On Wednesday night, David Letterman's final appearance as host of The Late Show became one for the record books. Oodles of celebrities, including Tina Fey and Barack Obama, appeared to bid adieu to the late night legend who has been on the air for more than 30 years. After all this time, Wednesday night proved that the 68-year-old has still got it. Amidst the many montages and clips, there was one that stood out as the definitive Late Show sketch — the time David Letterman worked at a Taco Bell drive-thru. The segment aired on June 17, 1996, and it became an instant classic and influenced the way comedy was made for decades after.
When looking at the landscape of late night comedy, it's hard to think of a show in which the host doesn't come out from behind their desk to interact with every day people. Conan O'Brien has done it for years — perhaps the most iconic segment being Triumph the Insult Comic Dog working at Chicago's Weiners Circle with Jack McBrayer. Jimmy Kimmel takes his comedy to the people with "The Pedestrian Question," and the results are instantly viral. Letterman's "Taco Bell" feature was proof that the public is often a lot funnier than Hollywood's biggest celebrities.
Letterman's trip to Taco Bell was iconic, it was what was referred to in the '90s as a "water cooler conversation." It was the thing that everyone at the office would chit chat about the next day around the company's water cooler, because everyone saw it, and thus everyone had to talk about it. (I have just aged myself, here.) It was viral before "viral" was even a thing.
The looks on people's faces as Letterman lovingly toys with them are priceless, the woman asking if he's Howard Stern is pure comedic gold, and the reaction of "She's gone already chief," is absolute perfection. I'm so glad the producers decided to include this sketch in Letterman's farewell episode, because it's such an important part of his legacy — he made comedy that was mischievous, smart, and so good that it made everyone wonder "How did he ever think of that?" Watch this clip, and marvel at just how funny the talk show host is when he's not on script, and is just being his natural comedic self.
Here's an excerpt from last night.
Here is the original clip in full.
And here is how Taco Bell still feels about it.
Thanks Letterman, I'll take an extra side of queso.
Image: Late Show With David Letterman/YouTube