I had my first visit to New York in October (Saturday 13th October to Wednesday 17th October to be precise) – and of course wanted to get into a taping of the Late Show amongst all the other tourist-type things. So, we landed around lunchtime and after the tedious security checks to get out of the airport and the lengthy journey in a shuttle bus (not recommended – use a cab if I were you) we arrived at our hotel – the Belvedere. The hotel was really central to everything which was good news. After check-in I popped down to the Ed Sullivan Theater to put my name on the ballot list for tickets to a show (either on the Monday or the Tuesday – there are two tapings on a Monday which are the Monday and Friday shows – Friday’s is recorded in advance). It was really surreal walking into the lobby (and even seeing the marquee outside) for the first time. The main concern I had with this was having to give the hotel name as I only had a UK mobile (cell) number – nothing in the US. They said they would phone the hotel if I was successful in the ballot lottery for tickets and leave me a voicemail or a message on reception – which sounded great. The interns in there were very helpful and I explained I had come from London and ran lateshowuk.com. As far as I’m aware you are only allowed into the Late Show once every 6 months.
I didn’t hear anything back from that, and it was now Monday. By chance – after breakfast (I think it was around midday) – I was walking down the sidewalk and heard someone shouting “Free David Letterman tickets”. This was the official CBS / Late Show woman who I’d heard about online. She was very friendly and couldn’t have been more helpful. I would highly recommend trying to track her down for tickets instead of relying on the ballot. She gives out guaranteed tickets – so once the form is filled out with her, that’s it – you’re in! She asks you a couple of simple Late Show questions (mine were the name of the Hello Deli and what colour Alan’s hair is). So, now we had the guaranteed tickets – it was down to decide whether we went to see the early taping on the Monday (which was the Monday night airing) or the later second taping on the Monday (which was the one that goes out in the US on the Friday night). I decided on the latter – the guests for that show were actress Amanda Peet, Patrick Warburton and standup comedian Jeff Caldwell.
Now we just needed to wait until Monday night and hold onto our green slip of paper to get into the Theater. As it was the late taping, we had to pick the tickets up (exchange the green paper for the pink-coloured Late Show tickets) between around 4.30pm and 5.30pm (the queue didn’t take too long – and there was a little pep-talk before we went on our way to remind us what time to come back later) – and then come back at 6pm to queue up outside the theater building. We had to get into number order (the tickets had numbers written on them) and slot ourselves in between the other people in the queue – so we were all in order.
We all filed into the waiting area inside the theater building for the warmup (some of us did – they did it in sections with some people being warmed up outside, etc I think). The interns spoke to us for a while to get us “gee’ed” up and then we waited and filed slowly into the theater. You could feel the cold air from behind the doors before even going inside the main theater area. It was like a meat storage fridge. Then again, Dave does say it’s that cold so the comedy stays fresh.
Walking into the main part of the theater was even more surreal than standing in the foyer area. We filed in from the back (where the doors are behind the seats – looking forward onto the stage) and made our way to the seats. There aren’t any allocated seats as such – just first come first serve – and where they choose to put you. We were on the right hand side downstairs (not on the balcony which was good news) – not all that far away from Alan Kalter and pretty much directly in front of Dave’s desk, nearer the back of the theater. When everyone was seated, Eddie Brill came out for a while and we enjoyed some live comedy – and a classic Letterman clip (where he was working in a Taco Bell drive-thru I believe – similar to the McDonalds drive-thru bit). Then they introduced the CBS Orchestra one by one, followed by the entrance of Paul Shaffer and announcer Alan Kalter. Paul and the band gave us a little mini-concert – including an instrumental version of Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones. Followed by the entrance of Dave!
When Dave came onto the stage, he got a huge welcome, and had a very short “Q And A” with the audience. When he came out he took his suit jacket off, grabbed a microphone (one of those old ones – with the cable attached – not a radio mic), put his foot up on something (the monitor perhaps) and put his mouth really close to it – and said hello to us loudly. Everyone cheered. He only had time to answer one question though as they didn’t have much time (we were told beforehand the taping started bang on the dot at 7pm and everyone leaves exactly at 8pm). The question was from someone near the front rows – something about whether Dave had ever tried some drink or another – followed by Dave saying “no” and the guy asking the question saying he hadn’t tried it either. Dave also made some little jokes about how they have “prepared” tonight’s show – followed by him laughing hysterically.
Then the title music played – along with the opening titles on the monitors above our heads. Everyone applauded and cheered. The show ran all the way through without any retakes – except one near the beginning after the monologue, where Dave was saying who was on the show. Barbara said the standup comedian hadn’t been on before when he had – or vice versa – and Dave started again. Dave mentioned this later in the show as well – was quite amusing. The show was amazing – just incredible to be actually sitting there in the Late Show audience. Amanda Peet was on first discussing her new child and Dave’s parenting advice (she was quite funny – she seemed a bit shy and kept laughing at everything). Then Patrick Warburton came out for a short interview to talk about his TV work. Standup comedy from Jeff Caldwell closed the show – this guy was very good. As it was a Friday night show, there was Will It Float with the Late Show girls and Alan announcing the prize and what they were playing for tonight. And there were the Fun Facts. Two excellent segments. Really glad I got to see this show. As I said, the show lasted around an hour – they stopped the show for all the advert breaks as it they would if it was going out live. During this time, Dave would look over material with the producers/writers, etc – and bits and pieces like that. During these gaps they played classic Late Show moments on the monitors above our heads – which were nice to see again. Also I thought it was interesting to note the set backdrop (the New York cityscape) gets put away after every show – well, as least after the show I saw – they were wheeling the various bits of it away – piece by piece. PS – I’m also pretty sure they did a Top Ten list (unless I imagined it) – but it isn’t in the final edit of the programme, so maybe they didn’t.
Before I went into see that show (and before I picked the tickets up) I got to see the stunt out on 53rd Street involving the guy jumping over the Late Show interns – which was featured on the Monday edition of the Late Show. Was really interesting seeing how this was done – the guy talking to the camera (talking to Dave), etc. Dave made a little quip about someone in the crowd by Rupert’s Hello Deli – and told them to stop leaning. I was standing on the opposite side of the road to the deli. The Hello Deli was closed during this segment I think. One side of the road was shut off.
Picture above: On the photo, if you look to the left you should be able to make out Bob Borden, Pat Farmer and I believe the other guy over there is cue card “boy” Tony Mendez.
On my last day before leaving New York, I managed to go inside the Hello Deli and buy a Mountain Dew – and was served by Rupert. And Pat Farmer was in front of me in there. Before that – rather sedate – outing into the deli, there was a huge scene emerging directly outside the Late Show theater – which I managed to capture on my video camera. Lots and lots of fire engines and police cars arriving at the theater to put out a fire in the basement of the theater building. Something to do with the air conditioning according to the official Late Show website. They evacuated the whole building. Someone from CBS came up to me asking to use my footage on the show in exchange from some free tickets and t-shirts – but unfortunately they found a better camera than mine so they didn’t use my footage. Oh, and I bought lots of Late Show merchandise from the CBS Store (t-shirts, mugs and a sweatshirt).
Recommendations when visiting New York
I would highly recommend you go to Ellen’s Stardust Diner when in New York City – it’s a very different kind of restaurant – with singing waiting staff. Very “broadway musical” style. Every member of the waiting staff had really good voices, and they said they have at least one ex-employee in every Broadway musical (except one). It took a while to get served when we first went in there though (we went twice) – for breakfast – but it was worth it. The pancakes were tasty.
Also all the usual tourist places are a must see – the Empire State Building, the Statue Of Liberty, Macy’s, Bloomingdales – all were great. The Statue Of Liberty was my favourite I think. We also went into Grand Central train station – the one they use in a lot of films – that was pretty cool. We took the subway to most places – very nice air-conditioned trains (not like the Tube in London) – the train stations were quite hot though. We also went down to look at Ground Zero – this was a surreal experience (we went to the Greenwich Street bit to see the WTC site). On the Tuesday evening, we went to see Grease on Broadway, which was pretty good (one of the strange things I noticed about it – the band was above the stage and not underneath). We didn’t queue up at the TKTS booth though – the queue was enormous. So we just went straight into the theatre and bought tickets there instead.
Interesting bits to look at on Google Maps Street View
Author: Paul Hadley