David Letterman Makes Surprise Appearance at Paul Shaffer's Vegas Show

David Letterman and Paul Shaffer perform at Cleopatra's Barge at Caesars Palace on September 6, 2018 - Publicity-H 2018
Denise Truscello/WireImage

The former 'Late Show' host talked about his old boss, embattled CBS chief Leslie Moonves, as well as his son Harry and the particulars of a 33-year friendship with Shaffer.

Thursday was a night of major star power inside the tiny, 180-person-capacity Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace as legendary Late Show With David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer opened the latest installment of his monthly Las Vegas residency. The 90-minute-plus Paul Shaffer's The Shaf-Shifters lounge show welcomed a roster of special guests that included Letterman, Shaffer’s former boss, who did 15 minutes of stand-up; Kenny Loggins, on a night off from his own headlining gig at the Wynn this week; and Randy Bachman of Canadian rock band Bachman Turner Overdrive.

“This is show business friendship of the highest order and it goes beyond show business friendship into an actual friendship,” Shaffer said in his introduction of the heavily bearded onetime late-night host. “This guy, I gotta say over the course of 33 years that I worked for him night after night on NBC and then on CBS, he has become my best friend in the world and he is here tonight.”

And then the words were uttered that no one in attendance thought they would ever hear. “Please welcome to the stage here at Cleopatra’s Barge, Mr. David Letterman,” said Shaffer, who also composed the music for the comedy legend's Netflix show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.

Letterman took the stage in jeans, a white long-sleeve T-shirt, snakeskin boots and his now trademark beard — having flown that morning from his home in New Jersey to Las Vegas.

“Yes, I am Amish,” he said before effortlessly launching into their signature banter and resurrecting a few of the standard musical interludes from the Late Show.

“Paul Shaffer and I met years ago at a Scientology mixer,” he said. “Let me convey to you how lucky you are to be here. This man did for me for 33 years something that I will never be able to repay — what a friend — you know he is a musical great because all of the musical greats know Paul and have worked with Paul and that is how you know you are dealing with a great musician.”

He then told a story about Shaffer and the now-embattled CBS CEO Leslie Moonves.

“I don’t want to embarrass Paul, but this is the kind of friend Paul is...18 years ago I had emergency heart surgery.… Paul Shaffer hears about this and the very first thing he does, he picks up the telephone and calls the man who ran the network at the time Les Moonves and says, ‘I can do the show alone.’ That’s the kind of guy he is.”

The 71-year-old also talked about his 14-year-old-son, Harry, who started high school Thursday as well.

”When it gets to be this time of the year I am really melancholy…and I am here with my old friend Paul and I am feeling much much better,” Letterman said.

Letterman urged Shaffer to get into some Vegas classics, noting that a lounge gig in Sin City was seemingly always in the cards.

“[I asked him] ‘Paul, when this is all finished what, do you want to do,’ [and he would say] ‘I want to go to Las Vegas and play the piano,’” Letterman quipped.

“If there is one phrase that is synonymous with Elvis Presley it is ‘taking care of business’…he had it on his airplane and his jewelry,” Letterman said, asking Shaffer to play the Bachman Turner Overdrive classic “Taking Care of Business,” in honor of Presley.

In return, Shaffer surprised Letterman with lead singer Randy Bachman and a live rendition of the song. Letterman and Bachman sat back down together to watch the rest of the show.

Shaffer finished up with his rendition of "Soul Man" in tribute to the Blues Brothers, for whom he was musical director, and a raucous whirl of “It’s Raining Men," which he wrote with Paul Jabara in 1979 and calls “his only hit song.”

As the night ended, Letterman and Shaffer walked out the front door of Cleopatra’s Barge and into the casino, surprising passersby with an only-in-Vegas moment.