It’s fate that some should touch the heights that make a mem’ry fast recall,
The words and deeds that make hearts light, and let the tensions built, desolve,
A comic’s not a name tag worn, nor ever was talent bought,
a showman true, is only born, then hones the talent he has got,
Let the hours slip ’til night, who fears the dark in merriment,
rather laugh in lowered light, then watch some other, lesser gent
Let talent come from where it will, in singers, actors, all renowned
spectators nightly hours fill, with David, Paul and Kalter’s sounds,
those talents many lives enrich, by daring to speak humors script
As Letterman describes “the switch” it’s genius either way it’s flipped.
(A Poem by Daniel L. Buckner)
I was about 9 years old and staying up very late on a Friday. Everyone else was sound asleep and that was the first time I ended up on “Late Night with David Letterman.” I distinctly remember the bandleader eating a bowl of Rice Krispies drizzled with Pepto-Bismol. Clearly I had stepped into another era of my life.
The beautiful thing is that I am not unique. Letterman has long appealed to those with a taste for humor that is off the beaten path. No David Letterman would mean no Jimmy Kimmel and no Conan O’Brien. There has been plenty written about the man’s contributions to comedy, but to me it has always been Dave’s curiosity about people that I found so interesting. Moreso than some of his celebrity interviews, I recall him talking to a young kid who found gold. Or his exchanges with his mother known to the public as “Dave’s mom.”
I’ve learned about interviewing from some of the best and have been able to interview truly great interviewers like the late Joe Franklin, Bob Edwards, Larry King, Bill Boggs and Elliot Mintz. I don’t pretend to be in any way culturally relevant. I’m still learning, but there is no doubt in my mind that the reason I interview people is because of David Letterman.
David Letterman is frequently over-looked as an interviewer. I recall my conversation with his announcer Alan Kalter, when he talked about his first impression with Dave. “He was a listener. And he still is to this day. Uh, he’s a great listener when he interviews the guests on the show, as you can tell. He’s also a good listener if you meet him in the hall or if he sits down with you and says ‘What’s new?’ He listens to everything you say and then asks the appropriate questions.”
I write this little tribute to the Worldwide Pants crew as the very last episode of the show is being taped. Hard to fathom the impact Dave, Paul & Co. made to millions of people, but also the people who helped create the magic and the music of every episode.
The people who created The Late Show are a lot more open than most people in what they call “show business.”
I’ve been a fan of Paul Shaffer and his 2 albums, in particular “Coast to Coast” for years. His CBS Orchestra is arguably one of the best bands in the business and this is not really a secret. I set out years ago to help tell the story of the band, going back to when it was called “The World’s Most Dangerous Band.” I was able to interview Steve Jordan, the original drummer back in the early days of 1982 when Letterman was first starting in late night. I recall my interview also with Anton Fig, known to many as a great drummer who is also a composer who created one of my favorite albums, “Figments.” And of course Will Lee who along with Shaffer has been there since day one and never left. I spoke with almost all of the horn section, some who have gone onto other things. There was the enthusiastic Alan Chez who encouraged me to stuff myself on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. There was saxophonist Bruce Kapler who will forever be associated with Christmastime to so many. Aaron Heick, saxophonist and composer of songs like “Drifting Upstream” and “Desert Lullaby,” and of course their leader, the multi-instrumentalist incredible Tom “Bones” Malone, a man who personifies what it is to be a gentleman.
But there are other people I got to meet, the former warm-up comedian and booker, Eddie Brill who I had the fortune to interview after interviewing the one-of-a-kind announcer Alan Kalter. The people behind the scenes who gave so kindly of their limited time, like Executive Producer and CEO of Worldwide Pants, Rob Burnett, who somehow finds time to also write scripts and make movies…or CBS Vice President of Late Night Programming Vinnie Favale who has an unlimited amount of passion for so many things, including his musical “Hereafter.”
I didn’t get to interview the entire band, but I did try my best so there are no regrets really. There is only one regret I have. It was back in 2008 and I was in New York City having interviewed arguably the biggest New York legend—Woody Allen. I was stopped on the street and asked to answer 3 trivia questions (the most memorable being about Kalter’s hair color) for tickets to see a taping of “The Late Show.” I answered all the questions correctly, but sadly my flight would not allow me to attend the taping. The tickets were given to my friends who would stay behind as I returned home. I truly regret not staying. Meeting Woody Allen and then seeing a taping of Letterman? New York dreams.
When I interviewed his good friend comedian Tom Dreesen he said to get a good look because we won’t see Dave again. Perhaps David Letterman’s most attributed and repeated quote is “There is no off position on the genius switch.” Maybe I’m being mawkish, but I can’t imagine so much wit, creativity and humor just suddenly turning off.
Late at night, 11:35 PM to be precise, on television sets across the country, the recognizable sound of Alan Kalter and the CBS Orchestra has been heard night after night…a sure sign that you’re about to be entertained. Although the show is ending there are stories and as I have learned many incredible characters that are here to stay.
Special thanks to: Eddie Brill, Rob Burnett, Tom Dreesen, Vinnie Favale, Anton Fig, Aaron Heick, Steve Jordan, Alan Kalter, Bruce Kapler, Frankie Keane, Will Lee, Tom “Bones” Malone, Susan Shreyar-Miller and…of course Henry Jordan and David Yoder.