"That's very generous, very sweet of you," David Letterman thanked his studio audience on Monday night, after they'd greeted him with a standing ovation and a "Dave! Dave! Dave!" chant. "But you know the show is not that good."
With only two episodes of the Late Show left to go after this one, we'd have happily watched even if the show had consisted entirely of Dave chatting up post office clerks and pricing hummingbird feeders at Home Depot, two activities that are high on the agenda for his first week of retirement. (We would also quite willingly watch him have a serious meltdown in a restaurant over the unavailability of macaroni and cheese, as predicted in the new segment, "Me in Two Weeks.")
Of course, Monday night's show was far meatier than that, with Dave's opening monologue taking gleeful shots at Jeb Bush's anti- same-sex marriage stance ("By the way, who's against same-family presidents?") and Mitt Romney's charity boxing bout against former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield ("Not the first time Mitt's been knocked out by a black guy"). "The weather in New York today was 68 and foggy," he cracked. "Oh, I'm sorry — that's me!"
The evening's Top 10 list was a lovely touch, with various staffers listing the "Top 10 Things I'll Miss About Working at the Late Show." Announcer Alan Kalter and bandleader Paul Shaffer handled the top two entries, with Kalter enthusing that "The taping time of the show provided a consistent, reliable alibi," and Shaffer wondering, "Now who will I pretend to laugh at?" Dave, who clearly enjoyed the ribbing, came over and personally thanked each participating staff member with handshakes and/or hugs. Whether that was the last time that we'll see any of them on the show (other than Shaffer, of course) is unclear; but if so, it was a pretty classy way for Dave to bid them all farewell.
From his first Letterman appearance in 1984 to his final one Monday night, Tom "America's Sweetheart" Hanks has always displayed great comedic chemistry with Dave. Fresh off the Florence, Italy set of Inferno, his latest film with director Ron Howard, a hyper Hanks — who earned extra pop culture points by dropping a reference to Eat My Dust, Howard's 1976 car chase flick — had the host in hysterics with his tale of dodging imaginary drones during filming. Even after the conversation had moved on to other topics, Dave kept doing his imitation of Hanks' imitation of Howard ("Drones! They're baaaaaack!")
While selfies with guests have become a regular "thing" during Letterman's pre-retirement home stretch, this time it was Hanks who whipped out a selfie stick to get the best possible angle. "They sell them all over Florence, which is the birthplace of the Renaissance," the movie star cracked.
After Hanks made his exit, Dave took a second to thank everyone "for another wonderful night at the Ed Sullivan Theater." Then he turned the spotlight over to Eddie Vedder, who closed the show with an energetic, string-breaking performance of "Better Man," from Pearl Jam's 1994 album Vitalogy. "Can't find a better man," Vedder sang — an appropriate sentiment for the occasion, and not just because the song's title rhymed with "Letterman."