Three years ago tonight, David Letterman took the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater for the final time. After more than 6,000 telecasts spanning 33 years, the iconic 68-year-old former weatherman from Indianapolis called it quits, having passed mentor Johnny Carson as the longest serving late night host in history. The studio was packed with guests, including Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Martin. TV Guide ranked Letterman among the 50 Greatest TV Stars of all time. With a net worth of $400 million and dozens of awards on his mantle, Letterman rides into the sunset as the most famous of all late night comedians. There will be no more Top Ten lists, and according to Letterman, no more Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theater . . . ever again. He told Jane Pauley, host of CBS Sunday Morning, “I don’t think I’ll ever be back in this building again. Honestly, I think it would just be too difficult for me emotionally, because I just don’t want to come back and see others living our lives.”
For a generation, Americans have debated the issues that affect humankind: Coke or Pepsi, Ginger or Mary Ann, and Leno or Letterman? The correct answers, of course, are Coke, Ginger, and Leno. I admit it. I wasn’t a big Letterman guy. But whether you liked him or not, you have to give him credit for one thing. For a third of a century he made people laugh. There is something to be said for that alone. Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible, said, “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). King David celebrated, “Our mouths were filled with laughter” (Psalm 126:2). And Job was promised, “God will yet fill your mouth with laughter” (Job 8:23). In 1958 there was a television show called Make Me Laugh. It was reprised in 1979. The premise was that contestants would sit there and try to keep from laughing when comics got in their face and did zany things. Through the years, sitcoms have impacted American culture. We all have our favorites, such as I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Happy Days, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, M.A.S.H., Friends, and Modern Family.
Why all the shows? Why all the late night comedians? Why all the comedy clubs, popping up around the country? The answer is simple. Laughter is good medicine. Did you know the Bible mentions laughter 5,621 times? You could read a different verse on laughter every day for 15 years without reading the same verse twice. That is because laughter matters to God. Laughter makes a bad day good and a good day better. That is why, since February 1, 1982, millions of Americans have stayed up late to watch a Midwesterner named Harry Joseph Letterman opine on the issues of the day. For that we are grateful. Thanks for the memories, David Letterman. We will miss your Top Ten lists. We will miss you. Thanks for making us laugh.