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When David Letterman finally went off the air after more than thirty years of churning out late night television, millions of people paid their respects to the legend. For so many, he was an institution, but for many inside Hollywood, he was even more. Over the years, he gave tons of comedians a platform and some their first real entry into show business. He offered a platform, and he was always very generous about trying to help the next generation. Chief among those comedians he offered a chance to was Chris Elliott, which is why decades after his first appearance, he broke down and cried when he heard Letterman was retiring.
I was in Toronto shooting I think the first season of Schitt's Creek. And I was in my hotel room and I heard it on the news and I swear to god I cried. Because it was the end of an era for me. I met my wife at Letterman, I started my career there, I met my best friend [and writing partner] Adam Resnick there. Dave gave me the job, gave me the income to, at a very young age, to set up a household, to own a home, to get married, to have kids. I was in my mid-20s. When Dave announced that, I knew that eventually that would happen, but it really hit me emotionally. I just felt like, wow, all those years there and everything that he's done for me is over. And it's not, really. When my dad died, Dave and I were emailing and texting back and forth. He had me down in D.C. when he got his Mark Twain award. So I know he's still there and he's certainly there in my mind and that if I ever---and I don't know what it would be---but if I ever needed him, for advice or something, I know I could count on him. I know as long as he's alive---when he dies that's going to be even more devastating. Adam and I, everything we do, we wonder, would Dave think that's good? Would Dave laugh at that? Would Dave be in approval of that? I think most people who start young in the business and have a mentor like that feel the same way.
David Letterman, particularly in his early years, cultivated a reputation for eccentricity and unpredictability, but even amidst the chaos he brought to late night television, he was also very loyal. He really liked certain guests and certain performers, and those he did like found their way onto his show a lot. Bill Murray was the first guest on both Late Night and The Late Show. He had Regis Philbin on more than 100 times, and of course, he delighted in some of the stranger voices he put on the air, most memorably Larry 'Bud' Melman, Harvey Pekar and Elliott, who he let run wild, greenlighting recurring characters as ridiculous as Guy Under The Seats and letting him do weird celebrity impressions. In the end, it mattered less how famous you were and more how much talent Letterman personally thought you had.
If there was ever any doubt as to how much Elliott meant to Letterman and to both of his late night shows, watch the closing montage of the final episode of his show embedded below. There are a few favorites who seem to show up over and over again, and Chris Elliott is one of them.
As for the future, you can catch Elliott on Schitt's Creek, which despite some initial middling reviews and episodes airing on an American network not everyone has heard of (Pop) has started generating a cult following and some real buzz. As for Letterman, you can catch him over at Netflix.