David Letterman joked about shingles and paid tribute to a dear friend last night as he returned to his CBS Late Show for the first time in five weeks.

He also honored his dermatologist and produced a video "thank-you note" for the 14 guest-hosts who sat in for him during his month long medical battle.

Just as he had done in February 2000, when he returned from heart surgery, Letterman took the stage last evening at the Ed Sullivan Theatre escorted by slinky models Andrea and Nadine, who were dressed as nurses.

In his first monologue joke, he managed to reference both the war in Iraq and his bout with shingles.

"You know what it was -- I had this, it's called the shingles," Letterman said. "Anybody here ever had the shingles? And, boy, those things are painful. Thirty days it took me to get over the shingles, and according to Donald Rumsfeld, that's right on schedule!"

After the monologue, he introduced the dermatologist who helped vanquish his shingles, which had attacked a nerve stretching from the back of his neck all the way to his eyes, Letterman disclosed.

The doctor, Richard Granstein of Manhattan, was presented with a bouquet of flowers by the two "nurse" models.

It was then that Letterman said a few words honoring the memory of George Miller, a comedian and longtime friend who died of leukemia last month at age 61.

Miller had been a friend since the 1970s. Over the years, he made 56 appearances on Letterman's shows. Last night, Letterman presented a clip of Miller's second appearance on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, back in the mid-'70s.

Later in the show, Letterman chatted extensively on the subject of shingles with fellow sufferer Billy Crystal.

Most touching of all, Letterman exhibited some of the get-well drawings he received from a kindergarten class in Bowie, Md.

Letterman had been out sick since Feb. 26, the day Bruce Willis stepped in as the first guest host.