On February 1, David Letterman’s YouTube channel was relaunched and reimagined to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the premiere of NBC’s Late Night. To mark Letterman’s decades on television, the channel has returned with more than 100 moments — literally hours’ worth of clips — from across Letterman’s years on both CBS and NBC plus several newly produced interviews with staff members reflecting on favorite moments and behind-the-scenes insights, as well as themed compilations. And the channel has been adding to the pile daily, with the promise of more produced features on the horizon.
It’s a lot of stuff! Should you need help making your way through this gold, this rolling list can be your right-hand man — the Paul Shaffer to your Dave, if you will — getting you directly to the best of the best.
Now, from the home office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, here’s the Top Ten Videos From the Letterman YouTube Channel (So Far):
10. Dave Works the Taco Bell Drive-Thru (1996)
In 1996, when the late-night wars were at a fever pitch, Letterman took a break from it all and spent a day manning a Taco Bell drive-through in this legendary remote segment. The clip flies by at a remarkable pace as Letterman “helps” customer after customer with dozens of particularly unhelpful methods. He has them run errands, asks them for hairnets, and offers to let them stick their heads under Pepsi machines (one man bravely takes him up on it). One driver’s segment-closing sentence, ending with the word “chief,” proves that sometimes the only prop a comedian needs is an unsuspecting public.
9. Staff Favorite Moments: Steve O’Donnell
Steve O’Donnell was a head writer for the majority of Late Night’s run, and if you’re looking for a quick Letterman fix, O’Donnell’s video cycles through multiple classic moments from the show’s first decade. You’ll see what became of a pitch from future Simpsons writer George Meyer that read simply “humidifier versus dehumidifier.” You’ll catch a rare glimpse of Letterman backstage at 30 Rockefeller. And you’ll see the classic after-school special “They Took My Show Away,” also available in full on the channel.
8. Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler Brawl On Set (1982)
How do you talk about Letterman’s early years without talking about this moment from comedian-wrestler Andy Kaufman and just-wrestler Jerry Lawler? Students of comedy (or viewers of the 1999 film Man on the Moon) already know the basics: Kaufman, doing a stint as a professional-wrestling heel, pushes Lawler a little too far and gets slapped out of his chair. What follows is a profanity-laden rant unlike any other that remained unmatched — at least until Madonna showed up.
7. Norm Macdonald’s Final Stand-Up Performance (2015)
The late Norm Macdonald was the last stand-up comedian to perform a set on the Late Show before it went off the air in 2015. This clip would be notable just for the incredible performance Macdonald delivers as he shares his thoughts on the country that poses the biggest threat to the world. But then the usually stoic Norm closes his set with an incredibly heartfelt tribute to Letterman, delivering a joke that he was lucky enough to see him perform as a young boy in Toronto, before being embraced by a clearly touched Dave.
6. Top Ten Stupid Pet Tricks
From the earliest days of Letterman’s show, animals were a major source of laughs. Most famously, this took the form of the program’s recurring segment “Stupid Pet Tricks.” This compilation features ten of the best stupid pet tricks to appear on the show: dogs, horses, rabbits, and ducks all get in on the act. Some tricks are funny, some cute, and some genuinely impressive. At least one is kind of shocking, but they’re all stupid.
5. Billy Eichner and Dave Play “Celebrity Child or Kentucky Derby Winner?” (2014)
Even in 2014, after more than 30 years on television, the audience was still able to learn new things about Letterman. In this particular case, we learn that he really enjoys being screamed at. (Okay, maybe we already learned that from Alan Kalter.) In this clip, Eichner brings a game from his show Billy on the Street. Initially, Eichner dials it back a little, but before long he’s screaming “NO, THAT’S PAUL RUDD’S KID!” like they’re standing on a corner in Midtown Manhattan.
4. Dave’s Mom Reports on the 1994 Winter Olympics (1994)
The 1994 Winter Olympics were notable for many reasons, including the Nancy Kerrigan–Tonya Harding drama — but perhaps more importantly, Letterman’s extremely Midwestern mother, Dorothy Letterman, was there reporting on the action for The Late Show. On a live satellite linkup, she chuckles politely at many of Dave’s jokes, interviews then–First Lady Hillary Clinton, and is generally just the sweetest as she reports on how cold Norway is.
3. The Story of Late Night Bumpers
Before Late Night, the bumper — the image you see as a show goes to and comes back from commercials — was a bit of an afterthought. On Saturday Night Live, it’s a standard headshot of that week’s host (a tradition that has continued, though several different photographs are used in the modern era), and over on Carson, there was the phrase “More to Come” alongside an image of a cowboy, Shirley Temple, or some other wholesome thing. On Late Night, Bob Pook, Edd Hall, and this video’s narrator, Marc Karzen, created something new: beautifully photographed images of Late Night logos meshed with New York iconography. This video takes you behind the scenes of their creation and showcases a number of graphics went a long way to setting the tone across every second Late Night was on the air.
2. Casey Kasem’s Top Ten Numbers (1993)
There are thousands of “Top Ten” lists from over the course of the show’s history, but this particular one from 1993 does a lot with very little. It’s absurdist, it’s meta, it’s anti-comedy, it features a celebrity cameo from Casey Kasem, and it demonstrates how one can get big laughs with ten of the most basic words.
1. Larry “Bud” Melman Welcomes Visitors at NYC’s Port Authority (1983)
Are you having a rough day? Allow us to suggest that you watch this delightful moment from Late Night in March 1983. Letterman has dispatched the show mascot and lovable oddball Larry “Bud” Melman (Calvert DeForest) to greet visitors with questions, catchphrases, and hot towels. But what really makes this clip special is the pure joy that Letterman experiences as the segment goes further and further off the rails. Obviously, there was some expectation that Larry’s awkwardness would lead to comedy, but surely no one was anticipating this.