Friday, May 8, 2015

My Take On - I WENT to Letterman

So I have a day. A wonderful, GLORIOUS, TIRED day to soak it all in. Wonderful? Right, I think you get it. Glorious? Well sure, it WAS Dave. Tired? Well, that may need some explaining…..
See…I shared the day…well, no, let me correct that. The FABULOUS, WONDEFUL, BEAUTIFUL Keri let me share this day with her! As she arranged everything, pulled a string here and there, got us not only to VIP status, but subsequently to “that’s the VIP line to get in, let me lead you to your PERFECT seat selection prior” status. Here I am, going to the MOST IMPORTANT show of my lifetime (yes, it does eclipse SNL) and my perfect, wonderful, beautiful aMAZing partner…..has it all covered.
So we head into the Ed Sullivan Theater. Where the BEATLES debuted for goodness sake. And we watched, as First Aid Kit ran though their INCREDIBLE version of “America”…..3 times. Dress. Blocking. And OMGG, Biff Henderson running the blocking.
And it really hit me.
I am in the Ed Sullivan Theater
I am watching DRESS rehearsal of my idol’s show
The most amazing woman, who at the moment,was to my right (we usually make sure it’s the other way) is responsible for it all.
Every moment
Every second
KERI, is the reason.

And then, as the rest of the crowd gets seated, (we were early, as noted, so we watched 400 “non-VIP’ers” take their seats, including Chris Fowler from ESPN….it’s who you know buddy) the air was such a palpable WOW. I was here, the show I have been a follower of for 33 years, the MAN who was my idol, every day of that path….damn, the BAND, who was part of the entire run.
And here I was.
My Shrine
My Sanctuary

And I watched in awe. Every segment, every break, every everything. Lights on? Lights off? Dave’s room. And while what you witness during a taping does not fully equate to what airs? Holy good God, it’s damn close.

This day, MY favorite day, happened because of Keri Arpino, and I could not be more happy. She took EVERYTHING I have ever told her about my “comedy career”, and made magic happen. So Thank You Keri. From the bottom of my heart. #watchthegap #ifyouseesomething and most importantly, #USBchampion

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My take on.....I am going to Letterman

Tomorrow is a big day…..
Tomorrow represents my youth, as well as my adulthood…..
Tomorrow cannot get here fast enough…..

Tomorrow, I go to NYC, and attend a Letterman taping, just 2+ short weeks prior to his retirement.

Let’s hit the stop button, and really analyze that statement. In my youth, the teenage, aspiring stand-up comedian, I had TWO shows, and two shows only, that peppered my brain with thoughts and dreams and hopes. One? SNL - specifically, the cast AFTER the transition cast. Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn, PHIL HARTMAN…..sketch after sketch after sketch (BTW, Common Knowledge, STILL the best sketch from that run….YouTube it) just brimming with light, and funny, and irony (NOT the Alanis type) and perfection. I watched in AWE as seemingly “maybe” sketches (Church Lady) became mainstays, and “dump the garbage” sketches (Wayne’s World) became household fodder. Let’s remember, this was in an age BEFORE YouTube, BEFORE Twitter, BEFORE ANY social media. If you didn’t see it, you didn’t see it. And I can’t speak for every one of my friends from then….but I saw it.

The second, and even more important and as MUCH iconic, was Late Night with David Letterman.

I was 10 when Late Night, in its earliest incarnation on NBC, first aired. Obviously, I was not watching then: but because of my obsession with stand up, my admiration for Carson (even seeing him rarely) and my fascination with television, I KNEW who Dave was. And any magazine that did a piece on Dave (actual PAGE IN HAND magazines, kids. Flipping pages…) noted the innovation and “new” he was bringing to the screen. The cigar during the break, take EVERY chance, self-deprecating host was starting to evolve, from a guy that was “good” as a stand up at best. Stupid Human Tricks, Stupid Pet Tricks, VIEWER MAIL….all became part of the lexicon.

And I remember the first LIVE show I stayed up for. I am sure my parents were not aware, that my 20 inch black and white TV in my room was ON….but I did.

And here was a host, taking chances every segment, asking “stars” the questions that Carson didn’t ask, that Snyder didn’t ask….hell, that NO ONE asked. (and of course, the “stars” in question KNEW they were coming) The show had a different feel from ANY other talk show on TV. Dave made people STARS. They may have had it in them? They may have been successful? But, Dave brought out the best in every one, from day one. Two come forefront to mind from the early days.

Andy Kauffman was a novelty, a “hey look at THAT goofy cat” comedian when he decided to go FULL Andy, and engage himself in professional wrestling, specifically in a promotion in the Mid-South. The “hero” in that promotion was Jerry Lawler. Andy came on TV in Mid-South, proclaiming to be the “inter-gender” champion, wrestling (and defeating) women on a week to week basis. Lawler (in wrestling life) decided he was going to eradicate Andy from the wrestling world….and where did it all come to head? Of course, David Letterman’s show. The encounter (may it be “real” or not) put DAVE on the mainstream headlines, as well as Andy, and to an extent, Lawler, and Mid-South wrestling.

The second for me was Charles Grodin. Grodin hit the mainstream, around 1988, with the release of Midnight Run, (and followed it up with the Beethoven movies….) and was a comedic actor at heart. If you go back and watch the early appearances with Dave, you will witness comedy at its best. While scripted in some aspects, the “angry” Grodin opposite the interviewing Letterman was pure genius. The tension, so PERFECTLY constructed, felt real, even if WE, the audience, were kind of in on the joke. Stone-faced Grodin disagreeing and getting mad at Dave; Dave “trying” to reel the interview back in; moments of silence, developing SUCH tension, it could NOT be cut with a knife, yet only a machete….brilliance.

As the years went on, Dave continued to build his brand. More and more, the “Late Night” show was becoming the place for breakout stars to show their wares. Julia Roberts, Reeth Witherspoon, an “every day comic” named Jerry Seinfeld, hell, even his later-in-life rival Jay Leno, all got their BIG BREAK on the Letterman show.

And then there were the musical acts. A quick side bar…..Paul Shaffer is JUST as much an integral part to the Letterman story, as anyone else associated. For 34 years, he has been at the helm of the note by note ship, fulfilling a musical landscape for every one of the 6000+ shows, as well as doubling as Letterman’s “sidekick”. Carson had Ed? Dave had Paul. And while some may find the goofy, bald Canadian a bit aloof and “not that funny”; from a music perspective, he was the only partner Dave could ever have. Think of this as well. The HOUSE band, in its current 4 piece form, has been together on stage for over TWENTY years. Will Lee, I believe, was with Paul from Day 1 on the NBC show. Anton Fig and Sid McGinnis were there soon thereafter. (bonus points if anyone can name the original drummer of the Late Night Band) Night after night, week after week...whether it be just for bumpers in and out of commercials, or backing up a solo singer, Paul and the band took to the task, and exceeded all expectations.

But what about those acts coming in? Whether it be new bands making their network debut or older acts getting the shine and rub from being back on the national free air, Dave gave them a medium. The debut numbers are staggering, not just from a number amount, but a “who’s who” aspect. And then the legends? Dave got them all. Why? Because even if, as the 2000s went on, and Jay got the “better numbers”, musical acts wanted to be associated with Dave, as he was still the “cool kid”. Point of order? Foo Fighters. When Dave had his unexpected heart surgery in 2000, Grohl and company cancelled the rest of their South American tour, just to come back to the States. They did not appear on Letterman until 6 weeks later, but it was out of their respect and admiration of a man that had a hand in “making” them, that they returned early, and were the first musical act upon his return. (PS, Letterman helped the band with their HBO documentary series “Sonic Highway”, both out of his love for the band, but also his admiration for Grohl’s outstanding documentary feature “Sound City”)

And then……there are just moments. Some poignant, some hysterical, some deep….all meaningful. Here is just a brief list of the Late Show moments that still stick with me forever:

• The Velcro Suit – He did it twice! The original was on a random mid-week show, which was seen by thousands. The reprise, on his first anniversary prime time special, was witnessed by millions. I saw them both, and as goofy as the premise was, probably put Dave on the MAP for the first time.
• Dropping things from a tall building – Another NBC staple, Dave took an outlandish concept, and made it into comedy gold.
• “The Password Is Ball…” - This one to me, while incredibly obscure, is tremendously personal. To this day, if I said THOSE words to my childhood best friend, Scott, he would respond with “Basket????” to which I would respond “Eggs!”. In print, it doesn’t hold any water (wait, a blog…is it print?” but to me, one of my favorite childhood memories.
• The Madonna Cigar night – Filth at its finest, and only Dave could have made it 100x better.
• Every single Carson appearance – Cheating a little bit, as it’s not HIS show, but every time he sat in the chair, opposite his idol, it was pure genius. (please look up his LAST appearance…as the question that Carson asks him re: the Leno decision…wow)
• 9/19/2001 – The single greatest 7 minutes of soliloquy on network TV. Period. Dave was THE host in the city that was violated. He took to the air, a mere 8 days later, and talked from the heart. His thoughts about the Mayor, his thoughts about the terrorism…hell, he weaved in a feel good moment talking about Choteau, Montana. (which is THE tear jerking moment) Poise, grace, conviction and calm.
• The Scandal – Do you know what 99.9% of the “celebrity” culture does when they have a scandal thrown at them? They run. Like, Usain Bolt-speed run. Not Dave. It hit, and he addressed it head on. And did he try to cover? No. Did he try and deflect? No. Did he say it was all false? No. What he DID, is address it head on and said, (paraphrase) “yup, I made a mistake”. And it was obvious this was not just a public SHOW, that he also DID bring it home and talk to Regina about it. THAT, is a man. Admitting a wrong, is always 10x harder than taking credit for a right. David did it with aplomb
• The Tributes – The recent ones are top of mind for me, but he has been tremendous throughout his years. But, to hear Dave speak in such reverence of someone like Robin Williams….strip away the words, and just listen to the feelings. One of my favorite Letterman features of all.
• The Retirement Announcement - It has to end here, right? Admittedly, today, at 44 (YIKES) years old, I tend to watch my hero in YouTube fashion. And on this day, I received an email prior to watching, simply titled “Did you HEAR”? I hadn’t, and sat down, and fired up the clip. And while I am happy for Dave, for Harry, for Regina (and of course the immature Bald Eagle), I feel like a part of my life, a HUGE part of my maturation, is about to be gone. Jerry Seinfeld said it best on the show recently….”Why now?” And while a humorous moment, one that resonated. Why now Dave? Is it REALLY time?
And then I thought more, and yes, it is time. 34 years of doing THIS gig? That’s longer than Carson! MUCH longer than Parr. And despite his continuing effort to come back, MUCH longer than Jay Leno.
Letterman is not just a man; Late Night is not just a show. It’s an American institution. 34 years ago, NBC decided to take a chance on a funny weatherman, who had an idea. He took a 90 episode run at Tomorrow Show, and turned it into an institution for longer than the iPhone, blackberry, Netflix and Facebook have been around…..combined.
Tomorrow, I get to see it one last time. Tomorrow, I will watch my idol take the stage, in a temp of 45 degree theatre, chat it up with Tina Fay, and introduce First Aid Kit. Tomorrow, I will be in the company of the most beautiful “plus one” ever, my favorite person in the world, and who is solely responsible for the day happening.
Tomorrow, I will say “Thank You”, to one of the most important people in my life.

Thanks Dave