If you woke up this morning wondering if last night’s Late Show was actually a pizza- and cough syrup-induced fever dream, well, you weren’t alone. David Letterman’s fifth-to-last show was brilliantly, beautifully, casually weird; like the best Dave episodes of the past, it all seemed to make perfect sense at the time, yet left you quietly questioning your own sanity after the fact.
Was Paul Shaffer really dressed as the (old) Hamburglar? Did Dave really “jam” with Shaffer and the studio band by blowing into his hands to produce ocarina-like sounds as the cameras cut to a commercial break? Did Al Pacino really wander onto the set and ask to participate in the evening’s Top 10 list? (Answers: Sort of, Yes, and Yes — but he only wanted to read the numbers.)
True to form, Dave acted considerably calmer than most mortals would have been in the wake of Pacino’s surprise appearance. “How ya been, buddy?” he asked, passing Pacino a hastily-scribbled note, which the actor then read aloud. “Say hello to my little friend,” it said. “Ha!” cackled Dave. “That was good!”
The Top 10 list itself — “Top 10 Reasons Max Is So Mad” — wasn’t particularly golden, but it was enlivened considerably by Pacino’s dramatic reading of the numbers, some sly riffing between he and Dave about the meaning of “Low-T” (“That doesn’t apply to me,” Pacino scoffed) and the tense moment that occurred when the host read “Number Four” instead of letting Al do it. “”He took a little piece of something that was really nothing, and turned it into a command performance,” marveled the host, after Pacino gave him a farewell kiss. (Luckily for Dave, it wasn’t of the “I know it was you, Fredo” variety.)
Letterman was somewhat less enthusiastic about the surprise George Clooney had in store for him: Not 30 seconds into taking the guest chair, the Tomorrowland star handcuffed his wrist to Dave’s and threw away the key. “You’re not going anywhere, David Letterman,” Clooney insisted. “George, is this something left over from the bachelor days?” Letterman shot back.
There they were: Just two men talking about married life, human rights and Julian Assange while handcuffed together — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Despite his concerns for his circulation, Dave seemed at his most uncomfortable when Clooney attempted to lavish him with praise; at one point, he deftly interrupted his guest’s effusive flow by taking an us-ie of the two of them with his cell phone. “Look,” he said, showing the audience the photo. “It’s George and his grandfather!”
Things got even more surreal when a rumpled Tom Waits wandered out, and Clooney — still cuffed to Letterman — moved from the guest seat to the corner of the host’s desk. “I’ve never been in this situation before, except for in jail,” remarked the grizzled singer-songwriter. While Clooney stared off into the distance, Waits offered Letterman some gnomic advice about retirement (“Just be glad you’re not in the tire business. You can’t retire from the tire business; it sounds like you’re signing up for more time.”). He also rhapsodized about attending a recent “Free The Glutens” rally in New York City. “My wife is doing their case,” Clooney deadpanned. “They’ve never had a country of their own,” lamented Waits.
Waits then performed his elegiac new song “Take One Last Look,” which in the context of the show could have easily been subtitled “(At George and Dave Handcuffed Together).” Unless they can’t find that key, in which case we’ll be getting a Clooney-tastic reprise tonight.