If you needed a little perspective on just how long David Letterman has been casting his colossus-like shadow over the landscape of late night television, his two guests on Tuesday night certainly put his lengthy tenure in context. Put it this way: In 1991, when Adam Sandler made his Saturday Night Live debut, Letterman had already been slinging the after-hours laughs for nine years. And on January 20, 1993, when President Bill Clinton took his first oath of office, Letterman’s reign was just 10 days away from reaching its 11-year mark.
So, yeah, Dave’s been at this for longer than even he probably cares to remember, and — if you were a child of the Nineties or earlier — it was hard to watch the host, Clinton and Sandler on Tuesday night’s show without feeling a little long in the tooth, as well. As Sandler put it in his specially-written farewell song to Dave, “Seems like yesterday when I was 14/And you looked like a freshman at Ball State/Now your hairpiece is full of grey/And I’m fucking 48.” (Yes, it was bleeped.)
For his part, though, Dave didn’t seem too interested in reflecting on the slow parade of years. “I have six days left doing the show,” he cracked during Tuesday’s opening monologue. “Boy, I sure hope I get that call from the governor!”
There was no reprieve from Andrew Cuomo last night, but he did get a visit from President Clinton, who came on to the tune of “Harlem Nocturne,” a jazz standard he revealed he’d always wanted to play with the Letterman band. (Paul Shaffer had earlier recounted his backstage run-in with one of the president’s advance team, who’d asked him, “You work here?” “We can’t get off the air fast enough,” laughed Dave.)
Dave played it pretty straight during Clinton’s segment, asking the former Commander-in-Chief about his love of the saxophone, his experience as a new grandparent, and the various accomplishments of the Clinton Foundation. But he couldn’t resist throwing in a question about Hilary’s odds of becoming the next President of the United States. “Put it in a percentage,” Dave asked. “What’s the chance of you moving back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?” “If she wins the election,” Clinton responded, “chances are 100 percent — if I’m asked!”
Dave’s chat with Adam Sandler was equally low-key, if (understandably) far less concerned with global affairs. But their conversation was really just the preamble to Sandler’s farewell serenade, which may well be the funniest and most heartfelt thing the actor/writer/producer has come up with in years. “If you like gapped-tooth men in double breasted suits/ He’s number one on your Top 10 list,” sang Sandler, who didn’t let his emotional state get in the way of rhyming “Letterman” with “No one makes my mother wetter than.” (“HEY!” howled Dave in protest.)
Sandler’s song imagined Dave speeding away to retirement in a Ferrari filled with stolen office supplies, but held out hope that the cops would “pull you over and drag you back here for 30 more years.” Though it’s surely not a hope that Dave shares, he was beaming when he walked out to thank Sandler and give him a big hug. Given the choice between a tearful goodbye or a goofy tribute song, Dave would clearly take the latter every time.