I was in New York in August and, as always, going to a taping of the Late Show With David Letterman was high on my list of things to do there. I had been to Late Show tapings in the past and always loved them.
We arrived in New York by Amtrak train on Sunday 26th August after having been in Washington DC for a few days beforehand and had already planned we were heading to the Ed Sullivan Theater lobby on the Monday to put our names on the ballot.
Something we decided to do this time around was purchase a US cell phone & SIM in Washington and use that on the ballot form to give us more of a chance to get chosen for tickets. They don’t call back international mobile numbers and other than a US cell the only other hope would have been to give them my hotel telephone number & room details. After we got the SIM in Washington previously and the cheap Nokia phone in New York on the Monday morning we set off to 51st Street.
We saw the Late Show marquee lit up across the street to the Frankie Valli show, and walked straight into the theatre building. It’s always a bit surreal walking into the lobby – you can feel the cold seeping through from the freezing studio behind the doors.
We walked up to the table with one of the Late Show interns behind and was given a clipboard with a ballot form on it for us to complete. Once filled out we were directed to another intern seated further towards the back of the lobby (behind a screen I think).
The second intern (Paul) was very helpful and we explained how we had come all the way from London to see the show and were huge fans, and how we still can’t watch Dave on UK television at all for the past few years. The intern said that was terrible. Let’s hope the message got passed on.
We were put on “Paul’s gold list” and told to expect a phonecall by around 12.30pm (I think we were in the lobby filling out the form at around 11am) and if we hadn’t been contacted we could try calling Paul on the number he gave us from 12.30pm onwards.
We left the lobby and went somewhere else and, sure enough, about an hour later (around 12pm I think) we had a call on our US cell from Paul at the Late Show saying we had been successful and got tickets for the taping of the Monday night show. We were told to return to the Ed Sullivan Theater between 2pm and 3pm to collect our pair of tickets and that we had to bring government-issued IDs with us when collecting them.
2pm rolled around so we made our way to the theatre building. We got our tickets and were asked to wait in The Three Monkeys pub/bar around the corner for our intern pep-talk. We walked around to the bar and waited for a little while but spoke to one of the interns in the bar who said it was fine to come back around 4pm if we didn’t want to wait.
We ran back to our hotel room at the Hilton Times Square, got changed (into my Letterman t-shirt) and headed back across to the Ed Sullivan Theater all in time for our pep-talk at The Three Monkeys.
Once that was over and we were given the do’s and don’ts (no loud whooping, always laugh at Dave’s jokes whether you “get” them or not, just to think about them later if you don’t on the way home and they’ll be funny, Dave feeds off the audience, etc) we were told to make our way over to the theatre’s lobby again once our group was called (they put us in different groups – this was written on our ticket beforehand).
Instead of queuing up in ticket number order outside in line like I have done in the past they just let us straight into the lobby. However, one new feature was the addition of airport-style metal detectors that you had to walk through which haven’t been there in the past. We had another little pep-talk once inside then the doors to the studio opened and in we went. It was cold as always (to keep the jokes fresh as Dave always says) but not as freezing cold as I remember before.
This time we were directed upstairs to the balcony. This was the first time I had been up there as we have been previously seated downstairs on the floor usually in the middle near to Alan Kalter. It made for a nice change and I think we actually got a better view from the balcony as you could see the desk better without all of the cameras in the way. We were sitting on the Orchestra-side of the studio near the front of the balcony.
We had Eddie Brill come out and do his schtick (a mini standup routine / warmup talk) but no video of Dave at Taco Bell anymore like previously – instead this was replaced by a new video piece played on the Late Show monitors above our heads starring Alec Baldwin. The video was a sort-of do’s and don’ts video. Alec jokingly insisted he didn’t know why he agreed to doing it as he wasn’t getting paid.
The CBS Orchestra came out one by one and were introduced by Eddie. They played for a couple of minutes then Paul Shaffer was introduced. Alan Kalter was also present, of course, in the announcer’s chair on the other side of the studio. The Orchestra had a jamming session (a “mini concert” as the interns would call it) featuring songs such as Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones amongst others.
Dave was then introduced and he came out to a huge applause. He grabbed a microphone and shouted out “Hello” to everyone in the audience. The sound is always a bit different when he does these opening talks as it comes out of the audience speakers rather than the ones used for TV – i.e. this opening talk is always louder.
Dave almost had time to answer a question from a woman in the audience but they took so long to ask it Dave was repeatedly told he was running out of time when answering and they started to roll the Late Show titles whilst he was mid-sentence.
The opening titles started on the monitors above our heads – the guests for this show were Jake Gyllenhaal, Sharon Osbourne and music from Neon Trees.
The show ran through in realtime as usual and we were treated to a Top Ten list and Andy Kindler’s live-linkup at the politics convention that was taking place in Florida. The show did over-run a bit though (instead of it running from 4.30pm to 5.30pm it finished around 15-20 minutes late) so there are a few cuts that can be noticed in the final version of the programme that made it onto CBS that evening.
Jake Gyllenhaal was very funny and Sharon Osbourne was, well, funny but very near-the-mark (the CBS censors must have been twitching when she mentioned the Royals and the recent Prince Harry news story).
Neon Trees were enjoyable as well, although this was the first I had heard of them.
When the taping finished the credits rolled and Dave grabbed the microphone again to thank us all for coming. We left the theatre pretty quickly as always but managed to get a sneaky photo before we left…
Late Show people I met during my New York trip:
I’ve met Rupert before and as I was in the Hello Deli (which had scaffolding up outside – this is why I didn’t get a photo of the Hello Deli marquee as there wasn’t one that was visible apart from a temporary sticker on the scaffolding) I asked for a photo.
Rupert is now the sole provider of Letterman merchandise on Broadway as the CBS Store next door has now been closed down and turnt into a Pie Face restaurant. Rupert had a much more extensive Late Show merchandise section than he did before. I bought a long-sleeve Late Show shirt whilst I was in there.
He’s always nice and friendly. I asked why we didn’t see him on the show much anymore but he said they take care of him enough so he’s happy (presumably with all the merchandising deals and trade the show brings into his deli).
Biff was in the Hello Deli ordering a sandwich. When he left I went over and asked if he would mind if I had a picture with him. He said he didn’t mind.
I almost got a photo with Alan Kalter who was leaving after a Late Show taping from the 51st Street door but he was only there for a few seconds so I didn’t have time to ask.
Author: Paul Hadley