Thursday, May 21, 2015

Yes, of course I knew Letterman. I gave him his start.

I was an intern at "Late Night With David Letterman" during my senior year at NYU in 1984. A few memories:

First of all, it was cool. My other options for an internship were NBC Sports, or an ABC music-video show called "Hot Tracks." I made the right call.

The offices were on the 14th floor of 30 Rock. Dave's office overlooked Sixth Avenue. I could flash my pass and waltz past security and the lines of tourists waiting for tours. I could go to the NBC commissary. I could walk around the halls and act like I belonged there.

The show taped every afternoon at 4:30. The interns were allowed to watch from the make-up room or occasionally from elsewhere in the studio (the hallway, backstage, the green room, the control room).

I got to attend an on-location shoot on the streets of New York, where I was responsible for getting signed release forms from any passers-by who appeared on-camera. I rode to the location in a limo with Larry Bud Mellman.

There were about 30 people on staff, including about 10 writers, several of whom were only a few years older than me. At the time they seemed like they'd been there forever, like they were on a planet I could never hope to be on. Most of them had gone to Harvard and had written for the Harvard Lampoon.

(I would've been a horrible writer for Letterman, for the record. My humor back then was too raunchy, and I was too undisciplined to adapt to a writing style other than my own. I'd be great at it now, except for the fact that I'm about thirty years too far removed from current popular culture. So there's that.)

I was backstage with one of the researchers (Darcy) when Bob Dylan was on the show. It was a major coup for the show because he was the biggest star they'd ever booked. He didn't come to the rehearsal, then refused to talk to Dave when Dave came over to him after his first song. He walked past us backstage after his musical number and Darcy said, "Great show, Bob." Bob didn't reply--just kept walking.

I was alone one time in the small research office, and Paul Shaffer poked his head in. As he turned to leave, Steve Martin stopped him to say hello--he was appearing on the show that evening. They both sat down and had a leisurely conversation. I didn't say anything more than "Hey, how's it goin'?" But for the record, I hung out with Steve Martin and Paul Shaffer for ten minutes just shooting the sh#t.

Rodney Dangerfield's son Brian was a fellow intern, as was financier Ivan Boesky's son Bill. I think all the interns dreamed of being hired by the show after graduation--as writers, naturally. Only one intern got a job at NBC--as a page.

I was in three on-air skits--never a speaking part, just a background "extra." In one skit I played a "Blue Angel" who came flying in with my squadron with arms out like wings. We flew behind Dave at his desk, then off stage. It lasted maybe fifteen seconds. In another I stood in a line of people waiting to see Dave. That skit was re-aired in an anniversary special four years later, when I was living in Iowa, and several people said, "Hey, I saw somebody who looked like you on TV last night!"

Check it out for yourself at the 12-minute mark in the video below. Coincidentally, it was the same show that Steve Martin was on. My big day.

I remember walking Dave's dog "Bob" around Rock Center a few times. The first time I thought, "I'm so cool. I'm walking David Letterman's dog." The last time I thought, "You know, I'm not going to tell anyone that my glamorous TV industry job consists of picking up dog crap."

I met Dave several times, but I only had a single one-on-one conversation with him. We got on an elevator together, and I didn't have anything to say, so I said, "How's Bob?"

He said, "Old Bob's just fine."

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