News of Dave Letterman’s plans to quit the CBS Late Show next year spread quickly even here in Australia where the Tonight/Late/Late,Late Show concept remains a little baffling.
I discovered Dave Letterman’s Late Show Dave very early. Very early in the morning in fact. I got hooked on Dave from watching early morning TV in Australia as I prepared to leave the house for my breakfast radio news shift.
15 or so years later I got to sit in the audience of the Ed Sullivan Theatre and witness the man weave his legendary magic, live and in the flesh. Admittedly this show was being pre-recorded for broadcast the following day, but far and away better than 4 a.m. slot Dave was allocated on Australian TV back in those early days.
Drifting aimlessly around New York City in May last year I found myself on W 53rd street.I spotted a large crowd of excited people on the other side of the street. Directly across from them and in front of me, stood a temporary barricade which blocked my path and restricted the advancement of four or five men with cameras around their necks all straining over the hindrance.
Their attention vacillated between on their left, a plain steel door in the side of a long plain brick building, and the orange witch hatted temporary but empty parking bay a few metres to their right. A commotion erupted from the larger group assembled behind another temporary barrier on the opposite side of W 53rd St.
The blonde woman looked a bit like Barbra Walters but it couldn’t be, I quickly assessed “Barbra Walters doesn’t look anywhere near that old, surely”. It most certainly was the iconic TV anchor person because the adoring bunch of, mostly young fans, across the way was yelling her name.
Barbara posed briefly for the paparazzi, then she and her three person posse disappeared inside, through the plain steel door.
I moseyed further on up/down W 53rd Street past the scaffold covered brick walls, some of which almost completely concealed something else familiar, a small but famous deli – but the penny had yet to drop. I ventured on to what turned out to be Broadway. But just prior to reaching the famous junction of Broadway and W53rd St, I was funnelled into a queue of people. Apparently not uncommon in New York. Thanks to a friendly woman in the line, from Bugtown, Idaho if I recall correctly, I discovered I had joined one of two separate lines snaking their way around the corner to our left, for tickets to the “Late show with David Letterman”. Ours was the “Standby” line though. I also discovered from my Bugtownian friend that Tom Hanks had been Dave’s guest yesterday. I was in a queue which won’t get me tickets into a show which had the legendary Tom Hanks only yesterday. This always happens to me.
The shorter, happier and decidedly more animated queue ahead of us, in front of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, was those who HAD tickets to see Letterman. I learnt you needed to book months ahead to get in that line which was now being instructed by the “outside” warm-up guy on how to behave when the big show got underway inside. “Even if you think Dave isn’t funny today, laugh anyway and laugh loudly too because the folks at home need to be considered” he lectured. This warm-up guy warms up the punters for the “inside “warm up guy inside who whips the audience into a new frenzy once they’re inside.
Only four people at the head of our mob were offered tickets to see the taping of the Thursday show later in the day.
As the disappointed mob spread off in all directions, I loitered for a time around “The Great White Way” but not as shattered as most in the standby queue.
It was then; right there in front of the famous Ed Sullivan Theatre on Broadway New York City, a clipboard wielding woman approached me. She wore a Late Show with David Letterman Baseball jacket and my guess is she pitied me and viewed my loitering as skulking… “Would you like two tickets for Friday’s Late Show which would be taped later today”? To which I desperately wanted to reply YEESSIRREEEBOB!! But I gathered myself and politely thanked her.
“Make sure you are back here in three hours”… warned the nice clipboard lady. “I will not be setting foot outside this famous junction I assured her. I had tickets to see Dave Letterman who, I guessed, spotting to Barbra and posse getting back into shiny black car and legendary Late Show floor manager/funny man “Biff” Henderson popping out for breather, would be putting a fresh white shirt and different tie in readiness for the next pre-taping.
Eventually the time came and we were steered into the famous theatre to see the show. After the equally famous monologue, his first guest ( that guy from Arrested Development) Will Arnett strode, sockless onto the famous set and sat down to chew the fat with Dave… mostly about wearing slip on shoes without sox. An audience member rather than an “audience” with Dave. Didn’t matter to me. I got to see Dave Letterman “live” before he retired.