David Letterman thanks Seth Meyers for reminding him it was Late Night's 40th anniversary

In his long and storied television career, David Letterman has never been reticent about needling show business types, even if (or especially if) he worked for them. So one might be forgiven for imagining that the 74-year-old Letterman would take a few potshots at this latest whippersnapper (48-year-old Seth Meyers) for having the temerity to still be sitting in Letterman’s old Late Night chair, metaphorically speaking. (Late Night With David Letterman shot in 30 Rockefeller Center’s studio 6A, while Meyers moved things up to 8G.)

So it was genuinely sort of sweet to see the snowy-bearded Letterman be so effusive about what Meyers has done with the old place, singling out both Meyers’ in-house 8G Band and his recurring “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” segment with Late Night writers Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel. Telling Meyers, “If I had that Amber and Jenny thing, I’d still be on the air,” Letterman expressed nothing but admiration for Meyers’ work in keeping the Late Night comedy train running, before deadpanning, “Well, somewhere.”

Of course, Letterman is still on TV—or at least on that newfangled “streaming” all the kids are talking about. Plus, as Meyers reminded everyone, he’s recently moved onto the YouTube, with the launch of a blessedly comprehensive archive of clips from both Late Night With David Letterman and The Late Show With David Letterman readily available for viewers nostalgic for the years when Dave was goofing around with NBC and CBS’ money for his own, and our, amusement.

Meyers noted how he’d spent the day reliving the time Letterman spent a week of Late Night featuring The World’s Largest Vase, complete with the record-holding receptacle’s stirring on-air plea for world peace. Letterman, while mocking the idea that the requisite late-night movie or TV clip ever lured one more viewer to any guest’s latest project, did seem to enjoy the “not funny, but representative” Late Night clip Meyers’ played of him putting three eager audience members through their paces in the 30 Rockefeller Plaza elevator races.

As for the momentous occasion for his visit back to his old, TV-redefining stomping grounds, Letterman explained how it was only Meyers’ call that reminded him that Tuesday’s show represented Late Night’s actual, to-the-night 40th anniversary. “Honest to goodness, if it weren’t for your kind invitation, I would not have known that this is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of what you now do,” noted Letterman, who also praised Meyers for weathering some nine months of at-home shows during the pandemic.

As Meyers noted, it was Letterman’s example of making do with what’s at hand (and of trusting an audience to appreciate a loopy recurring bit) that inspired him to get inventive with Late Night. As Letterman advised about overcoming obstacles (be they low budgets, tiny initial late-night viewership, network “pinheads,” or a global pandemic), “You don’t look at them as constraints as much as opportunities.” Like, for another example, realizing that sending your “taciturn” mother to Norway as Late Night’s official Olympics correspondent would be absolute and inimitable comic gold, with Dave explaining how the “ventriloquist act” of feeding his mom questions over the years actually brought them closer together, in a strange, and enduringly hilarious way.

Calling his general state during his time at Late Night one of “paralytic fear,” Letterman reminded everyone that his initial, morning show iteration of what would become Late Night was a resounding bomb. Noting how he’d “blown up” NBC’s morning schedule by replacing the usual game shows with, for example, segments where Monty Python’s Michael Palin teaches everyone how to crank their own sausages, Letterman told Meyers, “ you know it could be a while before they call your number again.” But call NBC did, with Letterman taking time to regale Meyers’ audience with the time that his recurring animal bit with zookeeper and perpetual foil Jack Hanna went very wrong thanks to an understandably pissed off beaver.

In the 1988 clip of the incident, the nip that the unwilling guest beaver doesn’t seem that bad, but, as Letterman told Meyers with raconteur’s glee, getting a beaver bite on the fleshy part of the hand between your thumb and index finger means a whole lot of blood. With the ever intrepid and unfortunate Hanna walking himself into a local ER after the show, Letterman noted that the sheer amount of red led everyone to imagine that the Columbus Zoo honcho had been shot. Plus, as Letterman explained, Hanna got a talking to from the cops, who reminded him that it was (and presumably still is) illegal to own a beaver in New York. Letterman feigned shock when Meyers revealed that Late Night no longer has a designated exotic animal guy, but maybe that’s for the best.