alan Kalter (Late Show 1995-2015)
  • Annoying Laugh: He often employs this deliberately.
  • Arson, Murder and...umm...Jaywalking: As part of Letterman's subversion of the form, as a rule #1 is almost never the funniest joke in the Top Ten List. The studio audience will be applauding anyway.
  • Ascended Extra: Many members of he production staff and crew have become familiar faces to viewers and even been utilized in bits, such as stagehand Biff Henderson, production assistant Barbara Gaines, and former director and producer Hal Gurnee and Robert Morton, respectively.
  • Ashes to Crashes: Paul Rudd described his surreal experiences with his father's ashes in Ireland. Yes, he got "Lebowski'ed".
  • Back for the Finale: The show's final top ten list was delivered by frequent guests and good friends of the show, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Bill Murray, who was Dave's first guest on NBC in 1982 and on CBS in 1993.
    • Foo Fighters, a frequent musical guest on The Late Show, also came back to perform "Everlong", just as they did years prior (and cancelled a tour to do it) after Letterman's heart surgery.
  • Badass Beard: Briefly grew one during the 2007 writers' strike, but has more notoriously sported a huge beard since his retirement.
  • Bald of Awesome: Paul Shaffer, of course.
  • Big Applesauce: New York-based, in contrast to the L.A.-based (prior to 2014) Tonight Show.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: On Late Night, Letterman constantly took shots at NBC and their parent company, General Electric. And he's poked plenty of fun at CBS since his channel hop.
    Dave (standing in front of a giant CBS eye) Just between you and me...isn't that eye thing...kinda creepy?
  • Body Horror: "Things More Fun Than Reading The Sarah Palin Memoir" consists of Body Horror Stock Footage, mostly from old movies.
  • Bookends: Bill Murray was Dave's first interview guest on both Late Night and Late Show. Guess who his final Late Show interview guest was?
    • What's more, Letterman introduced Murray for the last time using virtually identical language to when he introduced him for the first time:
      "It's a pleasure for me to introduce my first guest. With credits that include Saturday Night Live, the films Meatballs, Caddyshack, Where The Buffalo Roam, and Stripes, Bill Murray has become one of the top box-office draws in show business, and besides that he's a very funny man, and it's a pleasure to have him [on our first program / as our next-to-the-last show guest]. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Murray."
  • Brick Joke: A relatively recent joke involving newly installed button on Dave's chair. He's told to press it - cue Dave getting blasted out of the building (everyone is then told he's okay). A couple of episodes later, Dave reveals that said button is still there. He pushes the button, and we think we know what will happen next, but instead, the head of the orchestra is blasted outside. Another push of the button, though, and Dave's right behind him.
    • Also, any references to "getting my lips bit off by a wild dingo!"
  • The Bus Came Back: Dave made a number of guest appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
    • During his Letterman tribute on the episode of Conan that aired opposite the final Late Show, O'Brien recalled being a "national punchline at 30" during the disastrous first months of his Late Night, and credited Letterman's return appearance and verbal approval of all the changes they made for turning things around for his career.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Kirstie Alley got one over on Dave when she appeared on the Late Show in 2011. Having been a Woobie for Letterman in the past, particularly during her run on Dancing with the Stars, she brought with her Dave's cruelest jokes and repeated them back to him. The audience booed the jokes. May count as a Crowning Moment Of Awesome for Kirstie.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Announcer Alan Kalter.
  • Captain Ersatz: Chris Elliot's running characters The Fugitive Guy (The Fugitive) and The Regulator Guy (The Equalizer).
  • Catch Phrase
    • Whenever the subject of drinks comes up, "I don't think there's a man, woman, or child alive today who doesn't enjoy a refreshing beverage."
    • "How we doing on time?"
    • "I wouldn't give my troubles to a monkey on a rock."
    • (When a joke set-up has a fairly obvious punchline coming up) "I think we can all see this one coming down 2nd Avenue."
    • (Wiggling some blue cards) "If these weren't actual letters from actual viewers....could I do this?"
    • "Did we open the thing?" (in reference to the Top Ten List theme song/graphic. Letterman has said this on practically every episode for years).
  • Chew Toy: Poor Alan Kalter (aka The Announcer).
  • Christmas Carolers: During many a Christmas season he'd bring on a group of carolers to sing the "Top Ten Least Favorite Christmas Carols" (which are traditional Christmas carols reworded to reflect current political satire topics).
  • Cigar Chomper: For many years Letterman was known for his love of cigars, although he's apparently given them up.
  • City of Weirdos: A recurring Letterman gag is to see "How many guys in X costumes can fit in a Y?", trying to get a rise out of passers-by. People seldom react.
    • Calvert DeForest's memorable bit welcoming passengers at the Port Authority Bus Terminal must have given this effect to the confused passengers he met.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: In 1994, Madonna dropped the F-word at least 13 times, which were all censored, during her interview, and tried to get Letterman to smell her panties.
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: Dave makes the occasional joke about his uncle Larry trying to capitalize on his success.
  • Comic Books: Bizarrely, Letterman was in an issue of The Avengers in 1984. A parody version of Letterman ("David Endochrine") was murdered (along with his audience) by The Joker in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
  • Complaining About Things You Haven't Paid For: Dave sometimes jokingly tries to preempt complaints from the studio audience saying things like "You didn't pay anything to get in here, you know."
    • Also at the midpoint of the show, Letterman would announce the guests booked for the next episode. Sometimes the audience would boo softly if it was a big name guest, leading Dave to say "Oh? Something wrong with tonight's show?"
  • Couch Gag: The opening introduction for Dave ("And now, a man who...") was different for every episode.
    • Until September 2001, New York City was always introduced differently ("From New York, pony rentals not included..."). After the show's first post-9/11 episode, New York City was introduced as "The greatest city in the world". The gag would be revived towards the end of the show's run as introducing the show from pretty much anywhere.
  • Crapsack World: ...Although Letterman's openly-silly style of humor clashes with his seemingly cynical presentation just enough to cause debate on where he stands on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism.
  • Crossover: The late Jeff Smith almost out-Lettermans Letterman in this clip, and Paul's line might be considered Getting Crap Past the Radar by 1991 standards.
  • Deadpan Snarker
  • Deconstruction/Deconstructive Parody
  • Disposable Intern: In one episode of The Late Show a man who had invented a new super-powered pogo stick is demonstrating it outside the theater. Dave has the man pogo stick over a row of interns, since even if he does accidentally hurt one it won't matter. note 
  • Don't Try This at Home: Warning disclaimer for many Late Night stunts in the 1980s. Occasionally subverted by Letterman with the addendum "Go to a friend's house instead."
    • During Stupid Pet Tricks, " wagering", which in turn is subverted by Stupid Human Tricks's disclaimer "Go ahead and wager."
  • Drum Roll, Please: All upcoming gags receive this, sometimes to intentionally anti-climactic results.
    • Dave often also asks Stupid Pet Trick contestants if they want a drum roll or if they think it will scare the pet.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: His network television debut was as a pit reporter at the Indianapolis 500 in 1971.
  • The Eponymous Show: Letterman's first morning show on NBC was The David Letterman Show. But even today, his various incarnations are all lumped together as The Letterman Show.
    • During the second to last episode's monologue, Dave showed a series of clips from local CBS station newscasts noting Dave's retirement from The Tonight Show
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: He loves featuring non-human primates, or, at least, people dressed as them.
    • Zippy the Chimp, who would run around in the audience on Late Night with a video camera strapped to his back for the "Late Night Monkey Cam."
    • That clip of the sneezing monkey
    • "Can a Guy in a Gorilla Suit Get Into a Feature Film?"
    • Of course, one of the many lines he adopted from Johnny Carson: "I wouldn't give this guy's troubles to a monkey on a rock!".
  • Expy: Jay Leno's "Headlines" is the exact same bit as Letterman's "Small Town News"...except Leno copies the articles (other people's works) and sells them in book form.
    • Letterman's "Small Town News" predates "Headlines" by approximately 10 years. It can be argued that they both stole the concept from Steve Allen's Tonight Show.
    • To his credit, Letterman has always credited Allen for inspiration for a number of the Late Night/Late Show spots such his Suit of Alka-Seltzer being an Expy of Allen's Suit of Teabags.
  • Fake Band: In 1999, Letterman used the faux Boy Band "Fresh Step" to mock groups like the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC.
  • Foil: During the rare times that Madonna was allowed to come on, she would happily ruin Letterman's planned schedule of events via grandstanding and showboating. This was likely out of revenge for Dave introducing her as someone who "slept with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry."
    • Perhap's Dave most mis-timed joke happened one evening in 1989, when he welshed on a restaurant bill and left his unsuspecting dinner partner (Oprah Winfrey) to pay, ho ho. Oprah froze him out for almost twenty years (and it was suggested, by Roger Ebert and other guests, that many doors were shut to Letterman as a result), but eventually accepted Dave's three bajillioth apology. They are now friends again.
    • Cher famously called him an "asshole" during an interview, to his face.
    • In what is becoming a rite of passage for pop stars, Lady Gaga ate his note cards after Dave asked about her lingerie buying habits.
  • Fourth-Wall Mail Slot: "Viewer Mail" on Late Night, "CBS Mailbag" on Late Show
  • Freak Out: Dave was witness to Craig Nicholls from The Vines having one of the biggest freak-outs ever during a 2003 appearance, creating some incredibly uncomfortable television in the process. Even Dave couldn't play that one off. note 
  • Frivolous Lawsuit/NBC Owns This Trope: When Letterman left for CBS, NBC threatened one over the "intellectual property" of Stupid Pet Tricks and the Top Ten list, until both Letterman and Leno's mockery embarrassed them out of it. Among the problems with the lawsuit: Top ten lists had been done for years by people before Letterman, and Letterman actually owned the Stupid Pet Tricks property from an earlier show of his.
    • Then-current NBC anchor Tom Brokaw made a surprise appearance during Letterman's first CBS monologue and took one of the cue cards, claiming the jokes were NBC intellectual property.
    • After asking Johnny Carson if he can use "Stump the Band", Johnny quips "Stump the Band? Sure, I can hardly claim that as intellectual property!".
  • Funny Foreigner: Late Show has their foreign correspondent Graham Fenwick-Jones, who speaks almost without exception in impenetrable British slang with no subtitles.
  • Game Show: Dave appeared on many games from about 1975-80, and occasionally says "Not a match, the board goes back." when a joke falls flat. He's also done several parodies, which you can watch on the Game Show Appearance page.
    • Dave opened the February 18th 2015 show's monologue by introducing a shot of the audience and saying "These people, dressed as they are..."
    • Dave also hosted a disastrous Game Show pilot from Bob Stewart called The Riddlers (which was a reworking of Stewart's earlier Jackpot). The pilot has been shown on GSN, and here you can see him talk with Michael McKean about it.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Letterman's entire schtick is based around deconstructing the traditional TV talk show and its conventions.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Fairly often, usually followed by Dave saying "I don't even know what that means".
  • Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: As part of the show's Rule of Funny, many times someone will just walk over to Dave, say something insulting, and promptly disappear and never be seen or referenced again.
  • Greeting Gesture Confusion: In 2012, he took to fist-bumping some of his guests, specifically the "exploding" variety. Most of the time his guests are confused - often thinking he's going for a traditional handshake - but every once in a while someone (who has probably been prepped beforehand, or is a regular viewer) joins in on both the bump and the explosion, at which point Dave is both impressed and amused.
    • The infamous "GE Corporate Handshake". In 1986, after General Electric bought NBC, Letterman tried to start his relationship with his new employers on the right foot by delivering a fruit basket to GE's corporate headquarters. Security told him he needed official approval to enter the building. After getting tired of waiting he walked into the lobby, where he was confronted by a manager who told him to turn his camera off. When Dave and director Hal Gurnee both tried to shake the manager's hand, the manager held out his hand, then quickly pulled it away.
  • Guest Host: Letterman became famous as Johnny Carson's guest host on The Tonight Show. Much later in his career, Letterman would have heart surgery and a bout with shingles that led to famous guest hosts for his show, like Regis Philbin, Bruce Willis, Bill Cosby, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Elvis Costello, Adam Sandler, Tom Green, Megan Mullaly, Vince Vaughn, and Bonnie Hunt.
  • Jerkass: Letterman's interview style was often charitably described as "acerbic" in his early days. Cher told him that for years she didn't want to come back on his show because she thought he was "an asshole".
  • Jumping Out of a Cake: Bill Murray on the second to last Late Show episode.
  • Lampshade Hanging: His explaining away jokes that didn't work.
  • Left It In: Letterman frequently says "We'll edit that out later." They never do.
  • Little Known Facts: "Fun Facts".
  • Logo Joke: The first airing of Late Show was prefaced with the CBS ID of the era playing as normal, except Dave said "This is CBS" instead of the usual V/O guy, and he actually appeared midway through the ID.
    Dave (in another promo in front of the eye): Don't you think that eye thing is.....kinda creepy?
  • Lovely Assistant: Grinder Girl and Hula Hoop Girl in "Will It Float?"
    • The pair may also be an example of Ascended Extras as well — both originally showed up in an earlier recurring sketch called "Is This Anything?", during which the audience was treated to a few seconds of someone's offbeat act, after which Dave and Paul would decide whether the act was "anything" worthwhile. ...They really liked Grinder Girl and Hula Hoop Girl.
  • Man on Fire: When the movie of the same name was coming out, Dave would have a guy running around the stage screaming with his shirt on fire until he ran to the back and the fire was extinguished.
  • Medium Awareness
  • Memetic Psychopath: Invoked, as Letterman for a time had a bit called "Dr. Phil's Words of Wisdom", which were quick out of context clips from his show, including such quotes as "Let's just kick her ass," "Children hate me," and "I would eat some Fruity Pebbles if I got hungry enough." Usually, Dave would end the bit by saying, "Someday they're going to close down that little parlor game and put that man in jail."
  • Must Make Amends: In October of 1993, Bill Hicks made his last TV appearance before his death, on Late Night, and performed a set that didn't make it to air due to its content. Bill was, uh, not pleased with this, and made no secret of his bitterness during his final months. Sixteen years later, on January 30, 2009, Dave discussed the incident, took the blame for the decision, and had an interview with Bill's mother, Mary Hicks, where he profusely apologized. He then presented Bill's unaired set in its entirety.
  • Once a Season: Every time Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) comes along, Dave mentions what year it is on the Jewish Calendar (this year will be 5774), and that he's still writing the previous year on his checks, with Paul saying "You crazy nut."
    • He makes similar jokes about the Chinese New Year, mentioning that it's the year of some particular animal, and say that he's still writing the previous animal on his checks.
  • One Extra Member: On the "Small Town News" segment, one of Dave's self-described favorite categories of news is things like "Classical Trio performs" with a picture of 4-6 members.
  • Only Sane Man
  • Orphaned Punch Line: This clip from a 1985 episode has guest Johnny Carson delivering the punchline to a joke that he'd started on The Tonight Show earlier that night: "And the man says to Mrs. O'Hara, 'I'm not so sure about that, he got out three times to go to the bathroom'." note 
    • Once he and Paul had been talking about "Ventriloquists' Week" and he threw in, "Wednesday we'll be having Dick Cheney and George W. Bush!"
  • Playing with a Trope
  • Politicians Kiss Babies: The Late Show with David Letterman: In a joke about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Letterman said when running for office Christie "got confused. Kissed a blintz, ate a baby!"
    • Another Letterman gag: in "Top 10 signs [then Presidential candidate] Herman Cain is losing it."
      Kissed a picture of himself and signed a baby
  • Precision F-Strike: In re Leonard Tepper walking out in a giant squirrel costume:
    DAVE: "I know what you're thinking. This (bleep) better be funny."
  • The Rival: Jay "Big Jaw" Leno became this after he beat Letterman out as Carson's successor on Tonight, and Dave moved to CBS to compete directly with Leno in the 11:30 PM slot. The bad blood resurfaced in 2009 after some of the worst Executive Meddling of all time caused Leno to first move out of The Tonight Show and then back in after less than a year because of failing ratings. Letterman joined many others in accusing Leno of "reneging" on his previously-announced "retirement," although the move had been largely forced on Leno and he only returned after his ostensible successor, Conan O'Brien (who had earlier succeeded Letterman himself on NBC's Late Night show), had already decided to leave. Despite the bump in Letterman's ratings the events caused, he still tends to come in behind Leno's.
    • Although Leno has gotten mileage out of occasional Letterman scandals (notably revelations of Letterman's affair with a staffer), he has been much less inclined to attack Letterman than Letterman has been to attack him. The former friends' relationship remains strained, although Leno has expressed willingness to mend fences.
    • For his part Letterman has expressed grudging respect for Leno's skills, characterizing him as a great standup comic. Letterman has never considered himself as such, which is why he stopped touring basically as soon as he could get a TV show.
    • During a 2012 interview with " fellow Leno victim" Conan O'brien, both got their shots in, Letterman stating that in the 70s all the stand up comedy circuit admired Leno's talent, but all knew that deep down he was just 'a big brat' whenever he wanted something.
    • Lampshaded to hilarious effect in a promo aired during Super Bowl XLIV.
    • Law & Order: Jay Leno Victims Unit.
  • Rule of Funny: The engine that powers the show.
  • Running Gag: Often used to the point of being intentionally unfunny and arguably bordering on Lampshade Hanging.
    • One of Dave's more notable phrases, used when a joke falls flat, is "Not a match, the board goes back" — a phrase that should be familiar to anyone who has ever been thanked for playing Concentration.
    • The "Countdown until Bernie Madoff's Release".
    • "It's always the horn section!"
    • Dave: "Hal, can you (do something technical), for us?" Hal: "Sure, Dave" Dave: (To the audience) "Our director, Hal Gurtner." Hal: "That's Gurnee, Dave." Dave: "Oh, right! Gurnee!"
    • Constant reference to his unruly hair, often pretending it was actually a wig.
  • Sad Clown: He's famously guarded about discussing his private life, but in interviews during his final weeks on the air he candidly talked about his long struggles with depression and alcoholism when he was younger.
  • Satire
  • Self-Deprecation: All the damn time, especially when the Top Ten List is read by any kind of guests. It will ALWAYS include some reference to the guests wanting to be on Leno or a comment on how old Dave is.
    • His notoriously unsuccessful stint hosting the 1995 Oscars immediately became joke fodder on The Late Show. Two years afterward he turned up on the Oscars again in a parody of The English Patient that climaxed a montage of spoofs featuring that year's host, Billy Crystal. Crystal finds himself running for his life from a crashing plane piloted by Dave, who suggests that Billy use the "Oprah...Uma" bit that more or less summed up how badly Dave bombed.
    • In response to NBC putting up a billboard in New York City proclaiming The Tonight Show the #1 show in late night, Letterman had CBS put up a bigger billboard, declaring his show #3 in late night. (At the time, ABC's Nightline finished in second.)
  • Shout-Out: Along with the Johnny Carson and Steve Allen references mentioned above:
    • The World's Most Dangerous Band is a reference to 1960s-1970s pro wrestler Dick The Bruiser, whose Red Baron was "The World's Most Dangerous Wrestler" and was the owner and top star of the World Wrestling Association in Dave's hometown of Indianapolis, IN.
    • The "CBS Mailbag" segment opened with Perry Como's "We Get Letters."
    • The first episode of Late Night in 1982 opened with Larry "Bud" Melman delivering a slightly reworded version of the famous opening monologue from Frankenstein.
  • The Show Must Go On: While New York City hunkered down for the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the show was recorded without a studio audience and a skeleton crew. A mannequin was "operating" one of the cameras and an intern held up handwritten text cards for the Top Ten List. (Jimmy Fallon, also in NYC, did a similar show.)
  • Show Within a Show: Chris Elliott's The Fugitive Guy complete with opening and closing credits, theme song, 'Tonight's Episode' Quinn Martin type titles, and a final episode in which Dave and Chris hunt down The One Legged Man.
  • Sideboob: On this Very Special Episode, the audience (and later all of Manhattan via the Jumbotron) gets a quick shot of Drew Barrymore's side boob, while Birthday Boy Letterman gets to enjoy the full effect.
  • Something Completely Different/Show Within a Show: Late Night would sometimes stage an entire episode in a bizarre, novel way.
    • One night, he pretended it was The Morning Show with Dave & Tawny (perhaps a statement on his ill-fated eponymous 1980 series)...and actually seemed like a pretty decent idea.
      • Apparently Dave himself was very impressed with this episode. Generally when he would announce that the next night's episode was a repeat, he'd say it's "Just a lousy re-run, don't bother tuning in". But when announcing "The Morning Show" episode's re-showing, he suggested people giving it another viewing.
    • On another occasion, he let the audience vote via applause for a "custom-built show". The resulting episode featured the theme from Gilligan's Island, Dave and his guests sitting in lawn chairs, Larry "Bud" Melman walking through 30 Rock in a bear suit, and closing credits with the names of the members of that night's studio audience
    • Still another episode was an "upside-down show" where the camera rotated 360 degrees throughout the course of the hour.
    • Not to mention the 4 AM show, which was taped at, you guessed it, 4 in the morning. The show featured an introduction from Hillary Clinton, Dave entering on a horse, rat catching in the streets of Manhattan, and a guided tour of one of the guest's neighbourhood.
  • Stalker with a Crush: In the late '80s, a mentally ill woman named Margaret Mary Ray began stalking him, believing that they were in a romantic relationship. Letterman made some jokes about it, but upon her finally being sent to jail, he stated that he felt nothing but sympathy for her condition.
  • Stealth Pun: A staple of Letterman comedy, especially in Top Ten Lists.
  • Straw Fan: Predominantly used by Letterman to mock his audience in the "Viewer Mail" segments.
  • Studio Audience: Often had a love/hate relationship with Letterman in the mid-1980s; they're all adoration, all the time nowadays.
  • Suit Of Awesome: For a while in the 80s David had a number of special suits. Sitting in a giant bowl he was doused with barrels of milk while wearing a Suit of Rice Krispies; Hoisted by a crane he was placed in a giant glass of water wearing a Suit of Alka-Seltzer; And perhaps most famous of all - he jumped off a trampoline on to a wall while wearing a Suit of Velcro to see if he'd stick. He did. As Letterman himself freely admitted, these were inspired by Steve Allen, who during his run as host of The Tonight Show, once sat in a giant tea cup with warm water and 200 lemon wedges while wearing a Suit of Teabags.
  • Swivel-Chair Antics: Dave and Paul have raced down the halls of NBC on fire extinguisher powered office chairs.
  • Take That!: The Top Ten Lists sometimes employ this. The October 4, 2010 list, "Rick Sanchez' Top Ten Excuses," in re Sanchez' anti-Semitic comments about Jon Stewart from CNN on September 30, included at Number 4, "Trying to impress Mel Gibson."
  • Talk Show
  • Teens Are Monsters: "Dwight the Troubled Teen" skits.
  • Title Confusion: The Late Show is often mistakenly referred to as Late Night and vice versa. In reality, Late Night still exists at NBC and is hosted by Seth Meyers.
    • It gets worse...during the second to last episode's monologue, Dave showed a series of clips from local CBS station newscasts (his own network no less) noting Dave's retirement from The Tonight Show
  • Top Ten List: Perhaps Letterman's best-known Trope. An attempt to eradicate all of those insipid "top ten lists" forever, from the inside, by making lists so intentionally lame that the phenomenon would die on the spot. Ironically, though, the Top Ten actually became one of Letterman's most popular bits, and is his hallmark to this day.
  • TV Strikes: Letterman circumvented the 2007 WGA strike by negotiating a special deal that allowed his writers to return to work early.
  • Twitter: Dave has composed tweets in mid-show, in full Grumpy Old Man mode commenting sarcastically about how "this is so much easier than a phone call" and spelling out the words "Hash Tag" in the tweet itself.
  • Unfortunate Names: For a month in 1995, Dave was absolutely obsessed with a gas station employee from Saskatchewan named Dick Assman. Yes, you read that right. He eventually even got the guy on the phone, first talking to his business partner before saying "I'd love to keep talking to you, but your name isn't silly enough."
  • UST: Between Dave and Julia Roberts, of all people. Also with Gillian Anderson in this appearance.
  • Vacation Episode: The crew once spent a week in London, which also marked the only time the series has seen the light of British terrestrial television - BBC2 aired those episodes.
    • He did a week of shows in LA in 1994, during which Johnny Carson made a couple cameos that turned out to be his final television appearances.
  • Vanity Plate: Letterman's company, Worldwide Pants, has a vanity plate that is memorable for the non-sequiteur phrases announced during the display of the plate.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Dave has had this relationship with several guests, most notably Regis Philbin and Charles Grodin.
  • Worked Shoot: Letterman's infamous interview with actor/comedian Andy Kaufman and pro wrestler Jerry Lawler has been confirmed as a staged event in the intervening years, though only Lawler and Kaufman knew what was going to happen. Dave's disastrous chat with Crispin Glover, on the other hand, appears to be all too real.
    • Dave wasn't in on Joaquin Phoenix's bizarre in-character appearance in 2009, but Joaquin's subtle Corpsing at a couple of Letterman's quips probably tipped him off as to what was going on (He was pretending to have a Creator Breakdown as a commentary that Celebrity Is Overrated). In a later appearance Phoenix pointed out that he actually broke character at the very end, getting up and shaking his hand with surprising energy compared to the lethargic interview.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Due to NBC owning the names (but not the formats) to several of Letterman's skits.
    • The World's Most Dangerous Band --> The CBS Orchestra. note 
    • Viewer Mail --> CBS Mailbag.
    • The Top Ten List --> The Late Show Top Ten List.
    • Larry "Bud" Melman --> Calvert DeForest.
  • Your Favorite: Dave once had his Mother on the show to demonstrate how she made his favorite snack — Fried Bologna Sandwiches.

"Now, stay tuned for Craig Ferguson! This is Alan Kalter speaking! Good night, everybody!"