Conan O’Brien bid farewell to David Letterman with a touching, hilarious monologue on Conan Wednesday night, and later urged his viewers to change the channel and watch the longtime host’s final episode of The Late Show.
“There are no words that can encapsulate the sheer magnitude of what Dave has achieved these past 33 years,” O’Brien said. “It cannot be done. He has been the North Star for me and every comic of my generation.”
While O’Brien tried to explain Letterman’s influence in an essay for Entertainment Weekly, on Conan he recalled a crucial moment in his career: In 1994, he was four months into his new gig as host of NBC’s Late Night — Letterman’s old job — and floundering. The show was riddled with poor ratings and bad reviews, and O’Brien cracked that his face had broken out for the first time since high school; at that point, he felt he was destined for cancellation.
And then, Letterman asked to be a guest. “Dave wasn’t just the biggest late-night star at that time, he was the biggest thing on television,” O’Brien said. “He didn’t go on other people’s shows. It was like the Beatles asking Maury Povich if they could stop by and sing a few tunes.”
O’Brien credited that 1994 appearance with saving his late-night career and added, “If you have liked any silly or stupid thing that I’ve done on television over 22 years, you must know it probably never would have happened if it weren’t for Dave. At one of the lowest points of my life, when I was a 30-year-old national punchline, Dave, for reasons I still don’t really understand, completely rescued me.”
O’Brien closed out his monologue by urging viewers, when the time came, to switch over to The Late Show (adding, “I want you to record this show and watch in a few days and just focus on the commercials”).
As promised, a flashing message, “TURN ON DAVE,” appeared later in the program. And once O’Brien, Andy Richter and guest Patton Oswalt were sure everyone was gone, mayhem ensued. O’Brien flung the items off his desk, Oswalt laid down on it and the host gave his guest a full body massage.
“Oh, Dave, what a legacy,” cracked Richter. “Look what you’ve inspired!”