10. Bill Murray
The last one is never very funny. That’s true of Top 10 jokes; that’s true of talk-show episodes in general. Last night’s grand Late Show With David Letterman finale was a strange, disjointed mix of mawkishness, nonchalance, and way too many commercials, with no guests save the blockbuster Top 10 list, a handful of random old clips for padding—if you loved the Taco Bell drive-thru bit, don’t forget that the “She’s gone already, chief” guy got a memorable encore—and only a few killer jokes for the road. For whatever reason I laughed the hardest at the dumb monologue aside “June is the time to go to Las Vegas,” but then again dumb asides were always the whole point.
9. Peyton Manning
So yeah, even if you hold Letterman in high regard for nostalgic reasons (Velcro! Rice Krispies!), last night was likely the first time you’d sat through his whole hour-long show live in a decade or two. (The last time watching a talk show in full was truly necessary was Conan’s last week at NBC, when there was a legitimate 10-percent chance he’d say fuck it and burn down the studio on camera.) In the 21st century at least, Letterman’s been unnecessary by design. It’s on really late! The commercial breaks take forever! There are long dead patches even when Dave’s onscreen! Last night’s ultimate reward: the Foo Fighters! You’re totally fine absorbing the highlights in five minutes the morning after, and in terms of late-night talk shows anymore, that’s really the whole point.
8. Steve Martin
The lament among those who still care about this stuff at all is that with Letterman gone, now we’re entirely at the mercy of the Jimmies and a defanged Conan and whoever replaced my beloved Craig Ferguson, all of whom are focused entirely on next-day viral hijinks to the point where watching their shows on actual televisions at length in the dead of night is like spying on rehearsing wannabe YouTube superstars. And that’s the first 3o minutes; the celebrity interviews that make up the back half are brutal and interminable no matter who’s at the desk and who’s on the couch, and the only exception ever was ... well, Dave, and then mostly when it felt like he was actively trying to kill his guests, be the target Paris Hilton or John McCain, Cher or Rod Blagojevich (“Well you’re on in the worst way, believe me” is probably Dave’s single funniest line ever). That contempt, which made him a suspect human but an all-time-classic Man of Television, is the guy’s true legacy.
7. Alec Baldwin
I mean, it’s either that or an extreme nonchalance that constituted its own sort of contempt, a charming half-assedness that played best back in the slacker ‘90s, when Letterman could inadvertently come across as the Pavement of Late-Night or whatever, both more charming and more noble for his refusal to ever really Try. That he lost to Jay Leno in every sense is now a badge of honor. More than anyone save Kurt Cobain, Dave made sardonic disdain cool and desirable; a lot of the people on your Twitter timeline right now dismissing him as an old fart not worth caring about at all are too young to realize who mainstreamed that sort of condescending disregard in the first place.
6. Tina Fey
Or maybe you just think he’s a fuckin’ creep, which is entirely, brutally valid. Letterman was not patient zero of what Amy Schumer recently diagnosed as Thirsty Talk-Show-Host Disease, but he probably perfected that art, too, and that’s before you get to the whole adultery-extortion scandal thing. The night in 2009 when he told a live studio audience about that is incredible; I encourage you to watch this again in full. If you can’t stand him anymore, just focus on the crowd: their confusion and palpable discomfort, laughing nervously at what they only gradually realize isn’t a joke at all. Their burst of applause at “I have had sex with women who work on this show,” as Letterman sits there with a pained look on his face ... that’s the best and worst moment in the history of this entire medium. Best in terms of lurid entertainment value; worst in terms of absolutely everything else. It was fantastic television and terrible for humanity. We’re probably making enough of those tradeoffs already.
5. Chris Rock
And yeah, that too. If anyone can breathe life into a format this moribund while still adhering somewhat to its form, it’s Stephen Colbert; for those clamoring for Chelsea Handler or Jessica Williams or Schumer herself or whoever else to get one of these plum late-night gigs, comfort yourself in the knowledge that they’re not so plum anymore, that someone young and vibrant enough to deserve them is better off not having to deal with the form at all. To repeat: When’s the last time you watched a full episode of one of these shows in real time? When’s the last time you enjoyed it? Don’t forget this is CBS, which other than The Good Wife (usually great, currently bullshit) is loaded up with CSI’s and NCIS’s and that cop show where Tom Selleck reads tomorrow’s weather report directly to your grandparents. In terms of relevance or Cool Factor, this is not exactly a coveted gig anymore. Losing this battle probably helps win the war.
4. Barbara Walters
But I’ll still miss Letterman dearly, even if my love was nostalgic and mostly given in absentia, even if only for that aforementioned air of inimitable scorn, for the ways the show was at its best when a wayward guest crossed that border from We’re Laughing With You to We’re Laughing At You, like Justin Bieber, like Farrah Fawcett, like Joaquin Phoenix (which was a hoax I guess, so maybe that’s cheating, but “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight” is still Dave’s second-best-ever line). And like poor Barbara up there, who missed her mark so badly I worried she was going to fall offstage. That danger, that risk of total humiliation—given the chumminess of the surviving late-night competitors who mostly steamrolled him, that quality, too, finally dies with Dave. Which might make you sigh with relief, but it’ll definitely make you turn off the TV and go the fuck to sleep already, content to let a website like this one tell you in the morning if you missed anything.
3. Jim Carrey
So this was definitely last night’s funniest Top 10 joke.
2. Julia Louis-Dreyfus
And this was the meanest, which in Letterman’s universe has always been far more important.
1. Jerry Seinfeld
But this was the truest. So long, Dave: We couldn’t have done it without you, but now, thanks to you, we totally can.
Rob Harvilla is Deadspin’s culture editor. Yes, there is one. He’s on Twitter.
The Concourse is Deadspin’s home for culture/food/whatever coverage. Follow us at @DSconcourse.