Mark’s Late Show Trip, March 2009

Mark’s Late Show Trip, March 2009

I first became aware of David Letterman in early 1994. I was working at a multiplex and the projectionist asked me if I had Sky TV (I did!). He asked if I would mind taping him a US chat show, as he didn’t have Sky yet. I agreed! This was my introduction into the world of “Dave”, and as anyone reading this probably already knows, the greatest talk show host – not just in the US, but in the world. Letterman redefined the stale, conventional format as it had become, and reinvented it in his own anarchic style. I don’t think there is a talk show host – anywhere on TV today – who won’t freely admit that he (or she!) owes a great deal to Mr. Letterman.

I personally, have followed the big show over the years, from it’s origins on Sky 1 (and 2), Paramount Comedy, ITV2 (and 4), and finally Diva TV (and right up to date, by the marvels of the internet!). Although (sadly!) not a household name in the UK – Letterman does have a very loyal, cult following in this country. Although I do have other interests in life – I am proud to say that my nightly fix of “Dave” has happily become part of my daily routine throughout all of these years! Someone wisely added on a “Bring back Dave” petition, that “Letterman tells me all I need to know about America!” Very well said! Well, anyway, I’ve a feeling I’m preaching to the already converted here!…

Fast forward to March of this year, 2009. My 40th Birthday is hurtling towards me like a runaway train with no brakes. “How can I cope with this milestone?… obvious – I’ll go to New York and see Dave!… easy to say!… who will I go with?… erm, myself!” And so I did! It cost me more money than I could spare, but what’s money for if not to enhance and enjoy your life, right? (or as Dave wisely puts it – “travel is the best investment one can make in oneself”). “I could have bought a 50inch plasma TV with this money instead!” I told the man at the Post Office changing my hard earned Sterling into US Dollars, “You’ll have a lot more fun in America!” he wisely announced! Before I get to the details of my LS experience, I’d just like to say, that the whole trip, not just the show, but New York in general was fantastic. My first visit – and I’d go again and without hesitation recommend it to anyone. Hard work? Yes. Expensive? A bit. Cold? Definitely (in March!). But, ultimately, worth it all the same!

Late Show With David Letterman, 10th March 2009, Ed Sullivan Theater, 1697 Broadway, New York NY, USA

My first full day in New York. The shuttle from my modest hotel in New Jersey, drops me slam-bam right in the middle of Times Square, Broadway, the heart of Manhattan. I approach a female police officer – “Where is David letterman?” I ask, in a broad Northern-England accent. “3 blocks up-take a left” she points. “Thank You!” There I was, walking along Broadway like any other tourist, and I first see it in the distance. The familiar blue and yellow marquee of the historic Ed Sullivan Theater, proudly announcing to the world -“Late Show With David Letterman”. Words cannot describe, but (as Paul Hadley himself has already noted from his New York visit) it was surreal. Absolutely and utterly surreal. Hope I get my point across here? I just stood and stared!

The Ed Sullivan Theater is slightly farther away from Times Square than I had imagined. It’s about a third of a mile north. Camcorder in hand I approached. “I can’t believe I’m (finally), actually here!” was the only thought I could muster. I wandered (daze like), into the lobby (you can actually just walk in?!), past the security and up to a friendly looking gentleman, just behind a partition, sitting at a desk. “I’ve watched Dave since the mid-90’s. I was at the first London Late show in ’95. I’ve come all the way from England. It’s my 40th Birthday. Can I please have a ticket?!” I blurted.

The guys name was Jon. He asked me who was at the London show (not a trick question – I think he was impressed and curious). “Elton John/Dave’s Mom and Stupid Pet tricks” I said. He gave me a knowing smile. It turns out that Stupid Pet Tricks was making a comeback that very night. Jon didn’t tell me as much – I found out later! How’s that for a coincidence? I also mentioned our Digital Spy community/thread – he seemed genuinely interested, and wrote the website address down! I was told that tickets can’t be guaranteed, but I was left feeling very optimistic (wink).

I was given a slip of paper, with a name and phone number, and told to call in a short while. I used the phones just around the corner from the Theater, in between the CBS store and Rupert’s “Hello Deli” (the same phones Dave used to make random calls to in the 90s!). “Late Show”, a chirpy female voice announced. I gave my name, and was told “Congratulations you got a ticket!” “Thank you so much” was all I could say over and over. I felt like I’d just passed my driving test again!

I was told to remember three things;

1) I’m on Jon’s gold list (sounds promising!)

2) Bring government issued photo ID or you won’t be allowed in (my British passport was fine)

3) Be at the Theater no later than 3 o’clock. One minute past and its too late! Not a problem as I was about 25 yards away, and had no intention of wandering any farther!

After spending a little too much $$ in the CBS Store. I mean, when is the next chance I’m going to have to buy a Late Show hoody to wear proudly back home? I plucked up the courage to call in and see Rupert. A nice lady I’ve seen in the background during his segments (his wife?) told me Rupert “wasn’t there yet, but was due in soon”. I asked about getting a photo with him, and she said “he’s very good about things like that”. I then joined one of the growing queues that were forming underneath the marquee.

We were issued our tickets – unfortunately the whole thing was taken off us as we entered the inner Theater so no souvenir this time. It said “Welcome to the Late Show With David Letterman, your laughter and enthusiasm are what makes the show great (or something very similar). Mine was ticket number 15. There were several (successful) attempts to keep the audience upbeat by the coordinators in this cold weather. “Let’s make some noise! Are you ready for Dave?!” etc and much cheering. I was, and I cheered! Who cares if i look foolish?

A questionnaire was handed out, for a future taping of Audience Show And Tell which includes a free trip back to New York and an appearance on the show for those who were successful. Quite a few people filled them in. Questions included “Have you ever met a famous person” etc. Quite an ironic question really, as my guess is, that as the Ed Sullivan Theater itself has probably had more famous people in it over the years, than any other building in the world!

By this time, there were red safety barriers (those retractable things you see at the cinema) outside the Theater and interns/security/audience co-ordinators everywhere! We were herded in 3 separate groups, and I mean herded like cattle, into the EST foyer (imagine being on the London Underground at rush hour, and you get some idea) – I think the practical reason for this, is because there wasn’t a lot of space. Well not for 400 people at the same time. We went inside in 3 separate (large) groups. An audience co-ordinator gave a great pep talk/monologue that encouraged us to laugh out loud and not just inwardly to ourselves – and we practiced cheering (i kid you not!). We were told no whooping or whistling as the Theater mics are overhead and they’re very sensitive. (I’m not much of a “Whooper” or “Whistler” anyway).

We were informed that the better we are, the better Larry is (oops I mean Dave!) and the more Dave feeds off us, the better he becomes, and starts to improvise! The guy was very personable, (perfect for the job!) and if anyone at CBS is reading this, he’s a credit to the show, his task was to take the audience to almost fever pitch, and he succeeded. How does he keep the same enthusiasm day after day after day? By the way, he was on standing on Times Square the very next day shouting “FREE LETTERMAN TICKETS!”

As we entered the main Theater itself, the experience became even more surreal. I entered far left (band side), the first thing that strikes you is how bright the lights of the NYC backdrop are, and that the stage area itself seems a bit smaller than it does on TV (the sweeping overhead cameras give it the illusion of being more “roomy”). I took my seat – 3 rows from the front (and 3 seats in from the aisle) in front of the band. I was so close I could almost reach out and touch them. There was a party atmosphere, with pre recorded music playing, and everyone clapping along, “encouraged” by interns, so that you felt a bit silly if you weren’t joining in. There wasn’t time to take a deep breath and relax – from the moment we entered the Theater, the momentum was kept going.

A jolly chap (who resembles the “BIG” one from Penn and Teller) started the “warm-up”. Was okay – not bad, I’ve heard a lot worse! The main joke I remember, was about local a NY McDonalds, that has a theater type marquee – “lets face it, the only reason anyone goes into McDonalds anyway, is to use the restroom” he observed. I bet the crew and interns must know his routine inside-out by now! He asked if there was anyone from foreign countries. I put my hand up, but alas, he was looking directly front/centre at the audience.

Next we were played a well-worn (by now) VT of Dave working in a McDonalds/Burger King type place, from the mid 90s. Funny stuff, but I’ve seen it many time before! It’s probably on YouTube I would imagine. Biff was standing at the end on my aisle with his back to me “supervising” (the final floor buffing and other last-minute minor details, they’ve probably gone through, well, 3000+ times!). First illusion shattered – behind the screen, behind the backdrop bridges, that raises, is piled high a huge assortment of boxes and bins – looks a bit out of place amongst the rest of the “glamour”! Maybe they are that short of room NYC after all?! I spotted Pat Farmer (as always, looking like Clint Eastwood) – no Kenny though – is he still with the show?

Dave’s producer Barbara Gaines – I don’t know whether they’ve been moved closer, but the box was a lot closer to Alan than it seems on TV. Of course Alan was there, looking very seriously (unusual for him) at some papers. I’m guessing he was double-checking/memorising his lines… and I almost forgot to look out for Tony “Inky” Mendez. Tthere he was (the guy with absolutely the best and probably easiest job in the world).

The “jolly warm-up guy” introduced the band members as they cam on stage and took their positions with rounds of applause and mild cheers. By the way, it was Felicia’s 40th Birthday, that particular show as well. Then Paul (big cheer), then Dave (loud roar). He ran accross the length of the stage like a marathon sprinter, over to Alan’s side. No jacket, but a waist-coat, as he’s started wearing recently. Dave asked if there were any questions from the audience? Someone asked if Dave uses the subway. Again, just like the warm up, Dave’s focus was entirely on the dead-centre/middle lower section of the audience. After a minute or so he exited the stage, and the band piped up the very familiar theme tune.

1st surprise – Alan does announce “It’s the Late Show…” etc and the guests names at the same time as they record the opening. I always thought it was instrumental, and Alan’s voiceover was added later in a booth somewhere, in case segments run long and guests get bumped to another day. I always thought this was major flaw on The Larry Sanders Show, as Hank does the very same thing. Guess not!

Dave came on stage and started his monologue. I found myself having to consciously not stare at the monitors that are everywhere for the audience to watch, and actually watch Dave, the show, and its production itself.

Monologue was okay, then a VT segment, and to a commercial. The warm up guy and another guy I’ve seen on the show many times standing to the side/behind the cameras etc were standing at Dave’s desk talking to him (over the music) during the commercial break. I saw Dave laugh, and smile broadly at something one of them said. I think everyone knows this by now, but the band play a full song throughout the commercial to keep the momentum going. Anyone who knows me, knows that my other love (aside from Letterman) is the Rolling Stones. Paul and the band played Brown Sugar. Could it get any better than this, I was asking myself. I’m also a big Belushi-SNL-Blues Brothers aficionado. I think again everyone knows that Paul Shaffer was a founding member, along with Belushi? I actually met Alan Rubin (the trumpet player) in 1992 after a B.B. Band concert in Blackpool, and shook his hand, Alan’s sidekick in the film is Tom “Bones” Malone. Small world. Actually I should have put that on the Audience Show And Tell questionnaire earlier, but I didn’t think.

Then onto “Stupid Pet Tricks” and Paul Rudd. There isn’t much to tell about the actual show that was broadcast itself. It was an okay show – nothing special, or out of the ordinary. The same kind of show Dave (and everyone else) has done thousands of times. The only difference is that today I was in the audience to observe this one first hand. Lucky me!

The time seemed to fly by, and exactly an hour after we’d taken our seats, it was now time to leave. Paul played the end credits (short version today), and Dave (quickly) came back on stage and said “Thanks for being here everyone – hope to see you again soon” then left – and that was it! Maybe he must have been double parked, although in all fairness, it was just another day like any other in the office for the big man).

We exited to the side, next to Rupert’s Deli (now closed). As we filtered away, I overheard another couple from the audience say “No Top 10”. Oh yeah – they’re right – there wasn’t. I’d been in such awe at finally being there in person I hadn’t noticed. Not like me that!

Well that was about it. I carried on with the rest of my holiday/sightseeing, happy in the knowledge that I’d done what I set out too, on my very first (full) day. I will add that as much as I enjoyed attending the show, even if we were allowed to attend more than one show every six-months I wouldn’t have been there every day. It is a lot of hard work and standing around. Worth it? Definitely. Could I do it everyday? Erm no. I think that would be just too much of a good thing.

Footnotes

I called back at Rupert’s Deli the next day and there he was – large as life standing behind his counter – having a “disagreement” with a supplier. He was very nice, and sounds exactly the same as he does on the show. I told him I’d been a viewer since ’94, and he said “thanks”. As I was leaving, I asked him to say hello to Deborah Lynn for me. He laughed out loud! He’s a really nice guy. All the best, Rupert my friend, I wished him.

As I was travelling alone, I got friendly with an American couple and their daughter from Indiana (Dave’s home state). She attends Ball State University (Dave’s old college – the Fighting Cardinals), and her friend actually met Dave when he opened the media centre there. I told Joe that I’d send him a link to this report. They didn’t have any plans to see the big show, but when I told them about my own experience they also went and got in (the show they saw was Andy Samberg/Paul Teutel – Thursday 12th March). I told them to say that they’re friends of Mark from England.

On the uptown double-decker bus tour (Harlem etc), I swear we passed the row of houses Paul and the band are standing next to in the opening montage. It’s a real street – if you look closely you can spot the traffic crossing in the far distance. Everyone who I spoke to, and told that I’d seen Letterman gave a big smile and said “wow cool!” Even the guy who was on his way to an Anthony Robbins self-help seminar.

I walked in and out of the Radio City/NBC main entrance at Rockefeller Plaza – the very same door the guy playing Dave uses in The Late Shift movie as he goes to CBS and, as we all know, where Dave himself worked for many years before they fired Paul for stealing pencils! They were giving away free tickets for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live.

I actually thought of Paul Hadley (3000 miles away in London) during this next bit! The NBC store at 30 Rock were selling The Tonight Show With Jay Leno baseball caps, t-shirts, keyrings, fridge magnets etc along with lots of other overpriced general and primetime merchandise including a hastily produced Late Night With Jimmy Fallon t-shirt, that just had standard black lettering printed on the front – “not much thought gone into this” I pondered! I almost succumbed and bought a Belushi/SNL t-shirt for $24.99 (about 17 quid). I wish I had done now thinking about it. Ah well – next time! I asked directions to the exit of the building, and the lady sent me the wrong way. On purpose? Very likely! I had CBS Store bag full of Letterman gear in hand and was wearing a Late Show hoody. No hard feelings on my part, lady/NBC! My Lawyers are dealing with it (just kidding).

On the Downtown tour we went through Bleecker St. I asked the friendly guide which house John Belushi lived in. She didn’t know, but promised to Google it that evening. I like to think that on upcoming tours, this info is included, and it’s all down to me! There’s a statue of Winston Churchill at the end of Bleecker St. I didn’t know his mother was American. Apparently so!

Watching a clip of NewsRadio the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the exterior shot of the fictional radio station, was 1450 Broadway, The very same entrance the shuttle back to our hotel picked us up at every night! I stood there several times without realising!

Well, that’s about all I can remember for now, but I’m sure I’ve missed out details that will pop into my mind over the next few days/weeks/months. So, hopefully, I will add any amendments, or as ever, am happy to answer any questions on the Late Show With David Letterman thread on the Digital Spy Forums. What else is there left to say, except thank you to Paul for hosting this on Late Show UK and “Back to you Dave”.

Author: Mark Jarrett