I’ve posted this before, but indulge me (or skip it). This is the monologue from the Late Show with David Letterman on September 17, 2001, his first night back on the air after September 11th.
(cold opening and applause)
Thank you very much.
Welcome to the Late Show. This is our first show on the air since New York and Washington were attacked, and I need to ask your patience and indulgence here because I want to say a few things, and believe me, sadly, I’m not going to be saying anything new, and in the past week others have said what I will be saying here tonight far more eloquently than I’m equipped to do.
But, if we are going to continue to do shows, I just need to hear myself talk for a couple of minutes, and so that’s what I’m going to do here.
It’s terribly sad here in New York City. We’ve lost five thousand fellow New Yorkers, and you can feel it. You can feel it. You can see it. It’s terribly sad. Terribly, terribly sad. And watching all of this, I wasn’t sure that I should be doing a television show, because for twenty years we’ve been in the city, making fun of everything, making fun of the city, making fun of my hair, making fun of Paul… well…
So, to come to this circumstance that is so desperately sad, I don’t trust my judgment in matters like this, but I’ll tell you the reason that I am doing a show and the reason I am back to work is because of Mayor Giuliani.
Very early on, after the attack, and how strange does it sound to invoke that phrase, “after the attack?”, Mayor Giuliani encouraged us—and here lately implored us—to go back to our lives, go on living, continue trying to make New York City the place that it should be. And because of him, I’m here tonight.
And I just want to say one other thing about Mayor Giuliani: As this began, and if you were like me, and in many respects, God, I hope you’re not. But in this one small measure, if you’re like me, and you’re watching and you’re confused and depressed and irritated and angry and full of grief, and you don’t know how to behave and you’re not sure what to do and you don’t really… because we’ve never been through this before… all you had to do at any moment was watch the Mayor. Watch how this guy behaved. Watch how this guy conducted himself. Watch what this guy did. Listen to what this guy said. Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage.
And it’s very simple… there is only one requirement for any of us, and that is to be courageous, because courage, as you might know, defines all other human behavior. And I believe, because I’ve done a little of this myself, pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing. He’s an amazing man, and far, far better than we could have hoped for. To run the city in the midst of this obscene chaos and attack, and also demonstrate human dignity… my God… who can do that? That’s a pretty short list.
The twenty years we’ve been here in New York City, we’ve worked closely with police officers and the fire fighters and…
…and fortunately, most of us don’t really have to think too much about what these men and women do on a daily basis, and the phrase New York’s finest and New York’s bravest, you know, did it mean anything to us personally, firsthand? Well, maybe, hopefully, but probably not. But boy, it means something now, doesn’t it? They put themselves in harm’s way to protect people like us, and the men and women, the fire fighters and the police department who are lost are going to be missed by this city for a very, very long time. And I, and my hope for myself and everybody else, not only in New York but everywhere, is that we never, ever take these people for granted… absolutely never take them for granted.
I just want to go through this, and again, forgive me if this is more for me than it is for people watching, I’m sorry, but uh, I just, I have to go through this, I’m…
The reason we were attacked, the reason these people are dead, these people are missing and dead, and they weren’t doing anything wrong, they were living their lives, they were going to work, they were traveling, they were doing what they normally do. As I understand it (and my understanding of this is vague at best), another smaller group of people stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings. And we’re told that they were zealots, fueled by religious fervor… religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any Goddamned sense? Whew.
I’ll tell you about a thing that happened last night. There’s a town in Montana by the name of Choteau. It’s about a hundred miles south of the Canadian border. And I know a little something about this town. It’s 1,600 people. 1,600 people. And it’s an ag-business community, which means farming and ranching. And Montana’s been in the middle of a drought for… I don’t know… three years? And if you’ve got no rain, you can’t grow anything. And if you can’t grow anything, you can’t farm, and if you can’t grow anything, you can’t ranch, because the cattle don’t have anything to eat, and that’s the way life is in a small town. 1,600 people.
Last night at the high school auditorium in Choteau, Montana, they had a rally, home of the Bulldogs, by the way… they had a rally for New York City. And not just a rally for New York City, but a rally to raise money… to raise money for New York City. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the… the spirit of the United States, then I can’t help you. I’m sorry.
And I have one more thing to say, and then, thank God, Regis is here, so we have something to make fun of.
If you didn’t believe it before, and it’s easy to understand how you might have been skeptical on this point, if you didn’t believe it before, you can absolutely believe it now… New York City is the greatest city in the world.
We’re going to try and feel our way through this, and we’ll just see how it goes… take it a day at a time. We’re lucky enough tonight to have two fantastic representatives of this town, Dan Rather and Regis Philbin, and we’ll be right back.