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- Nothing—believe me—nothing is more satisfying to me personally than getting a great idea and then beatin' it to death.
- Late Night with David Letterman (5 March 1993).
- We're told that they were zealots fueled by religious fervour…religious fervour and if you live to be a thousand years old will that make any sense to you? Will that make any goddamn sense?
- During his first show after the September 11th attacks (17 September 2001).
- In My Pants!
- The Wahoo Gazette (30 October 2002).
- I may not be smart enough to debate you point-for-point on this, but I have the feeling about 60% of what you say is crap.
- To Bill O'Reilly, in discussion about the supposed War on Christmas, as quoted in "In Letterman appearance, O'Reilly repeated false claim that school changed 'Silent Night' lyrics", Media Matters for America, (4 January 2006).
- Now all of us can talk to the NSA—just by dialing any number.
- On the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program, on The Late Show with David Letterman, monologue (25 January 2006).
- Hey, John, I got a question! You need a ride to the airport?
- The Late Show with David Letterman (24 September 2008), while watching a live feed of Katie Couric interviewing with John McCain in the CBS studio; McCain had just canceled his scheduled appearance on Letterman's show that evening, telling him he needed to return to Washington immediately and deal with the economic crisis, quoted in "The David Letterman-John McCain smackdown" by Gary Susman at Popwatch (25 September 2009).
- Nice job…what the hell is U2 supposed to play?
- How long have you been a black man?
- To U.S. President Barack Obama, after he had responded to a question on whether he thought racism was fueling criticisms of him with the comment "First of all, I think it's important to realize that I was actually black before the election.", as quoted in "Obama Takes On Letterman" by Michael D. Shear, in The Washington Post (22 September 2009).
- Mia Hamm: So we walk in to the sorority house and they're (their families and friends) just ripped. I mean they're going nuts.
David Letterman: Wow I like the sound of this already; the female soccer team in the sorority house. Noow we're gettin' somewhere.
- 8th August 1996
- David Letterman: Earlier today, the man who owns this network, Leslie Moonves—he and I have had a relationship for years and years and years—and we have had this conversation in the past, and we agreed that we would work together on this circumstance and the timing of this circumstance. And I phoned him just before the program, and I said, "Leslie, it's been great, you've been great, the network has been great, but I'm retiring."
Paul Shaffer: This is—really?
David Letterman: Yep.
Paul Shaffer: This is—this is—you actually did this?
David Letterman: Yes, I did.
[dead silence in the studio followed by nervous laughter from the audience]
Paul Shaffer: Well—do I have a minute to call my accountant, because…I, uh…
[Dave cracks up]
David Letterman: I just want to reiterate my thanks for the support from the network, all of the people who have worked here, all of the people in the theatre, all the people on the staff, everybody at home. Thank you very much. And what this means now, is that Paul and I can be married.
[uproarious laughter and applause as wedding chimes play]
David Letterman: So we don't have the timing of this precisely down, I think it will be at least a year or so. But sometime in the not too distant future—2015 for the love of God, in fact, Paul and I will be wrapping things up and taking a hike.
[studio audience goes wild, gives him a standing ovation]
David Letterman: Thank you, thanks everybody. All right, thanks very much.
- On announcing his retirement, quoted in Here’s what happened the moment David Letterman announced his retirement (transcript + video) by Emily Yahr, in "The Washington Post" (3 April 2014).
- All right, that's pretty much all I got. The only thing I have left to do, for the last time on a television program: Thank you and good night.
- Final sign-off at end of final show, Late Night with David Letterman (20 May 2015).
- It's interesting about life. You learn things over that you already learned. And then you forget, because you're drawn to the mundane so you can't be sucked into the reality, the drama, and the ugliness that can be provided by life. So, you're drawn toward the mundane.
- During his appearance on the The Drew Barrymore Show, 22 February 2021.