08/23/2011 at 07:00 AM EDT
Returning to the air Monday night for the first time since he received a death threat from a jihadist
, David Letterman let fly with a barrage of one-liners that may not please the would-be terrorist but certainly got his audience laughing.
"We have a great audience night in and night out, but, honestly, tonight you mean a lot to me," Letterman, 64, told the crowd inside the Ed Sullivan Theater as the host opened his Late Show
monologue. "You people are more than an audience tonight, really. You're more like a human shield."
Letterman then blamed his slightly tardy arrival on the fact that he was backstage "talking to the guy from CBS. We were going through the CBS life-insurance policy to see if I was covered for jihad."
Last week, an anti-Semitic rant, posted on the Shumukh al-Islam Web forum, demanded that Letterman – who is Protestant – must be punished for joking about Al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri, who was killed during a U.S. strike in Pakistan.
News reports say that security at the Ed Sullivan Theater was stepped up for Monday's show, and will be for the foreseeable future.
"You're not going to believe what happened," Letterman said on the air. "A guy, a radical extremist, threatened to cut my tongue out. I wish I had a nickel for every time a guy has threatened that. I think the first time was during the Academy Awards."
Letterman frequently refers to the time he hosted the Oscars in 1995, and bombed.
The TV host, who devoted Monday's Top Ten list to what went through his head after hearing about the threat (7. "Save me, Oprah!"), also twice quipped in jest that his NBC rival Jay Leno was really behind the plot.