1. Paul Shaffer
The most visible member of the Letterman universe outside of Dave, the bespectacled bandleader has never really gotten his due. Sure, Paul Shaffer is an ever-joking, musically dexterous presence. But he's also a sublime mixture of Johnny Carson's sidekicks, combining Doc Severinsen's showmanship and Ed McMahon's backslapping shtick, with a twist of postmodern irony thrown in for good measure. Shaffer's genius is that he's both straight man and jester, providing whichever foil is needed at that moment. When Letterman's going off on a funny rant at his desk, Shaffer hangs back, adding just a bit of color in the margins. And when the host is flailing through a lame opening monologue, Shaffer's bizarre non-sequiturs have a habit of saving the day.
The two men couldn't be more different — Dave is proudly anti-glitz, while Paul is a well-connected insider — but the confluence of their two temperaments has given Late Night and Late Show its crucial glue. Behind those weird sunglasses is the mind of an underappreciated comic sensibility. We don't know how we're gonna make it without Letterman. But we'll really miss Shaffer, too.