It’s a red-letter day, PopWatchers: Tonight marks David Letterman’s 25th anniversary as the host of a late night talk show. Starting with Late Night with David Letterman (pictured) on February 1, 1982, Dave kicked off a quarter-century of programming for insomniacs, college students, and convicts (as he might put it), occupying the post-Carson hour at NBC before jumping ship to CBS in 1993 after a kerfuffle over who’d get Johnny’s spot when he retired. Jay Leno may have snagged the desk in Burbank, but Dave got to stay in the city that he loves, taking up residence in the Ed Sullivan Theater for The Late Show with David Letterman and basically replicating his exact same show—but with a shorter building to drop things from.
Oh, how I love the dropping of things. But that’s not all I love about Letterman: At the risk of TMI (like after Sundance that’s possible), I guess I should point out that my personality has largely been formed in the shadow of this giant man, and that it is entirely possible that without his wit and wisdom over yea these many years, I would not be holding down this job, let alone spending my time addressing large groups of people with the diminutive, “Hey, kids.” Yes, I was one of those insomniacs who thrived on Late Night, living and dying for every watermelon they tossed off the top of 30 Rock. I dreamed of working at Simon & Schuster with Meg, so I could get phone calls or marching bands in my office. I wished they wanted to see my photos, please. I spent way too much of my childhood practicing my mimed golf/baseball swings and the buttoning and unbuttoning of my double-breasted jacket, in case—just in case—they might want to let a 13 year old girl sub in for Dave one day.
I have so much more to say about this, but before I go on and yammer for a billion words about my life history with Indiana’s greatest export, I’d like to ask you, PopWatchers: What are your favorite Letterman memories from the last 25 years?
(Please: No wagering.)
addCredit(“David Letterman: Everett Collection”)
Here, in a ginormous nutshell, are mine: I got kicked out of highschool in 1992 for having “attitude problems” (can’t imagine wherethose came from), and found myself at an arts college for my senioryear. When I came up to NYC to audition for theater schools, a friend’swell-connected dad got us into a live taping of Late Night atthat teensy NBC studio, and I decided right then and there that NewYork was the only town for me. Meanwhile, I became known for jottingthe day’s Top Ten list on a white board in the hallway of my dorm, andmy journal from that year is peppered with favorite Letterman quotes,some life-changing, some just weird: “Being a smartass is dangerous”;”I’m a big fan of the plastic worm”; “Now, let’s measure our swancandleholder”; and the immortal “I don’t think there’s a man, woman, orchild alive today who doesn’t enjoy a lovely beverage.”
Letterman moved to CBS at the same time I moved to New York, himlanding on 52nd Street, me in a dorm on 11th. Through a weird freshmanyear twist of fate, I had no classes on Wednesdays, and soon enough Iwas uptown every single Wednesday morning during the fall of ’93,sitting in the standby line for Late Show tickets. More often than not, so long as I arrived before 7 a.m. or so, I got in. I was living the dream.
Now, as any true Letterman fan knows, the man sometimes goes throughphases where he just gets stuck on a song or an idea or a phrase andrepeats it until he starts to annoy himself. In early 1994, he waspretty solidly fixating on the big musical number from Oklahoma.He was also giving out canned hams. Put those things together, handthem to a theater student, and next thing you know, there I am in theaudience of the Ed Sullivan with a sign that says, “Will Sing Showtunesfor Canned Ham.” Letterman came out for the warm-up, saw my sign, andsaid, TO ME OMG HE WAS SPEAKING TO ME, “What are you going to sing?”and I said, “You pick.” (I carried a watermelon.) Paul suggested I sing “That’s Entertainment,” requiring me to shamefully admit that I didn’t know that song. (I carried a watermelon??)And then it happened: Dave saved me by saying, “Can you do ‘Oklahoma’?”Oh yes, PopWatchers: I could. And I did. And as a CBS page ran me up myham, I knew my life would never get any better than that.
But the story, so endless, goes on: Letterman introduced the show,then said there was a “lovely woman in the audience who did the entireproduction of Oklahoma before the show,” and the camera cut tome. That night, relatives from across the country called to celebrateme as the broadcast rolled through the time zones. And the next day,when I showed up in the standby line again—I think it was spring breakor something—virtually everyone recognized me as the Oklahoma Girl from the night before.
Other people recognized me, too—namely the CBS security staff. As Iwalked into the theater for what would turn out to be my final liveLetterman broadcast, I was pulled aside by a man wearing a SecretService-style earpiece and instructed that 1) he’d seen me before and2) I’d been there too much and 3) I could never come back, ever. All Iremember from the rest of that show was Regis Philbin running up theaisle, tossing what I think were Richard Simmons videotapes to thecrowd; perhaps that happened the other way around. I have no idea. Iwas in a daze. I had just been banned from my favorite thing on Earth,because I loved it too much. It made that time I got thrown out ofDisney World seem like a basket of puppies. Getting tossed out of theLetterman kingdom crushed me.
My love for Letterman continues, but it’s far more casual thesedays. I’ll watch tonight as Dave reprises his first-ever show bywelcoming Bill Murray as his guest, but I might forget to watchtomorrow, or I might forget to watch all of next week. I feel a littleguilty, but no one can remain an obsessive stalker forever. (Plus,they’re not really into stalkers in the Letterman camp.)Mostly, on this, his 25th anniversary, I just want to thank Dave foreverything he’s given us over the years: The NBC Library Lady, StupidPet Tricks, Monkeycam, and especially that one time he chewed out BillO’Reilly.
And to commemorate this occasion, here’s a vintage Top 10 list,straight from my high school journal, where it has been preserved forreasons that are unclear:
Top Ten Signs You’re An Extremely Boring Person
(from April 9, 1993)
10. Most common question you ask: “Hey! Where’s everybody going?”
9. Mr. Rogers grabs you by the throat and screams, “Pick up the pace, you simp!”
8. Sominex tablets now available shaped like you
7. Your wildest fantasy: To someday visit Winnepeg
6. Your bedroom walls are covered with photos of Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen
5. During confession, you hear the priest click on his Gameboy
4. The person seated next to you at the dinner party is sawing at their wrists with a steak knife
3. They let you sedate patients for surgery by describing your system for organizing laundry
2. During sex, your wife calls out the name “Irving R. Levine”
1. You think Al Gore is a maniac
(Insert sound of breaking glass here.)