On May 20, 2015, David Letterman’s final show will air on CBS. Events such as this are not altogether uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to write about one of these things.
The reason: To me, it is anything but “one of these things”.
In fact, two nights ago, I had a dream that Mr. Letterman was walking across the street from me, and I wanted to go up to him, shake his hand, and say “thank you”. I was unable to reach him, so I scribbled a note in red ink (not sure why the ink was crimson, but hey, it was a dream) and handed it to a Late Show staffer who happened to be close by. They promised to get the letter to him.
I was not able to meet David Letterman in that dream, but I have met him twice, and was even interviewed by him. I shook his hand, made him laugh, received a compliment from him, and he even handed me a sponge.
All of that is very high on my lifetime thrill meter. Super-amazingly high.
I was a huge admirer of Johnny Carson. I enjoy Jay Leno. I love Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien. But, for me, David Letterman is king, and always will be.
This was the only show, be it on NBC, or CBS, that I would watch EVERY night. For years it was community viewing with my buddies, then, I watched with my wife, then with the wife and kids. Now, the kids are adults. We all still watch. Always the same. Always Letterman.
I won’t rehash all of the crazy skits, but, things like the Velcro Suit and the Alka-Seltzer Suit were just not the norm on television. Having a run-of-the-mill, middle-aged, Brooklynite named Calvert DeForest appear regularly as a hapless, and generally un-scripted, character named Larry “Bud” Melman was pure genius. That was taken to the next level when Calvert played “Bud”, who in turn played “Kenny the Gardener”. You couldn’t get stuff like this anywhere else. Stuffy types didn’t get the joke. They watched other shows. Those of us who loved Letterman felt like we were part of some “in crowd”. The more ridiculous it was, the better we liked it.
I have been to so many Letterman tapings that I’ve lost count. I’ve been to the big anniversary shows too. My wife, my buddies, and I were in the front row for a big anniversary show at Radio City that included Bob Dylan, Bill Murray, and a host of others. We stood in line for hours to grab those seats.
There used to be a stand-by list for tickets, where show staffers would call you on the phone if seats opened up. To get tickets, you had to answer a David Letterman trivia question. I never got one wrong.
I used to work security for Saturday Night Live just when Dave was beginning his NBC show. I was about twenty years old. One time, he was exiting the building at 30 Rock, through a revolving door, just as I was entering. I nodded at him, and smiled, through the glass. He did the same. I count that as “meeting him” and always will. I went full-circle in that spinning door just so I could watch where he was going outside the building. A tiny car pulled up. A VERY tiny car. And old. Someone got out, pushed the front seat up, and Dave squeezed into the back, with a couple of others. There were at least five people jammed into that little vehicle. I guess I had expected a limousine. Letterman got into a car that looked like it would normally carry me and my buddies.
That made me smile.
A couple of years later I REALLY met David Letterman.
I was on line outside the show, as usual, with my fiancée, and our friends. A staffer came up to me and asked if I had a good story about a recent snowstorm that had blasted New York City. I had absolutely nothing of interest to report, so of course I immediately said “Yes.”
Our whole group was ushered inside and seated in a prime, reserved location. We were the first audience members in the studio, so the room was even colder than its usual, famously freezing temperature. Paul Shaffer and his incredible band were not yet even on stage to warm up the crowd. The sound system was playing “Another World” by Joe Jackson, and I truly felt like I was in another world. I knew that I was going to be interviewed by David Letterman.
I had no idea what his line of questioning would be, but I had seen the show enough to know that it would, at its core, have little to do with whatever I had experienced in that blizzard.
Our segment was entitled “The Winds of February”. I learned this as it began. He interviewed a man sitting in front of us. I knew there would be three audience interviews, but I didn’t know if I’d be next, or third. While Dave questioned the first guy, I saw on the monitor that they had a scrawl on the screen that read “Part One: The Storm Gathers”. I paid no attention to what the guy was actually saying, as I readied for my part. When Dave came to me next, he asked where I was from. When I answered “Brooklyn” I got a big cheer. I knew the New York crowd was with me.
Then, before we continued, and as a bit of a shock to Dave, I decided to introduce him to my girlfriend (and now wife), Joanne, who was seated beside me, as I stood with Letterman. The crowd chuckled at the change of pace, and Dave seemed to get a kick out of it (how much of a kick will be revealed later). He shook hands with Joanne, said “Very nice to meet you”, and was quite pleasant about it all.
Then, he asked me about my snowstorm experience. I remembered that “Part One: The Storm Gathers” scrawl that they had placed in front of the first guy on the monitor, so I just began by saying “Well, my story picks up just about where his leaves off…”
That was all it took. The crowd got it and howled. Dave stopped a bit just to laugh at my joke.
I had made David Letterman laugh.
I forget most of the rest of the interview, but sure enough they put something up below my face that read “Part Two: The Storm Descends” (or something like that).
After Dave interviewed the third guy, and as the show left for commercial, he returned to me, shook my hand again, said something to me about how he appreciated how I helped the bit, and got the joke. Then he handed me a coveted “Late Night with David Letterman” sponge.
The letters have faded, but I still have it.
Here’s the best part: About a month or two later, the show did a bit called the Late Night Emmy Awards. There was a category for “Best Audience Member”. In typical, brilliant, Letterman fashion, guess who won?
“And the winner is – Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend.”
Yes, Joanne, who did nothing but shake Dave’s hand and smile, won the “award”. They had an elderly woman come on stage to “accept”.
“Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend is away in France and unable to accept in person,” said the announcer.
As I write this, there are but a handful of nights that will include the opportunity to watch a new episode of a talk show featuring David Letterman.
I will watch every one.
Thank you to Mr. Letterman, and to everyone who has ever worked for him.
This will never happen again.