Ok, this turned out to be a super long post. Long story short, read the last couple of paragraphs and then watch the video above.
For many, many years I’ve wanted to attend a taping of David Letterman’s talk show in New York. I started watching Dave’s show when I was about 12 or 13 years old back when he was still at NBC. During school months, I could only watch his show on Fridays (after he started doing a Friday show) or when I remembered to set the timer on the VCR to record the rest of the shows. He was on at 12:30am those days and did some pretty weird things in that time slot. He had a monkey with a camera attached to his back roam around the studio. He interrupted The Today Show with a bullhorn while they were on air, thus starting a feud with Bryant Gumbel that would last years. He wore a suit with over a hundred super-absorbent sponges and then had himself lowered into a tank of water. Dave did awesome and funny things, and he was witty to boot, so that’s why I became a fan.
Fast forward to this August. I am in NYC to visit my friend Joel. We are in Times Square, leaving a restaurant, on our way to subway to get out to Queens for the Open. We pass by this woman standing next to a store. This woman says something to us.
“Would you like to come see a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman tomorrow?”
We stop and look back at her. The last time I checked, and admittedly this was quite a while ago, you had e-mail or mail for tickets months in advance. This sounded fishy. I told her I thought we had to mail away for tickets. She replies they stopped doing that a long time ago.
Now I’m interested. Joel seems ok with this. We tell her that we’d like some tickets for tomorrow’s show. She asks us for picture ID. I hand her my driver’s license. She looks at it and tells me she wants to visit BC. She’s heard how beautiful it is. I kinda nod.
Anyways, she writes the info down on a sheet of paper and hands it to us. It’s got instructions for where to go and when. We are to go to the Ed Sullivan Theatre tomorrow between 2pm and 3pm to pick up our tickets. The taping itself will not take a minute longer than one hour and we’ll be out of the theatre by 5pm. One interesting instruction is to dress somewhat warmly. It’s well-known that Dave likes to keep the theatre cool because he’s comfortable that way. We thank the lady for the opportunity and head off to Queens.
Because we need to be in midtown between 2pm and 3pm on Wednesday, it means if we want to see Letterman we’ll have to skip the last day session at the US Open. I tell Joel I am willing to make that sacrifice. Joel says he’s willing to. I’m not sure if he agreed because he really wanted to see Letterman also or if he knew I’d been waiting for this for over two decades. We were going to give up seeing Rafael Nadal for this and I knew Joel wanted to see him play.
In any case, we show up at the Ed Sullivan Theatre at 2:30pm the next day. There is already a line of people outside the theatre. We get to the back of the line. As the line moves, we can see CBS pages working the line. They’re going up and down the line, talking to people. Now it was kinda unspoken between Joel and I but I think we both knew that somehow, we’d probably should make a good impression on these pages. The first one that came to us was named Rachel as indicated by her name tag. Joel had the first salvo.
“So are you an intern or something?”
“No!!! I am not an intern. I’m a page. I get paid actual money for this.”
Well, that was a good start. I decided to go for cheesy and cliched.
“I did the NBC tour yesterday and I gotta say, the NBC pages look awful compared the outfits CBS gives you.”
“I know! Plus, they have such boring duties. We get to talk to people like you and help run Dave’s show. I like that a lot better.”
With that, Rachel hands each of us a blue square of construction paper that she has initialed.
“Hold onto those and when you get inside the theatre, tell them Rachel gave you those.”
Joel and I decide it’s better to have these blue things than not to have them if you’re an audience member. The line snakes its way toward the entrance of the theatre. Once we get inside, we give two other pages our sheet from yesterday and the two blue thingies from Rachel. We get our tickets and we notice each of them has a blue sticker on it.
As we are walking out of the theatre, another page looks at our tickets and notices the blue sticky. She tells us to wait with other blue sticky holders. The page then comes over to us and explains we’ve been given special status and we’re to return in half an hour and to stand in a different lineup when we do return.
Joel and I spend our half our at a fantastic deli that I wish I remember the name of. I had a great roast turkey and brie sandwich there. Anyways, we’re back in our designated lineup at 3:15pm. Very shortly we’re let back into the theatre. We are now lined up just outside the back doors of the actual theatre. I’ve seen on TV the other side of these doors for years.
As we stand in line, the doors open up every few minutes as staffers go in and out. I glimpse the familiar set of The Late Show with my own eyes for the very first time in my life. It feels surreal to be seeing it there right in front of me.
A page stands on a chair and gets our attention. She says there are a few things we need to know before we go inside. First, the order of business. After she is done, we’ll be let into the theatre. A warm-up guy will do a few jokes for us. Then we’ll see some highlight videos of Dave in action. Next, the band including Paul Schaffer will come out and do a song for us. Finally, Dave himself will come out to greet the audience. He won’t have much time but he wants to get to know the audience. One perhaps two people might get a chance to ask him a question. The show will then start.
The page then tells us it’s super important that we keep our energy up for the entire show. The more energized we are, the better show it will be. We are told to be super enthusiastic about every joke that Dave tells. Even if we don’t find a joke funny, we are told to laugh anyways and clap our hands. If we are even remotely on camera, we are to have a smile on our faces and look like we’re enjoying ourselves. It seems a little over the top but I remember I paid nothing to be here and I’ve wanted to do this for a long, long time.
With the page’s spiel done, we’re left to wait a few more minutes. Joel and I start talking to this young couple from Houston. They find out I work for EA and the dude immediately asks me if I work on Madden. *sigh*
Anyways, not long afterwards, the page makes one final announcement. If we have blue stickers on our tickets, it means we are going to be sitting in the front rows of the theatre. A big cheers comes up from our section. With that, we are let into the theatre.
Inside, there is canned and upbeat music playing. At the end of the aisles are pages clapping their hands. Joel and I go right to the front where yet another page greets us.
The page points to a row of seats, a front row no less, with three seats in the row. Joel and I sit down. We are in front row seats, the closest to Dave’s desk in the entire theatre. We are both shocked and impressed. Holy!
The pages in the theatre are now imploring us to clap with the music to get us primed for the show. Joel and I jump through the hoops f
or them. Soon, the music stops and the warm-up guy appears. He tells some pretty lame jokes but both Joel and I fake smile and clap for him. We then are shown a highlight from a past show where Dave works a Taco Bell drive-through window. After that, the band is introduced and they play a song. During the song, bassist Will Lee throws personalized guitar picks into the audience. Joel got one.
After the song ends, it’s time for a surreal moment again. David Letterman literally sprints out from backstage to thunderous applause. He has his suit jacket off but he’s otherwise dressed for the show. It’s almost 4pm at this point. My brain is telling me I’m seeing Dave Letterman but it’s surreal knowing I’m not seeing him through some sorta television device. He’s standing twenty feet from me. The man is an actual human being.
He greets the audience and he notices one member who is wearing a Late Show shirt. He asks him how much he spent on that shirt. $26 the dude replies. Dave asks his staff if they can get him $26. The warm-up dude runs down the aisle with a fist full of money to reimburse the guy for the shirt. Dave says they have time for one question. A woman asks Dave if his son will be in pre-school this year. Dave says yes. A staffer yells out we have 45 seconds to show time.
There’s some crazy flurry of activity as people move to get ready for the start of the show. Dave thanks us and runs backstage. We hear the theme music start and the monitors in the theatre show the opening montage. “Big Red” or Alan Kalter, who is sitting just to my right, starts his announcer duties. Ellen Degeneres is on the show! Five seconds before he is introduced, Dave sprints from stage right to stage left. Alan says his name and Dave comes out to us again, even though we just saw him. On TV, you don’t see any of this course, including the crazy spring he did seconds before he comes out.
Dave does his monologue. Now, I’ve watched a couple hundred shows with Dave, so I can say what was a good monologue and what was a bad one. On that night, it was merely ok. A few of the jokes were actually quite flat.
About eight minutes into the show, “Big Red” interrupts Dave. Alan says because Ellen is on the show, he feels like dancing. He then starts dancing towards the stairs near my feet. In my head, I’m thinking OMG, he’s going to dance up my aisle. The audience is now lit up with lights and Alan passes within five feet of me. My mind is thinking a million things. I’m trying to watch Alan because he’s just super cool. I’m also trying to sneak a peek at the monitors to see if I’m on camera. I’m also trying not to freak out because I realize I actually am on camera now. All this time, I’ve got this goofy smile on my face because they just beat it into you that you have to be smiley.
It’s all over in a few seconds. At a commercial break, I turn to Joel and I tell him we’re going to be on national television! The rest of the show went really quickly. Ellen was ok. This was actually the second time I saw her live, the first being her standup act when she came to Vancouver over ten years ago. The next guest was Jeff Garlin from the show Curb Your Enthusiasm. That interview went nowhere and it was not entertaining. Lastly, some band played a song that lasted not even three minutes. When they were done, Dave came over to thank them and the show stopped right there. Dave turned to us and thanked us for coming. That was it.
The doors opened up and we were let out. As far as shows went, this was an ok show overall. The fact that I was in the audience and I appeared on TV made it awesome! It was a wish fulfilled and a dream come true all at the same time.
So if you wanna see me and Joel on TV, I uploaded the segment in question to YouTube. The clip is shown above. At about the 1:00 mark on, look for Joel in his aqua blue t-shirt. I’m in black sitting to his right. The quality and resolution of the YouTube clip is low, so if want to make out the goofy smile on my face, I’ve made a high-resolution clip available for download.
erwin_on_letterman.avi – 15 Mb (requires DivX codec)
So, there you have it! Now if I could only appear on The Price Is Right.