The Paul Leslie Hour Episode #7 – Bill Scheft

I first became completely aware of Bill Scheft’s humor and way of speaking by watching him one night on The Late Show with David Letterman.  Bill Scheft was a joke writer on Letterman from 1991 until Dave’s retirement in 2015.  He was talking with Dave about his book Shrink Thyself and I could relate to his talking about therapy.  He struck me as someone who was aware of how people think and behave and the seed was planted that maybe one day I could interview him.

It didn’t happen while Letterman still had his late night talk show, but everything happens that should, when it is supposed to. The things he talked about at the end resonated deeply with me and I’m glad that I remembered verbatim much of he said. It’s gotten me out of trouble a few times and soothed my soul on a few nights that my thoughts weren’t kind and certainly not conducive to sleeping.   The Bill Scheft interview wasn’t what I expected, but it’s one I will never forget.  Thank you, sir.

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Genius Either Way It’s Flipped

LATE AT NIGHT

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.

Vinnie Favale: Musical Theatre Book writer, Composer, Lyricist; CBS Vice President of Late Night Programming

Shakespeare once said “the earth has music for those who listen.”  Someone who has heard the music of life…and loss is Vinnie Favale.  As you will hear in this conversation, his interests are diverse.  A Brooklyn boy, Vinnie Favale always loved music and began his career in radio at WNBC.  His path first crossed with David Letterman, who in years to come would be known as one of the biggest stars in television.   Many years later, his path would cross with Letterman again.  In 1996 he joined CBS as the Vice President of Late Night Programming.  He produced over 50 editions of the “Live on Letterman” concert series with everyone from Paul McCartney to Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters.  He has been a guest on Howard Stern many times and  itwould appear that all of this would mean a lifetime of stories.

True…but, what gets Vinnie Favale especially passionate is his musical “Hereafter.”  Favale is the book-writer, lyricist and composer for “Hereafter,” a musical that explores the question of what happens after we leave the world of the living.  Written with his creative partner Frankie Keane, Favale hopes to bring closure to all who have lost someone.  Audiences of “Hereafter” have left the theatre in tears, but not tears of sorrow–tears of relief.

Let’s meet Vinnie Favale.

Tom Dreesen: Stand-Up Comedian

Tom Dreesen is a man who has found the recipe for good health and happiness.  His prescription is that you do it 10 times a day.  He wants you to laugh.  


Like the song popularized by his friend the late Frank Sinatra, Tom Dreesen “took a few blows,” but he definitely “lived a life that’s full.”   
In this interview Tom shares his story with us, and it is an inspiring one.  

Sinatra called himself “a saloon singer” and his friend Tom Dreesen “a saloon comedian.”  Dreesen has made over 500 national television appearances, including many on The Late Show with David Letterman.  A friend of Dave’s, Tom Dreesen has even hosted the show in Dave’s absence.  A stand-up comedian, emcee, motivational speaker, and sometimes actor, he still considers himself a neighborhood guy.  

 

Steve Jordan: Drummer, Composer & Record Producer

 Steve Jordan is a drummer, composer and record producer.  Steve Jordan is frequently known for accompanying well known artists both on stage as a sideman and in the recording studio as a session player.   He has backed artists like Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones.  Along with Pino Palladino, Jordan performs with the John Mayer Trio.  He was a founding touring member of the Blues Brothers featuring Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi.

He was a founding member of The World’s Most Dangerous Band, which backed Paul Shaffer on Late Night with David Letterman on NBC from 1982 to 1986.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce this man, Grammy Award-winning Steve Jordan.

Pleasure to be here, Paul.

How do you define Steve Jordan?

(Laughs) I guess, oh, that’s a good question. Somebody who’s passionate about music and life in general. A very fortunate individual. A person who doesn’t take anything for granted, I guess. I hope that kind of shows in the work that we do.

If we could go back in the Jordan household when you were growing up, what would we see?

We would see first of all  two amazing parents that I owe everything to. My mother Gloria Lorraine Jordan, a musical person, incredible homemaker and later educator, and she got a Master’s Degree in gerontology later on. And just a very active, determined, supportive, wonderful person. And then my father, Horance R. Jordan who was an architect, worked for the city of New York and very driven by work ethic, a very strong work ethic. And once again, very supportive. He used to drive me around to gigs and kind of, there’s nothing like having an architect be a roadie (laughs). I made the guy, the two of them together were so dynamic, elegant, fantastic that it was incredible to grow up in that household. And I have a younger sister who is very talented as well. It was pretty cool. Pretty cool. We grew up in the Bronx, the northeast Bronx. At that time it was kind of a pretty cool melting pot, different cultures and it was an exciting time. Music was always playing in the house, usually it was pop music. And in a particular case, my father being a jazz fanatic, there was always Miles Davis being heard in the house. And then, also, you know, the Beatles and Motown and Stax, and stuff.  James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone. So there was a lot of music being played and my father had a wonderful sound system. And you know, we did some – really, really appreciated that kind of stuff in that era. You know, the Civil rights era and that kind of thing.

Can you remember the first album that you bought with your own money?

The first album that I ever owned was – and it’s still one of my favorite albums – it was Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini. That is still one of the greatest recordings, in my opinion, ever made. And it’s kind of a beacon for me when I do musical directorialships, when I’m working the Emmys or…or Kennedy Center or anything like that, I always have that in the back of my mind, Henry Mancini’s work, Quincy Jones’s work and that kind of stuff. The first single I ever owned, was I think Yakety Yak by The Coasters, which is one of my favorites. I think Charlie Brown and Yakety Yak were two of my favorite records as a kid. And I started collecting records very, very young. I think by the age of two or three, I started getting 45’s. My parents would by me stuff and, according to them, I knew how to operate the, not only the record player but also I knew what records I was putting on, before I could read. Now, I think the reason why is because I kind of have this kind of photographic memory kind of thing and, of course, labels at that time were very easily recognizable. And I guess you could tell by the font, because there were certain fonts on certain tunes. So I think that’s how I was able to recognize OK, even though it was a Motown label, I could tell, if it was a Four Tops record that I wanted to play, or it’s a Supremes record I wanted to play or something like that. I think that’s how that came about. But I just was banging on pots and pans from a very early age and I was listening to records.

You said “banging on pots and pans.” So, were you pretty much always a drummer?

Uh, yes. That was definitely the first – that’s the anchor to everything that I do. Even when I stop for a while and start playing other instruments,when I came back to really devoting myself to the drums I got an even deeper appreciation of the drums. My father told me, I guess when I was around seven years old, seven or eight years old, he said ‘if you learn how to play Art Blakey’s Blues March you’ll be able to navigate all types of drumming and different styles. And even though he wasn’t a musician, everybody thought he was a musician. And he had a very keen sense of what was important in music or what touched people in music. And he was right because that particular piece of music – well, obviously, Art Blakey swung like no other person swung, so you know it was swinging. And his technique, his hands, so to speak, were fluid. Not over-technical, just really steady and played extremely melodic. It wasn’t just all based on technique so he had the perfect combination. And so, there you have it.

Take us back. What was it like as a very young man meeting Stevie Wonder and also being a part of his band?

First of all, let me just clarify. I never was in Stevie Wonder’s band but I got a chance to hang out with Stevie Wonder. It was a long, it’s a long story. I’ll try to make it as short as possible. During Songs in the Key of Life, going into The Secret Life of Plants, he was auditioning drummers. And there was a drummer that played on Songs in the Key of Life, besides himself, named Raymond Townes. For some reason, they were auditioning other drummers to see if they could get someone to replace Raymond, even though Raymond played great and I really don’t understand it to this day. But, at any rate, they were auditioning people from all over the country. I met a lot of people. I was still in high school. I was working in a percussion cage at Bill’s Music, Bill’s Rentals which, prior to studio instrument rentals, that was the place. So anyway, I’m hanging out, working at the percussion cage. Bill, who was a wonderful gentleman, tried to get me in to audition but I was too young so I wasn’t able to audition but I met a lot of people and, to make a long story short, at the end of the audition Raymond retained his job but then they let me jam. They let me play with Stevie. And at the time, fusion music was really at its apex and so, like the Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy by Return to Forever, Chick Corea; Mahavishnu, John McLaughlin and Billy Cobbham and Weather Report – stuff like that, and some stuff that Herbie Hancock was doing – all that stuff was on Stevie’s fingertips, so to speak, and mine as well. So I got a chance to play. We jammed and he went into like this Return to Forever tune, which I knew like the back of my hand. He was shocked and everybody went ‘Whoa!’. So, even though I didn’t get the job, I became like a little mascot. They let me hang out with them. So they were going into the studio – they were at the Hit Factory – and they let me hang out. And it was like being Cinderella. I was living in the Bronx, didn’t have any money or anything, just enough to take the subway in, and I’d be hanging out with Stevie Wonder and the band, Wonder Love which, at the time Nathan Watts had joined the band, was still his musical director on bass. Michael Sembello was on guitar. It was just an amazing situation. ……..Phil Gaines had just joined. I was in the room with Stevie Wonder when Phil Gaines was introduced to Stevie Wonder. It was just an amazing situation. So, I’d be hanging out with Stevie Wonder and the band, in the studio watching studio technique, and just – I’m a kid! You can see, it’s incredible! It’s like a dream. And then I’d get on the train, the subway home and I’d get home. It was truly a Cinderella type of situation. From that moment on I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Stevie Wonder was this incredible human being and so sweet to me that it was just crazy. I just, I couldn’t believe it. I have deep love and respect for him. So that was when I knew exactly what I wanted to do. So the very first session I ended up recording was with a guy who used to play with Stevie Wonder named Eddie Morales, who was a tenor sax player. My first session was at Electric Lady Studios, in Studio B, and the band was Nathan Watts on bass, Carlos Alomar on guitar, from David Bowie fame who co-wrote the song Fame, and Michael Sembello on guitar as well. It was half of Stevie’s band, plus Carlos and myself, so I think that’s where the whole thing about me playing in Stevie’s band came up. That’s a clarification of that story. He had us very much involved with them but I was never really an official band member.

What about playing in the Saturday Night Live band? How did that come about?

Oh, that came about – I was playing, I was starting to get some calls, I was like this second or third call for all the musicians in New York who are incredible, you know? So like, the A team was Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta, Chris Parker, these guys. And I was just coming up, starting to get some jobs when these guys couldn’t make it. I’d get to play be subbing for these guys. There was a snow storm in New York back in the ‘70’s that, well, it crippled the city and some of these guys lived out of town and I lived in Chelsea. So, this was when the studio scene was just bursting with work. You could do six or seven sessions a day if you were lucky. It was really an incredible combination of actual records and commercials, which we called jingles. During the storm, I was able to really do a lot of work because a lot of the guys who lived out of town couldn’t make it in. And I got to play and a lot of people liked what I was doing. John Tropea had a band, he put together a band. It was really a band. It was just a band comprised of all the top studio musicians. And he had done a solo album and the hook to this album was that Steve Gadd played in the left speaker and Rick Marotta played in the right speaker. And he had a gig at the Bottom Line, which no longer exists anymore but it was a great venue and a lot of great music was there. Rick Marotta couldn’t do the job so I was recommended because a lot of these guys said ‘Hey, well this kid is pretty good. You should check him out and see what happens.’ So, the day before the show we had a rehearsal at Carol’s Music – I’ll never forget it – where I’m playing opposite Steve Gadd, who’s a hero of mine, and I could hardly hold the sticks. It was a disaster. The rehearsal was an absolute disaster (laughs). And I thought ‘Oh my God!’ I was just so nervous. So the show time comes the following evening and I’m setting up and Steve is setting up and people are filing in, and I hear people in the audience grumbling, like ‘Who’s this guy here? I thought Rick Marotta was going to be playing. Who’s this guy?’ And I hear murmuring and everything and I go ‘Oh, my goodness. This is trouble. Oh, my god.’ So then the show starts and all the adrenaline kicked in because it was a do-or-die situation. Because, it was like Game 7, I just played better than I ever played, ever. That’s the night I got the job at Saturday Night Live because Steve Gadd was just to busy to do Saturday Night Live. He was just too sought after, so he couldn’t. He never knew what he was going to be doing or where he would be so he couldn’t commit to the job. I was asked to do the job from that show and it changed my life.

Tell us a bout being a member of The World’s Most Dangerous Band, the first house band, Late Night with David Letterman.

Well, basically, the show – the band was Paul, Will, Hiram, and myself. Paul – I asked Paul to produce a band that I was in called the 24th Street Band, which consisted of Clifford Carter on keyboard and vocal, Hiram Bullock on guitar, Will Lee on bass, and myself. Paul and I had forged a really cool friendship from playing together on the Saturday Night Live band going into the Blues Brothers band. Especially during the Blues Brothers band, we really became pretty close,  musically, because we had the same type of love for certain types of music. When Paul was asked to put together a band and he came to me and I said ‘Well, why don’t we just get the guys? I mean, we already got a band.’ Our band was, basically, breaking up, or we had just broken up. ‘Well look, if we get Hiram and Will, we’re ready to go, ‘cause it’s a band.’ He agreed and then we started, we started playing. We used to rehearse in my home. So it was a great vehicle for us to play a lot of the music that we loved because we loved all ‘50s rock and roll, rockabilly, obviously R&B. So, we just picked our favorite tunes, basically. We hit the ground running because we were already primed. Like I said, three of us had played before together on a regular basis. Hiram was a phenomenal guitar player, as we know. Will Lee a virtuoso, not only bass player but all-around musician, Paul and I had worked together, like I said. So we had a team and our musical dialog was kind of very high level. We became the focal point of the show because people were just blown away by the band from the very first episode. In fact, one of the great things about being so visible at the time was that there was never a four-piece, there had never been a four-piece band on television every night before. That’s the first time it was ever done. That was great. We received a mailgram from the great Tony Williams the day after our first show, congratulating us and I thought ‘Well, there you have it!’ because Tony was my hero. Well, that was an incredible acknowledgement from somebody who was a beacon to me. He raised – he set the tone for me and, individually, as a musician. He was playing with Miles when he was 17 so my goal was to do something really of a high level by the time I reached 17. Now, I was doing some stuff at 17 but (laughs) not playing with Miles Davis. But I did get the job with Saturday Night Live when I was 18, 19 years old so I was a couple of years off.

Our special guest is drummer, Steve Jordan. Not only have you performed with a lot of great artists on the Letterman Show but you’ve recorded and toured with a lot of great artists. Everyone from Neil Young to Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, John Mayer, Don Henley, Cat Stevens, BB King, Patti Austin, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Alicia Keyes, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor – the list goes on and on. Could you pick one or two favorite artists that you have worked with?

Well, playing with Neil Young was pretty big because I got a chance not only to play with him in the studio at a very critical time in his career but we also, during the making of Landing on Water, we lived together for a couple of, for a week or two off and on. So one night – I had a place in Malibu and we used to go out there – one night I found myself sitting down, writing a song with Neil Young and I couldn’t believe it (laughs). I couldn’t believe it! I’m sitting over there in the living room and I’ve got an acoustic guitar and he’s got guitar and I’m like ‘Holy cow! I’ve just written a song with Neil Young! This is insane (laughs)! I can’t believe it!’ So there’s that and, of course, working on Keith Richards’ solo album and befriending Keith, who is a dear friend. I mean, that –when you’re friends with people, like, sometimes you don’t realize exactly what’s actually happening because everybody, we’re all just human beings, OK? If you treat somebody differently than a human being, well then you’re not – you’re belittling the whole relationship and yourself and human nature in general. So, people just want you to be natural around them. When you’re asked a question like that, well, they’re just a human being and a very wonderful human being, considering how everybody else treats them because they’re all – these people are treated differently. The ‘celebrity’ and all of that kind of makes for a very kind of tricky situation for them. I can say that they’re good friends and they didn’t hesitate to share their knowledge with me. I mean, Keith gave me guitar lessons and – ‘cause he saw that I wasn’t going to put down the guitar. He saw that I was going to keep playing it so he said ‘Well, I might as well teach this guy some stuff so that I can actually bear it (laughs).’ So that was great. I learned a lot about songwriting, as well, from him. Those two things in particular, those two individuals in particular, just jump out at me but I have had so many wonderful experiences that they’re hard to kind of number, and it keeps getting better every day. I mean, I – I’m very fortunate to be playing with the people I’m playing with currently. Right now, I’m working with my wife, Meegan Voss, who’s a great musician and we have a band called The Verbs. We’re both classical, classically trained musicians and, of course, she had a couple of girl bands back in the day, the Poptarts and the Antoinettes. And she was like the queen of CBGB’s, for a while there. And I always wanted to get a band into CBGB’s and I could never get one to actually get in there (laughs). I could never put one together. So we have that kind of thing where, that she’s done stuff that I’ve wanted to do and vice versa. And so, now that when we’re playing together, it’s a really incredible experience for me. And I also get the chance to play with people like John Mayer and Alicia Keyes and Beyoncé, and just this new crop of great musicians.

What is John Mayer like to write with? I know you’ve written a couple of songs with him.

Well, John is a great writer, and he’s just a very smart and amazingly talented individual. You know, we’ve become good friends as well which is, really, the main thing. It’s about chemistry with a musician, or with anybody, not just a musician, obviously. But he’s very savvy and he’s very keen on what is important about his music, his product, his brand. So, the writing that we’ve done together is different. Every collaboration is different. The way that I collaborate with John is more like, it comes out of what we call a ‘free play’ where we just play some stuff and it’s basically like just jamming. And we come up with some stuff and then we’ll come up with some music and then he’ll take the track or whatever, and then write some lyrics over it as opposed to when I’m writing with Keith Richards, it will be more of a collaboration where we’ve not only come up with the music together but then we’ll write lyrics together. Or kind of, with Meegan, it’s kind of a combination of that. It takes all, it takes on different forms. Sometimes, I’ll write a tune that I’ve written most of the lyrics for or whatever, but I need a bridge and then I’ll ask Meegan ‘Do you have a bridge?’ Or some things I’ve written with some great writer like Danny Kortchmar, who’s a legendary guitarist but legendary producer and writer. Great, great writer. So I’ve learned a lot of stuff about writing from him. So I’ve been very fortunate to be around a lot of great writers. Working on Devil and Dust with Bruce Springsteen, before I played a single track he gave me the book of lyrics, every lyric in Devils and Dust, before I played a note. And he thought it was important for me to read the lyrics to the whole album before I played on it, which is very, very, very smart. And it gave me insight into what he was thinking about and what his mindset was before we started recording. It was great. A lot of people have different way of doing things and I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of different styles.

My last question is open-ended. What would you, Steve Jordan, like to say to anyone who is listening to this interview?

I’d like to say for everyone to stay positive. There are a lot of things out there that could lead you to think otherwise but we’re living in a very fascinating point in time here. We could continue to go forward and focus on the things that will make this society of ours better but the choice is ours. There are a lot of things that make people think smaller than they have to. If we really go back to the …thought of helping one another and not being as selfish as we’ve become, the world would be a better place. Which I’m very fortunate and blessed to be a musician because music is the universal language. So I can go all over the world and spread the good cheer of music. And, as you can see, that cuts across every kind of racial, cultural, social, political line. And that’s the great thing about music so I like to carry that torch, like a lot of other artists do as well. For musicians and artists, that’s our job. Our job is to carry that torch and to, and to pass on good will. And so that, that’s what I like to do and I’d like to do that more often. I look forward to every opportunity to do that.

Mr. Jordan, it’s been a great pleasure to do this interview.

Thank you, Paul. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

Perhaps I will hear you perform in Atlanta?

Yeah, I know that The Verbs are putting together a small tour to do something, maybe at the end of the year. And then, next year I’ll be doing some work with some, uh, some legendary, noted guitar players – and I’ll leave it at that.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

Buddy Morra: Former Talent Manager for Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Robin Williams, etc.

Buddy Morra is a retired talent manager who worked for the prestigious management firm Rollins & Joffe.  Through the years he represented great talent like comedians David Letterman, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli.  Needless to say, he’s got a lot of stories to tell.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure we welcome our special guest, Buddy Morra. Thank you so much for joining us.

It’s a pleasure to be here, Paul. I’m not sure what I’m doing here, but I’m here (laughs).

I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up?

Growing up? It  was kind of nice. It was like a lower-middle or middle class family. We lived in the Bronx. My father had some fruit and vegetable stores. He also had a pushcart for a while. He had a truck for a while. And we always managed to eat and we always managed to have food so we were OK. It was kind of a nice, sweet growing up. I’m glad I grew up that way, actually.

Can you remember early on what you wanted to do as an occupation?

Yes. I wanted to be a singer.

And did you ever pursue it?

Yes I did. It wasn’t terribly good (laughs) and at some point I realized, after a couple of years of having a good time running around and sleeping late that, you know, I had nothing special to offer. And my oldest friend at the time was a comedian, asked me if I’d be interested in working for the guy that represented him. He said he had a, he was doing okay, he could afford not very much money but I had the job if I wanted it. So I went to work for this guy for thirty bucks a week – cash.

The all-important cash!

(Laughs) Very important!

What city was this in?

In New York City. In 1957. I had been on my own until then, yeah. I had my own office for a while after I decided to give up singing and was just scraping by, at best. And then this offer came along and I took it. So I went from thirty bucks a week to forty bucks a week. Then I went to fifty bucks a week and then he put me on a percentage. But he was much smarter than I was because the percentage turned out to be the same fifty bucks a week (laughs).

Early on, the business side of the entertainment business – was it something you enjoyed?

Oh, I always loved it, yeah. I always loved it. Even as a young man I would just – I would read all the gossip columns. In those days we had, like, I think five or six newspapers in New York. I used to read all those columns about what was going on in Hollywood, what was going on on Broadway. I was very interested in that, so yes.

Tell us about how you started to specialize in comedians.

Well, I had my own office, oh, for four years or so, something like that, and then I had the opportunity to join Rollins and Joffe. They offered me a job, which was, at that time, the most prestigious management company in the industry. They handled Woody Allen, Dick Cavett – lots of really interesting people. It was an incredible organization and I went to work for them, and that changed my whole life. They managed a lot of people but mostly comedians. They were very successful with that. So I just kind of fell into that.

What are your memories of them, personally? Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe?

Jack Rollins, who I recently saw about a month or two back – I was in New York visiting my grandkids and I went to see him at the hospital. He had not been well. He had been in the hospital for a while and we talked for a while. He was kind of semi-awake, in and out, and I said ‘Jack, I just want you to know that you changed my life.’ and he said to me (laughs) ‘A lot of people have told me that.’ And he did! And he did change my life. I went from the bottom rung of show business – wherever that was, it’s way the hell down – to the top rung in one leap, and learned an awful lot from them.

You said that they were at the top. What was it about Charles Joffe and Jack Rollins the made that management company what it was?

Without question, it was the most prestigious management company in the industry. Everybody wanted to be with that company. We never had a contract with anybody, which is unusual, then and even now. It was just a handshake and we went to work. That was it.

Why do you think they were so successful? Why do you think they were so prestigious?

(Sighs) They were smart. They were intelligent – Jack Rollins was a very smart man. An intellectual, if you will. Read a lot. Could read a Woody Allen script and just be so precise about what was wrong and what was right about it that the first time, or any time that Woody Allen wrote a script the first person that would read it would be Jack Rollins. It was also that, and the manner that they worked in – no contracts with anybody. It was a very loose relationship with the clients and a very good one – and very honest, by the way. The company policy was – there was a little embroidery that was made by somebody that was hanging in the office that said ‘Don’t embarrass the office!’

(Laughs) That’s pretty good advice.

I had one made when I was living in LA and I misspelled it deliberately, thinking it would be funny but nobody ever caught on to it (laughs).

Did you have any personal involvement with Woody Allen during those years?

No. Outside of just knowing him, not terribly well but knowing him.  I found him to be a very, very nice man. My son, who was then a kid at the time, I don’t know, ten – nine, ten or whatever – was diving into magic and, uh, Woody had – and Woody was a very good slight of hand magician, by the way – and my son would come to the office every once in a while. And Woody would take him into the little conference room and he’d sit on the floor and do magic tricks for him. But no, I did not have any relationship with him in terms of business.

What about your move out to California– when did that happen?

About 36 years ago, 37 years ago.

Was the business in California different than New York?

I never found it to be different. I mean, people used to say that. I don’t know if they meant it as a joke – ‘Oh, it’s California …’ it’s not different. I’m dealing with the same people out here that I used to deal with in New York. Now I was much more face-to-face with them than I was on the phone, like I was in New York. But I found the business to be the exactly same. But probably a little less honest, maybe, out here than in New York, but the same, essentially.

What about working with Billy Crystal?

That was a joy. That was a joy. Yeah, I got a call one day from this guy – gosh, I wish I could remember his name – who was the manager of Sha Na Na. He called me from Buddah records and we had met a few times before. We didn’t really know each other terribly well and he said ‘Listen, there’s this very funny group, three guys, here that are just hysterically funny. You should come down and see them. They’re at the Buddah, the offices. So I went down – it was about three of four blocks from my office – I went down and I saw them. And I saw the group. I started to work with the group and, oh I don’t know, maybe for or five months later, I broke up the group and just started to work with Billy, who we thought had the most to offer at that point. My wife said to me ‘Why are you working with him? You should work with the others guys. They’re funnier.’ (Laughs) It’s the last time – thank goodness, I didn’t listen to her. I haven’t listened to her since (laughs).

What is Billy Crystal like to work with?

I found Billy to be a terrific guy. He’s one of my favorite people, one of my favorite clients. He’s a very smart young man, by the way. He knows a lot of things. I found him to be very pleasant, no problems. Did we ever have an argument? – we may have had one argument in 30 years or whatever, when we disagreed. But that was very rare.

What happens when a manager disagrees with a client?

The client usually wins. Well, unfortunately, what happens is – see, with our company, which was interesting, is that we never took a client except when they were just first starting out, they were brand new. We never took established clients. Not that it wasn’t possible to take one – we didn’t turn down established clients – but we liked working with someone who was brand new. Why? It was much more interesting. It was much more adventurous for us if we could, if we had a plan for them and that plan came to fruition after whatever – six months or a year later, you know, which is what the plan was, so they could essentially call their own shots at a certain point. And so when that happens, the relationship kind of changes, by the way. In the beginning, the client who is brand new relies on you totally. You are their god for a moment and, hopefully, you make the right decisions. Most of the time we did. Sometimes we didn’t, but most of the time we did. And once they get to a position of importance and becoming a much more important client and personality, the relationship kind of changes a little bit where you can’t just respond or act with them the way you did when they were first starting out. They won’t accept it, it’s not right, and you have to change with the times which took a little while to do, but we did.

When you think of all the clients that you had through the years, is it possible to pick a favorite?

Yeah. I would say probably John Pizzarelli.

What made him your favorite?

He seemed to have no ego. Now, we all have egos – some of them, the egos don’t come out. He was just a very easy guy to be with. He listened. You could say things, he listened. Sometimes he went along with what you said, sometimes he didn’t, but he listened. And it was just a joy to be with him. And he appreciated – he greatly appreciated what we tried to do for him and I think that made a big difference. And I still to this day, although I’ve been retired 14 years, I talk to John probably once a week, once every ten days.

What about the very first time you heard a young David Letterman performing?

Well, the first time I saw David Letterman was at the Comedy Store in Westwood, which doesn’t exist any longer. I was with one of my partners and one or two other people, and had never seen or heard of David Letterman but I knew when he came out and he started to talk – because he was never a very good stand-up comedian, but there was something special about him. I even said to my partner ‘This is the next Johnny Carson.’ And I went back to talk to him, but the guy who was running the back, the manager said ‘You know he has a manager.’ And I said ‘Oh, then I’m not going to go back.’ and I didn’t talk to him. But then a few months later, I was at NBC for some reason and he was doing a, hosting a game show – a pilot for a game show – in the next studio so I went over and spoke with him.

Letterman is very much a legend. When you think about him in those days and you see him now, is it hard to believe?

Not really. I always thought that he could do what he’s doing. I always thought so. And we got started with him and things just moved really quickly. I think one of the leading factors was that as we started to make a little noise out here, The Tonight Show called. And The Tonight Show, at that point, when they had comedians on the show it was kind of a policy that you never sat down with Carson until you’ve done three shots on that show as a stand-up. And I kept turning down the show because I knew Letterman’s stand-up was not that great but he’d be great sitting down with Carson because they had a lot of the same things in common. And I must have turned it down half a dozen times. And then finally they said to me one day ‘OK, he can sit down.’ then we took the show.

Wow. What makes a good manager a good manager?

(Laughs) Good question! Well, honesty for one, I think is very important, you know? I mean, you have to be honest with your clients and sometimes it’s not as easy as it may sound, you know? If you have critiques about a particular client, hopefully you’re right, well you try to explain that to the client – hmmm, you’re dealing with egos now and actors are very fragile, so it has to be presented in an interesting way where you’re not offending their ego but, at the same time, making your point. And sometimes it’s not easy to do, but you find a way – sometimes.

What’s the best thing about being Buddy Morra?

(Laughs) That’s a good question! You’ll have to ask my wife that, I think (laughs). We’re about to celebrate 50 years.

Wow. Congratulations!

Thank you. Early May we celebrate, yeah, end of May, yeah. It’s been an incredible ride. I mean, my – she is amazing. That’s all I can tell you. I don’t know where I’d be without her, quite honestly. I once said to her, not too long ago, I said ‘Why did you want to marry me?’ She said ‘I just had a feeling you were the right guy and you would do well,’ when I first met her (Laughs) I was making, like, twenty bucks a week or something like that on my own (laughs)! Yeah, I mean I couldn’t pay the rent, really.

So she saw a spark.

I hope so! (Laughs) Unless she was lying – I don’t know (laughs)!

What do you want to say to anyone who is listening to this interview?

Gee whiz. Well, if you’re going out to see live talent, do listen to them. Don’t make noise. Don’t slurp your soup. Otherwise, don’t go to the club. Stay home and listen to the radio or something. I mean, pay attention to these people. They work real hard. It’s important for them to get your acknowledgement and your applause, assuming you like them. If you don’t like them, then don’t applaud. But otherwise, be kind, be attentive, pay attention. You’ll learn a lot more that way. And I think, also, you get to be a bit more discriminating that way. If you see enough talent after a while, you can be a little more discriminating in your taste. Because everybody has talent. It’s just that what kind of talent is it and does it rise to where the general public can love it and like it and understand it?

Mr. Morra, it’s been a pleasure to do this interview.

My pleasure, Paul. Sorry I didn’t get you earlier but my daughter is back east, in Harrison, New York and there’s floods and things. I couldn’t get through for the longest time. I finally got through so we got a little time on the phone.

I appreciate it very much. It’s been a joy.


Thanks!

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

Eddie Brill: Comedian

EDDIE BRILL is a comedian, but as you can tell from this interview…he is a man with a lot of stories to tell.  He seems to be a busy man.  Just look at his resume!  In addition to being a comedian, he is also the warm-up comic on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Eddie Brill not only performs his brand of stand-up comedy regularly throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, but also has performed in Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, France, Holland and Hong Kong.

In this interview Eddie Brill talked about not only his comedy, but also his appreciation for the talent of others.  He also talked about his work with Reader’s Digest and appearing as a cartoon on the acclaimed show Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist.

Enjoy this in-depth interview!  We would love to one day interview Eddie Brill in person.

We think you will agree with us that Eddie Brill is a comic of and for the people…

It is our pleasure to welcome comedian and actor, Eddie Brill. Eddie Brill is a worldwide comic. He is also the warm-up comedian and talent coordinator for The Late Show with David Letterman. Thanks so much for doing this.

Oh, it’s my pleasure Paul. I got an email from you that said you had talked to my pal, Alan Kalter, and now, uh, you know, I’m sure if it’s good for Kalter, I’d be more than happy to be on the show.

 (Laughs) Well, I think most stories are best from the beginning so tell us a little bit about where you came from.
I’m originally from New York and I had lived there as a kid ‘til I was just about 12 and then moved to Hollywood, Florida which is the other end of the spectrum, you know, from Brooklyn, New York. I went to junior high school and high school there and it was pretty nice. And, uh, I never thought I’d do any comedy. I always loved comedy and I loved George Carlin – he’s my hero – and Richard Pryor and all the comedians I would listen to on albums. Uh, and I was, you know, all ready to maybe go into college to go for maybe math or science. But my stepfather, who was very young and very close to us, died very young and I just changed my whole life and decided, you know what, I was going to do things that were really fun in life because you didn’t know how quick it could be over. So, I changed my sort of dream to go into maybe broadcast journalism and I went to a college in Boston for that, Emerson College. And then all these, uh, very funny people at the beginning of school, we formed a comedy group and it was the first foray I ever had in comedy. And it was a lot of very successful people and, uh, very successful people now. And a lot of people who were involved both, on both sides of the industry, you know, people like the president of Comedy Central and then, you know like, Denis Leary and, you know, a mixture of a lot of different kinds of people. But one of our best friends was Steven Wright and he was doing stand-up. So we would go watch him and it sounded fun so we started doing a little stand-up. Um, I did it for a little bit during college and then when I graduated I moved back to New York and said ‘You know what? You need a real job.’ And I went, I quit comedy and did some advertising writing. And I realized I was lying for a living and not making that much money. And I went back into comedy so I could tell the truth for a living and, uh, have a much better career.

I’ve never heard it put that way, ‘telling the truth for a living.’

Yeah. Since 1984 so, in a row, I’ve done it for 25 years.

Wow. Now, what do you think it is about comedy that attracts you?

Um, well, it’s just you know, pfff, it’s just so alluring. It’s, there’s no, you know, the feeling of, the cathartic feeling of laughing is just so wonderful. And when you make other people laugh there’s no better feeling. It’s really is, you know just, pfff – I mean, I’m giving you sounds effects. There’s no words really to describe the feeling. And to be able to, to make people laugh is just very, very fulfilling. And once you get a laugh, it’s like a drug. You chase that laugh for the rest of your life.

You mentioned just a moment ago George Carlin.

Right.

Now, who would you say is your all-time biggest influence?

It would be George Carlin.

And what about, what about him do you think, makes him so?

Um it was just that, you know, the way he thought, the way he just told the truth and was silly. He was smart and silly and that was attractive to me, and a lot of things I heard him say were sort of echoing the way I thought. So I couldn’t get enough of, you know, somebody who was making people laugh, thinking the way I was thinking. And, eventually, that’s the path I took. And the beautiful story, part of the story, is that we ended up becoming close and, uh, respecting – he respected what I did which was, you know – now I can die (laughs). I got my hero to respect my work and it was a really wonderful thing. He taught me a lot and he was really just a wonderful man. And anybody who’s ever met him would say the same story. Butit’s not like it was just me – he was good to a lot of people, a lot of people.

What about the comedians that are, are active today, like the young guns? Who out there do you have to give the respect to?

Well, Chris Rock I would think is the best comic of our generation. Dave Chappelle, um, you know he’s not been around as much in the public side but still out there at the comedy clubs. He’s pretty damn terrific. Uh, you know, there’s Jim Gaffigan, uh, Brian Regan, and Jake Johannsen who are sort of really smart, funny network guys. And then there’s the people like Norm MacDonald and Nick DiPaolo and Colin Quinn and Nick Griffin, who may be a little darker but, uh, still hilarious and smart and great. And I’m sure there’s a million people I’m leaving out. Lewis Black is very funny. And you know, there’s a, there’s a good group of really great stand-up comics. And young kids like Joe Wong and Tommy Johnagin, who are, you know, coming up through the ranks, are – as young guns who are, you know … Bill Burr who’s a phenomenal comedian, Greg Giraldo, Louis C.K. You know, there are so many great comics out there really doing smart, great stuff.

Well, tell us a little bit about this comedy club that you had in New York City called The Paper Moon.

Well, what happened was is, I wasn’t really thinking of getting back into stand-up. I was working with the group in college and you know, because it was so successful, the people we went to college with respected what we did. So there was a gentleman who worked at this restaurant and heard that they wanted a comedy night downstairs in this cabaret room. And he called me because he knew – you know, the connection of going to school with these people – Joe Mauricio, and we started comedy at The Paper Moon in 1984. And all of a sudden, I was hosting the shows just to, you know, take care of the shows. And I was paying these comedians out of my pocket with my day job just so we could get really good comedians in there. And, uh, it just became a comic’s club for a bunch of really great comedians from all over the country – could come into the city and work out. And it was very widely popular – ‘widely popular’? I don’t know if those are even two things that go together (laughs) – it was wildly good and very popular. And, uh, it was very successful and I did that for a while. Unfortunately, there was a – the drinking age went up from 18 to 21 and that was a real NYU kind of a place. It was called The Paper Moon. And Adam Sandler was going to NYU at the time and he would come and work out there. And Colin Quinn would work out there, and Susie Essman and Mario Cantone and Paula Poundstone and Bob Goldthwait, and all of these different folks from all over, you know, from that era. Dennis Miller would come by and work out material for Saturday Night Live at the club. So it was a pretty phenomenal place. That lasted for a while but, as a comic, I started having some success and I didn’t want to be tied down to this club because I wanted to now get out there and do some good things for myself.

Something that I thought was really interesting was, uh, your work with Reader’s Digest.

Yeah, you know, that happened by accident. They, um, because of the connection with the Letterman show oftentimes I’m asked to judge competitions which is ironic because, you know, you can’t really judge comedians. … really said it best when he says ‘I’ll give you two famous painters. Tell me who is the better one.’ But you can’t. It’s art. It’s subjective. But oddly enough, I was asked to judge this joke competition for Reader’s Digest. The host got sick or hurt – I think it was hurt – and I was forced then to be the host of the show. I worked with them, um, I, it was a thing for Reader’s Digest and, um – all of a sudden their name slips my mind. I work with them all the time! You’ll help me with this one, it’s uh, Marlo Thomas’s charity – St. Jude’s. I got it. Yes, it was St. Jude’s. I was able to figure it out myself (laughs). And I work with them a lot. I love what they do. So you know, it worked out really great and I got very close with these organizations – so much that I remember their names … uh, after prodding. But um, then I, you know, got involved, you know? And they said ‘We like what you do. Would you help us put together some more shows and be a consultant for us?’ And then they had me come in and work on their web site and read some of the jokes that came in and it’s – I’ve just had a very, very nice relationship with them. They’ve, you know, quoted me a lot and they’ve also printed some of the things that I’ve written as well.

There’s was a TV show that you did a guest spot on. I’ve always felt like this was one of the funniest TV shows on television and I tell people the name of the show – and a lot of times people seem to have forgotten it already – but that was Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.

Oh god, yeah. That was really terrific. You know, as a little boy I was a cartoon guy and I loved cartoons and in my era, you know, I was a cartoon nut I guess. I don’t know, I’m sure people are that way now, maybe even with animé or whatever, but growing up I just loved all of the cartoons. And to be able to be in a cartoon was one fantastic thing but for them to make a cartoon of you and your voice it’s, you know, like a dream come true – like a little boy’s dream come true. And I did Dr. Katz and it got really great response. And I actually did a second one. Um, I was there recording the same day with a few other comedians who were getting ready for their next season, I think their third season, and the show didn’t get picked up so none of those shows went out. It would have been nice to do another one. It would have been really fun.

Another TV show that you’re currently associate with – The Late Show with David Letterman.

That’s right.
Tell us about how you became associated with Dave.
Well, you know, in this business, it’s really who you know. You know, you have to deliver once you get to place with who you know but Louis C.K. and Bill Scheft, a couple of guys who worked at the show, uh, I think Jeff Stilton who was there at the time as well, I think – and they had recommended me. They were looking for a warm-up and I had done some warm-up over the years. You know, nothing really major but just here and there and there. You know, I actually – Dana Carvey Show, I actually worked on Saved By The Bell for a very short time in it’s infancy and when I was out in L.A. So I’d done a few things. Well, they said they’re looking for a warm-up and I figured OK, I’ll give it a shot. They gave me a six-week trial period and in February of 2010 it’ll be now 13 years. And during the time I was there I got to, you know, get to know Dave and get to know the staff and the people there. And eventually I got moved up, in 2001, to be the stand-up comedy booker on the show which is a huge thrill. You know, nobody really in this industry has ever done that position and is also a stand-up comic. So, you know, because I am a stand-up and it was my dream to do the show, I know what it’s like for other comedians who want to do the show. And I think I’m equipped in a way that I can really help comedians out in a very good way, and treat them the way I would have wanted to be treated if I was, you know, dealing with a booker. And sometimes I’m very good at it and sometimes I’m not always great at it but I give it my best shot and try to be as approachable and as honest as you can be, as one can be in that position.

Tell us a little bit, a little bit more about what that job entails as talent coordinator. Do you listen to, like, tapes of comedians or how does that work?

Um, there are many, many ways. One of them is listening to DVDs or VHS tapes of comedians – and I get hundreds and hundreds in a very short period of time – and I have to tackle them all the time. And it works against me as a comedian a little bit because I hear so much comedy. You know, for me to be able do my own style, I have to really compartmentalize and just think do I think – and actually, my comedy has gotten better because I’m really just doing stuff that’s from my perspective. But back to the question, I do look at a bunch of stuff and I also, um, people will send me their links online. Then you know, as a comedian, I travel around the world doing shows in different places and in many of these places they’ll set up showcases for me to look at the local comics and that really is helpful. Plus, other comics will say ‘Hey Eddie” – people I respect, comics I respect will say ‘Hey Eddie, there’s, uh, a comedienne I worked with and she was great and, you know, you should look at her to put her on the show.’ Or this other person, a manager will call me and say ‘I don’t manage this guy but I saw him in a club and he’s so right for the show.’ So, you know, everyone knows everybody in the business, kind of, or, you know, and we keep each other informed so that the right people get into the right position.

And what exactly are you looking for? I mean, other than a funny person.

(Laughs) Yeah, that’s a big one! You know, laughter is good for a comedian. That’s probably number one. And, um, but no, really, honestly it’s about – we’re looking for the real artist, the real one-of-a-kinds. You know, the ‘Ray Charles’ of comedy. The soulful comics. You know, the people who really have, artists – you know, you know that there’s no other comics like that in the world. And there are, there are a smaller percentage of those kind of comedians You know – the Pryors, the Carlins, the Cosbys – those kind of guys. The Seinfelds, you know, through history the Ray Romanos, and you know, of course I’ve skipped ten thousand billion brilliant comics. The one-of-a-kinds. The ones that you remember, not because they’re famous but because they’re really great comedians. And that’s who we put on the show. We look for that. We look for that spark, that one-of-a-kind-ness you know that. But it’s gotta be smart and it’s gotta be silly. It’s gotta be a combination like that. It’s, uh, a nice you know, and – it’s not the same ‘style’ we’re looking for. We’re looking for the same kind of uniqueness and most of the time we get it right.

What do you think about David Letterman’s comedic delivery?

Oh, he’s you know, I mean, he’s just one – you know, I would consider him one of the best ever at what he does. And, you know, he’s really who he is and there’s that one-of-a-kind guy who just, you know, stood out from everybody else during that time, and he’s only gotten better and better. And you know, the only way to ever get better is to go out there and do it. Well, he’s done over 5,000 shows, you know, in late night television and in the morning. Altogether, you know, that’s a, that’s a nice little catalog of work so he’s really good at what he does, you know? He’s brilliant. And he’s a great interviewer as well and he’s a very compassionate man, and it’s, uh, you know, silly and fun and it all comes across, I believe. You know, in this business all the comedians, the real pure comedians, respect Dave the most. Not that they disrespect anybody else. I mean, there are some incredible people out there that are doing the same thing but Dave is the guy everyone looks up to. I mean, even Conan O’Brien has said it out loud ‘He is the man. He is my hero.’ And that’s what they do. And, of course, all of us including Dave’s hero, was Johnny Carson. You know, and all of those guys – the Johnny Carsons – they looked up to the Jack Paars and the Steve Allens and the Ernie Kovacs’s (laughs). And you know, it all goes – it’s generational, from one to the next. Dave is the guy of this era.

Our special guest is Eddie Brill, the warm-up comedian for The Late Show with David Letterman. I was hoping you could tell us, through your association with The Late Show, do you have a favorite memory?

You know, there are so many. There’s some of the biggest thrills of my life. I mean, again, I feel like a little boy going, you know ‘and then I got fire truck and then I got a toy boat.’ (laughs) You know, I got to meet Sophia Loren. When I was a kid, you know in my era – I’m 51 – all of the kids had Farrah Fawcett posters. I had Sophia Loren. Not … I didn’t ‘have’ her, but in my mind I did (laughter)– you know but every night I was there falling asleep with that poster. But, um, I got to meet her and be, you know, I was charmed by her. And I got to sit at the piano with Burt Bacharach and chat with him. And I got to, you know, hang out with George Carlin or Elvis Costello or talk – you know, I mean it’s, again it’s ‘I got a big truck!’ (laughs) and that’s just what I feel like – that kind of a guy. And I got to hang out with the President and I got to talk to Paul McCartney and it’s just, I mean it’s just too much fun. It’s too great and I’m just, I’m just very, very blessed.

What’s the best thing about being Eddie Brill?

(Laughs) That’s a weird, interesting question because if I thought … ‘Oh, what do I want to say about me?’ I don’t know. I mean, I’m not ashamed to say good things about myself. I know I’m very passionate about what I do. I’m a workaholic. I do so many different kinds of things. I’m involved with a lot of things. Like, I’m very involved with this comedy festival called The Great American Comedy Festival in Nebraska, in Johnny Carson’s hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. I’m involved in both sides of the business – in front of the camera and behind the camera. You know, so that’s a big part of who I am. And I guess, I’m, you know I grew up with very, very humble beginnings and I appreciate the really cool things that have happened for me. And it’s all happened for me because I worked my tail off because I love what I do. So it’s, you know, I don’t know. I’m proud of my life. I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out, you know? Any mistakes I made along the way I don’t regret. You know, I just have to move on and learn from them and, you know, try to get better and better. And you know, I just have to make sure that I’m always true to my, you know, values and beliefs. And as long as I can do that, and get the respect and integrity of my friends, um, and peers then I’m doing OK. So those are the good things, you know. It’s a hard question to answer – but I just talked about it for an hour, I guess.

Well I have two final questions. I asked Alan Kalter this one. New York City has absolutely some of the best places you can eat.

Right.
Where do you like to eat in New York City and what do you get when you go there?
Well you know, there again, it’s like, you know ‘do you have two hours?’ We could do a whole show on this, you know. But there’s a place in the East Village that no one knows about – maybe now everyone will know, hopefully – called Café Orlin. And it’s open 24 hours on the weekend and during the week it’s open ‘til midnight, and they have breakfast ‘til 4, and it’s the most nondescript place. You gotta really find the name, which is on a glass window – it’s very hard to find. But it’s a little place that’s so humble and so unique, and the food is fantastic. There’s not one thing on the menu that’s not terrific. And it’s hardwood floors and exposed brick and always great music playing in the background and it’s very, very delicious and it’s great. But famous places that are great – I love Mesa Grill, the Bobby Flay restaurant. I did his show – you know, we didn’t get paid in cash but we got paid in a much nicer way (laughs). We got paid with dinner for two at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and I’ve been going there ever since. Southwestern food, really great. And also, I love the Red Eye Grill which is almost in a very touristy part of town but they have some of the best seafood in New York. And there’s so many great – like I said, we can go for hours, you know? But if a tourist comes to New York City, they should ask other New Yorkers which restaurants to go to, not read out of the books and go to the tourist places because most of the tourist places are mediocre, you know, run-of-the-mill. In fact, in Times Square in New York where all the tourists are, there are no original restaurants with, you know, any flair or one-of-a-kind-ness or a uniqueness that is really New York. It’s more like Disneyworld there where there’s, you know, all these famous chain restaurants, selling processed food that, you know, all frozen stuff that comes off a truck. You know, probably every restaurant in Times Square gets the same delivery and they just put a different name on it, you know? That’s not what New York is about. If you’re gonna eat in New York, stay away from Times Square. You know, if you want to see New York, stay away – if you really want to see what New York is – stay away from Times Square (laughs).

Wow. Well, my final question for Eddie Brill. This broadcast goes out all over the world so what would you like to say to all the people who are listening in?

Hmm, OK, uh, you know – hmm. I would just say do not take life very seriously, it’s very short. And, you know, you should take risks in this world because if you do you’re going either go really high or you’re going to go really low. And you know what? If you go up and down and up and down – if you look at it like a graph, like an EKG machine – that means you’re alive. But if you don’t live life and you just take the safe way out all through the rest of your life, you might as well be dead ‘cause you’re just flat-lining, you know? So that’s my one message – to live life. And also, don’t care what it looks like when you, when you make a mistake or don’t care how it looks when you fall because, in reality, at least you’re in the game. You’re not on the sidelines pointing and judging other people. You’re in there giving it a shot. And that, I guess that would be sort of the biggest philosophy I live my life by.

Very well put. Thank you so much, Mr. Brill. It’s been a pleasure to speak to you.

It’s my pleasure Paul and good luck to you, Have a wonderful holiday.

You too. Godspeed.


TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.

Rob Burnett: Producer, Director, Writer

ROB BURNETT is a man who wears a lot of hats, or as we say in this interview, has a lot of titles, but what you’ll find is a man who seems to really enjoy his work…whatever it may be.  Many people know Rob Burnett as a producer or the President & CEO of Worldwide Pants, the company owned by talk show host David Letterman.  In this talk, Rob talked with Paul about his project We Made This Movie.  We Made This Movie is about five high school seniors who create what they believe will be a blockbuster movie.  Perhaps they are overestimating their own importance, but they decide to film every single “behind-the-scenes” moment.  This is where the real magic is, and we hope you not only take a moment to listen to Mr. Burnett talking about the film, but also will watch it for yourself!

 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome our special guest. He’s a very busy man, Rob Burnett. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

You have a lot of titles. Who is Rob Burnett at heart?

(Laughs) I do have a lot of titles. You know, I’m just a guy doing the best he can. That’s who I am at heart.

To tell the listeners out there, because you’re so modest – you’re also a director, a writer, a producer, the CEO of Worldwide Pants, and you’ve made this new film We Made This Movie.

Well, my buddy, Jon Beckerman, and I have been working on a lot of other stuff. We did a TV show called Ed at one point. It was on NBC for four years. We wrote this little movie. We had always wanted to tell a ‘coming of age’ story and we couldn’t quite find an access point in it that made sense for us and then we kind of got this idea – what if it’s about kids that are trying to make one kind of movie but by accident they make another kind of movie. And that idea interested us quite a bit so we set sail on this and are quite pleased with the result.

How did you begin to write the script?

The process for me and Jon is that, uh, we sit in a room for a long time and stare at each other, and we just kind of keep talking and talking. And then, eventually, you know, we start very generally with ‘OK, here’s kind of a general idea that we like’ and then we kind of start to shape it a little bit, you know. And then, eventually, we come up with a very detailed outline for what we think the movie should be – extremely detailed, you know, scene by scene, what the characters are, what each scene should be – and then we kind of split it up and write dialog kindof independently, and then kind of put it all back together and give each other notes, and kind of keep going over it until eventually we have something that both of us like.

Speaking of Jon Beckerman, how did you two meet each other?
Well, Jon started here at The Late Show about, I think, a week before I became head writer of The Late Show. So I had been here – I’m a little bit older than he is – I had been here as a writer for a bunch of years, I guess four years, and then he was hired. And I became head writer and he very quickly kind of became my go-to guy. So we collaborated on a lot of stuff on The Late Show, did many, many pieces together and really found, uh, kind of a bond and a creative comfort with other, and then went on to do Ed. And then we did a show called Nights of Prosperity on ABC that, unfortunately, did not last as long as Ed. So we’ve been working together for quite some time.

How did you find the actors for We Made This Movie?
You know, it was a pretty, a pretty normal process. You know, at first, we – actually, we wanted all unknown actors, or not ‘household name’ actors, no famous actors – so we at first cast a very wide net. We’d still have open casting calls at NYU and things like this but eventually got some casting directors, Barbara McNamara on the east coast, and we went through a normal process where we auditioned a lot, a lot of kids until we settled on the people we wanted. And then Bobby Zane, who cast our show Ed, found Arjay Smith who, on the west coast, who is kind of the lead of the movie. It was a pretty standard procedure but it was exhaustive. We, I think we auditioned, honestly really, hundreds of kids before we ended up with the cast that we have and I would say, without doubt, the best thing about the movie is the cast.

Our special guest is Rob Burnett and he is talking about his movie entitled We Made This Movie. The actors were new. Were any of them shy? Did you run into any problems like that?

No, we were really lucky with that. You know, we shot the entire movie in 21 days and we needed these kids to be best friends because they play best friends. So what we did was we actually had them all live at my house with me for a week before the movie shot. So by the time we got to Connecticut and started shooting everyone was super comfortable with each other and ready to go, and we kind of hit the ground running. I can’t say enough about these kids. I should tell you a little bit maybe about what the movie is about? It’s about these five high school kids who decide to go out and make a movie. And they set out to make a movie kind of like Jackass or Borat but they, they’re not very good at it – in fact, they’re terrible at it – but the main character is so convinced that the movie is going to be huge that he gets these three geeky freshman to follow them around with video cameras because he wants the making of their movie, you know for the DVD extras – he wants everything documented. And what happens is these other cameras start to capture glimpses of the kids’ actual lives. And by the end they realize the movie they started out to make, it was horrible. But by accident, they’ve made a very sweet and touching ‘coming of age’ movie about themselves, which was not what their original intention was.

How did you get the music for the soundtrack?
Yeah, the soundtrack I would say is right up there with the cast as another great thing about this movie. When we finished it didn’t really make sense for us to kind of get big music in the movie. It didn’t fit this kind of home-made feel that the movie had, the shooting style – everything about it. We also didn’t have money for big music. So what we did was we made a deal with Red Bull Soundstage – there’s a web site that has all up and coming bands. And we put four scenes from the movie up on Red Bull Soundstage and we had a contest. We crowd-sourced the music and we said ‘You guys – give us your original music that you think would be great for these scenes.’ We ended up getting 1200 submissions, which we were blown away by, and Jon and I listened to all of them. And we liked the music so much we ended up using 22 songs in the movie, all from Red Bull Soundstage. So the soundtrack, which is available on iTunes along with the movie, also available on iTunes now, people have just gone crazy over it. It’s really some of the best music you’ve ever heard and it’s all from bands you’ve never heard. It’s really special.

Is there a particular song that stands out to you?

That would be like choosing between my children. I’ve come to know these artists and there are so many great ones, I hate to mention them individually. They’re just terrific. One after another, they’re top-notch.

As a result of working on We Made This Movie, do you have a favorite memory?

My favorite thing about making this movie was working with these young actors. They were so happy, they were so eager. Jon and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that an average episode of Ed cost $2 million and this entire movie cost a million. They were just joyous. And that’s the same for a lot of the musicians as well. Everyone here is new and fresh. And we had this huge premier in New York City last week – 700 people, at the SVATheatre, with tons of press and a big red carpet. And just to see these kids walk the red carpet and experience all of that with them was really special. You know, at one point one of the actresses, Stevie Steel, who is phenomenal in the movie, came up to me and said ‘This is the best night of my life.’ And that’s really the only reason to be in show business, I think, is for moments like that.

Someone wrote in – this person is named Emily and she has a question – “Did you show the movie to Dave?” And I can only assume she means Dave Letterman.

Yes, Dave did see the movie, a slightly earlier cut, and he’s been really supportive. We had, uh, one of the bands, Of Gentlemen and Cowards, was on The Late Show. And Arthur Meyer, who played Dank, was a guest on The Late Show the night before the premier. So Dave has been a super supporter of ours and, you know, it is a Worldwide Pants Production.

What’s the best thing about being Rob Burnett?

(Laughs) Well, obviously, the fact that I get to talk to you! I mean, how, you know, how – you’re just loading that up for yourself, clearly (laughs)! You know how many people want to get on this show? Well, maybe just me but (laughs). No, you know I’ve been very, very lucky and the best thing about me, of course, is my wife and my three kids. That’s, that will always be the best thing about me. But in terms of my career, I’ve gotten to do just about everything I’ve dreamed of so I’m extremely lucky that way. I’ve worked here at The Late Show, and for me, who – you know I’ve always loved comedy and I’ve loved funny things – to work alongside, you know, a guy who I consider to be one of the funniest guys in the world for the last – been here for 27 years – that’s as good as it gets.

I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of the people from The Late Show camp, both on stage and behind the scenes. Everyone has had a different answer to this question. It’s an open-ended question: What do you want to say to the listeners?

Well, the shameless thing, of course, would be to tell them I came to ask them to watch I Made This Movie but I’m not going to do that – although I just did, if you notice what I just did there – sneaky, very clever (laughs), yeah, very clever, What would I say to them? Well, I think if they’re listening to you I’m guessing that they, there’s something there that would attract them to The Late Show and to a lot of the stuff that we do over here at the “Big Pants” company. We appreciate all of their support, and hope they continue to watch and listen and consume the stuff that we keep churning out into the world, and hope they enjoy consuming it as much as we like making it.

OK. I’m going to let you pick any song – do you have a song you’d like to hear right now?

So you’re going to play me off is what this is? OK, I’m going to go Foo Fighters, I’m In the Sky Tonight.

Thank you so much, Rob. It means a lot.

Alright, man. Thanks a lot. Nice talking to you.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

Alan Kalter: Announcer for The Late Show with David Letterman

Alan Kalter is the announcer for The Late Show with David Letterman, a role he has held for almost 20 years now.  He joined Paul for this fun talk where we meet the man behind the voice!

Ladies and gentlemen it is with great honor we present our special guest Mr. Alan Kalter, the announcer for The Late Show with David Letterman. With no further ado, I present to you Big Red, TV’s Uncle Jerry, the one and only Alan Kalter.
Hi Paul. A pleasure to be with you today.

Thank you so much. My first question: Who is Alan Kalter?
Well, um, he’s a guy who’s having a lot of fun with Dave and the people on the show for the last 15 years – going back to childhood, doing things my mother didn’t permit me to do when I was 9 or 10 years old that, uh, Dave permits me to do now – some things that I wouldn’t have even done if my mother had said OK back when I was 9 or 10.

So tell us, where are you from originally?
I’m a Brooklyn boy, um, raised in the New York City area, Connecticut, tri-state area, Long Island. And, um, my folks are from the same place. I grew up there, live in Connecticut right now, divide my time between New York and Connecticut. Two great, different worlds.

So how did you first get into the world of show business?
I was 17 years old, Paul, and a freshman at Hobart College, when I was pledging a fraternity and my fraternity brothers said ‘Now that we’ve had a few beers, how about going up to the real station’ – not at the school but in the city nearby – and auditioning?’ And I was the only one who, once we got up those steps, said ‘Yeah, I’d like to do that.’ And they said ‘Come back tomorrow.’ And I came back tomorrow and I put myself down on tape – or they put me on tape – and little did I know, they didn’t record anything on the tape because they weren’t interested in having any college students on the station. But the General Manager – this is a weird story – the General Manager happened to be going into his office that day, it was a Saturday, to pick up his wallet that he had left there the night before a fishing trip was about to start. And he heard me over the loudspeaker. And although they didn’t have anything on tape, my name and number were in security. So two days later, one of the disc jockeys – or as it turns out, the newsman – quit without giving them any notice. He called me on that number and said “Would you like to come down and work for Strauss Broadcasting?’ I was 17 years old and I did, 40 hours a week for the remainder of my three and a half years at Hobart.

I’ve been telling a couple of people over the past day, when you called you didn’t even have to say your name. I just – you have one of the most distinct voices I think I’ve ever heard. So, when did you first realize you had a vocal talent?
My dad had a phenomenal singing voice. Just great. He used to sing at all the parties. He used to sing in the car and, as kids who try to shut your ears when your folks possibly sing in the front seat loud, we loved it. It was just great. And I think I have his voice. Um, I like to sing, I like to talk. I didn’t think I’d be going into this profession but it’s done a lot of good things for me and I’m very appreciative.

Now you just mentioned, you said ‘I didn’t think I would go into this profession.’ Could you imagine doing anything other than this?
Well, I was a teacher for a short time. When I left college I went to law school for two years, a year and a half, and then went into teaching and, uh, did not go back to law school, although I expected to because I envisioned myself, um, fighting for the rights of the unfortunate in criminal court. Uh, I never went back. I absolutely loved teaching. I taught high school, 12th grade out in Long Island in New York area and, um, at the same time I was, I had been through college, through those three and a half years of college and through the law school and into teaching, I was still doing radio. I was doing, um, a show on WTFM in the afternoons, which was just outside New York City, and I was doing morning news for WHN radio. But after three and a half years of teaching – thinking I would be a teacher for the rest of my life – when that HN job opened up, and that was a big 50,000 watt station, I took the job, left teaching and I, uh, have never regretted it. Loved radio too.

Our special guest is Alan Kalter, the announcer for The Late Show with David Letterman. I have to ask you, how did you become associated with David Letterman?
David was, is, he’s a very smart guy and he used to do the game show circuit. His producer, Robert Morton – this was in ’94, ’95 – um, actually wanted me to come up and see if I could do the show, see if David liked me, and see if it wouldn’t be a good gel. This was almost a year after he moved over to CBS from NBC. And um, Morty liked what he heard and David liked what he heard. And, uh, I had known David – I had met him when he was a guest on Pyramid. I was doing the last year and a half of Pyramid when it was on the air from New York City, and that was the beginning. That was ’95. At the time I was doing a lot of commercials and, uh, and going around the country doing commercials, doing ‘real people’ commercials for television. And when I came home and I said I was offered the job as the announcer on The Late Show, I told my wife I wasn’t sure if I really I wanted it because it would really rock the boat on those commercials I was doing around the country. I wouldn’t be able to go away for three or four days at a time whenever I wanted to, to do that work. And my kids, who were in high school at the time, sort of immediately in chorus said ‘Dad this is the first cool thing you’ve ever done in your life. Take it!’ (Laughs) So I took it. And it’s been a pleasure, really. It’s been a ball. It’s been just great!

When you first met David Letterman, what was your first impression of him?
My first impression? Um, I thought he was very smart because the first time I met him he was on Pyramid and he was very, very quick. Uh, he was also someone who was a thinker ‘cause you could tell any time he was talking to you that he was thinking. And 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.

Wow, very insightful. He definitely is. He seems like, uh, when you know, when people list famous interviewers I feel like he’s left out a lot in the list of the greats. Now, you’ve been with The Late Show with David Letterman for quite some time. Do you have a favorite memory from the show?
All of them are favorite memories. And I don’t say that because I want to avoid any answers or because it would take a long time to think of good people. But I’m often asked ‘What’s your favorite memory?’ or ‘Who’s your favorite guest?’ or ‘Who have you laughed at the most?’ and ‘Who is the nicest?’ and ‘Who have you been surprised about?’. The people that come to the show that are the biggest stars – and we get the biggest stars – are so down to earth and so nice. It’s almost, it’s almost, um, that’s the big surprise. You expect the ego to be that big – and there has to be a lot of ego there because there has to be a lot of confidence. They know what they do, they’ve been paid for it, they’ve been lauded for it. But those egos are, to me, the smallest ones. They’re the nicest people. They’re willing to talk to anybody that comes up to them and says ‘We like what you do and we admire it.’

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Uh, in high school I had a friend who was a jazz aficionado so I like jazz. And, of course, I like rock and I loved the Beatles and, um, Van Morrison, and Crosby Stills and Nash and Young, U2, Police, a lot of those groups. Developed a good taste for country when I was working for WHN radio because we turned country in the ‘70s, in the mid- late ‘70s. Uh, and we were a 50,000 watt station and I was doing all the interviews at the time. So they sent me down to Nashville to talk to the people that were, um, the top people in country. A 50,000 watt New York station – finally, New York coming on the line for country music. And I didn’t know music at all. I was saying ‘Loretta who? Who? Who am I going to talk to next?’ (Laughs) And it was kind of silly. But when I left Nashville after four or five days, and was really engrossed in what Nashville was all about – the music and I went to all of the shows, I listened to as much music as I could that week – I developed a love for it and, um, for the groups as well as the single entertainers. And today I listen to Alabama. I still listen to Tim McGraw, Delbert McClinton if you consider him country. And, um, we had a guy on the show a number of months ago that I thought was magnificent, just terrific – Jamey Johnson. And I listened to, um, his CD and became a Jamey Johnson fan. That’s country. And I listen to rock. I love alternative music. Um, some, we had on – I don’t know if you know her, Paul, but Melody Gardot?
Don’t know that one, no.
She’s fantastic! As a writer, as a producer, and as a singer. Patty Larkin has been a big favorite of mine through the years. Um, Susan Werner, one of my all-time favorites doing alternate music – Julliard trained and a great voice and a great writer of music. And in the popular vein, you know, the Lyle Lovetts and Damien Rice and Diana Krall, Phoebe Snow, Jimmy Buffett. Still listen to jazz – Coldplay, Nickleback. Like rock. Not as much into rap as some people I know but when it’s good and the entertainer is really good, it’s fine with me. Like, I love the lyrics of – I know you talk to a lot of composers – and I am a, uh, a big fan of Paul Williams who has been writing music now for what, for 35, 40 years? And still writes. And every beautiful, beautiful love song you can think of could be a Paul Williams song or is a Paul Williams song. And he’s still writing today. I still look for his music and his lyrics.

Our special guest is Alan Kalter, the announcer for The Late Show with David Letterman. You certainly are an eclectic gentleman with that long list of musicians. And, like you said, there have been some very iconic musicians who have appeared on the show. I want to ask you about a recent concert that was done on top of the, uh, marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater with Paul McCartney. Did you see that concert?
(Laughs) Yes. Are you talking about Paul McCartney?

Yeah, definitely.
Oh, wow. That’s all I can say – wow. We had two concerts up there. I believe, I believe Phish was the other group that sang from the marquee and McCartney was next. It was a happening in New York. You couldn’t move through those streets of Broadway and every place I went for the next three or four hours after the show – downtown New York, uptown on the west side – there were people there at different tables that were talking about Paul McCartney and did you hear about this event in New York City. It was great and he was great.

Absolutely amazing. Now, you mentioned rap a second ago and you said you’re not the biggest fan of rap, and I’m not really that keen on rap either, but one of the funniest skits I’ve seen is when you do the songs. Like when you did, uh, Don’t You Think Your Girlfriend Is Hot Like Me? with Alan Chez on trumpet.
(Laughs) Maybe that’s the reason I’m not that crazy about rap because that’s what they have me do. Uh, yeah, I love doing those songs. And if you go back a little ways to the popular music when I was singing it on the show, my brother and I were the twins that used to sing songs. We haven’t done that for three or four years but there were about a dozen times when ‘Rick and Alan’ would get together and sing the songs of yesteryear, and usually with Paul’s band. That was a lot of fun, too.

Well, if you could answer, what skit that you’ve been in have you found the funniest?
My favorite thing to do is talk to the ladies. And that’s when I turn from Dave and I say ‘Dave, can I take this minute to talk to …?’ and it’s usually to the lady that just, uh, the woman who just got divorced or who just left her husband or was just, just left –boyfriend just left her. And I would turn to her, I’d talk to the main camera and I’d say something about why I want to help you out of this difficult condition. And then I would turn to a side camera and the lights would go low, and Paul would play very romantic jazzy music, and I tell her what I would do – what Big Red would do – for her in a bedroom that her former could not. Those are, to me, very funny. Those are the ones that almost have me laughing. Not quite, but I almost break up when I’m doing them. And that’s usually due to the great writing on the show, ‘cause they’ve got some writers there who are just out of their gourd.

I’m glad that you mentioned that because that happens to be my favorite skit. I lost it when you were doing the, what you would do for Dina Lohan, Lindsay Lohan’s – when you said ‘What’s crackin’ Mommy?’ I just lost it the moment I heard you say that (laughs). But, uh, just to kind of, just to know – I mean, what do you see yourself doing when and if The Late Show ever came to an end?
Honestly, Paul? I think I’m going to be playing a lot of golf. A lot of golf, which is, for me, my therapy. And anyone who doesn’t go to a therapist has a therapist in one way or another. That sport is my therapy. I just love being on the golf course. I would continue doing voice-overs and commercials, shows if somebody wants me but, uh, this has been just wonderful. It’s lasted much longer than I thought it would last and, uh, I can see retirement on that golf course. I don’t think I’m going to get any better (laughs) as a golfer but I’m going to try.

Well, is there someone on the show that you feel closer to? In the band or …?
Well, speaking of golf Al Chez, the trumpeter, and I have had a running match for the last probably five, six or seven years against Bruce Kapler, who is the saxophonist, and Anton Fig, the drummer. And, uh, it’s pretty, it’s pretty intense. Right now Al and I hold the trophy. We move the trophies back and forth on a whim and we play three or four times a year during the summer and, um, those guys are good. A lot of fun to play with. And the band itself, uh, very close to all the members of the band. Uh, Fig’s – he’s just top-notch. And Bruce and Al are great. These guys that – Will Lee has been around probably playing records, background records, or featured in records or main soloist in records for longer than, or more than, most of the other people in the band and still a great guy. Tom “Bones” Malone – can’t find a nicer person. Same with Sid. Felicia Collins is adorable. She’s lovely, she’s talented, she’s great to be around. And Paul Shaffer holds it all together and Paul’s a very down-to-earth person. I like him very much. As well as a wizard at what he does and a genius in what he does.

Absolutely. If you could put it into words, what is it you like about show business?
My favorite thing in show business is, on The Late Show, is the fact that we do a different show every night and it’s always surprising. Because it’s not totally scripted, there’s very little script in it outside of a Top 10 or a monologue, we don’t know which way Dave’s going, we don’t know which way we’re going. We write things, the writers write things – sometimes as we’re performing. Two minutes before, uh, a set, two minutes before the commercial goes on or goes off, I’m told ‘You’re going to this, this is the camera you’re going to face, the cards will be in front of you.’ And Tony Mendez puts those cards in front of us. And I know I speak for not only myself but for Biff Henderson and for, uh, Pat Farmer and all of the cast and crew of The Late Show when I say that. It’s just a joy. It’s a great, it’s a great hour that keeps us laughing at the end of the day, no matter how the day has gone, Paul.

Very well said. I have two final questions before we go. New York City has some of the best restaurants in the world. So, where do you like to eat in New York City and what do you get when you go there?
My favorite restaurant to go to is Caffe Ciello. It’s right near the theater, about a block away between 52nd and 53rd on 8th Avenue. It’s Italian. It has the best, in my opinion, the best puttanesca sauce that I’ve ever eaten anywhere. And that tops everything. And when I go there I get a warm welcome, the band is there many times, Paul comes in and says hello. It’s friendly to everybody and it’s in the heart of the action where all the shows are.

Well, my final question for our special guest, Alan Kalter, the announcer for The Late Show with David Letterman. This broadcast goes out all over the world so my final question to you: What would you like to say to all the people that are listening in?
Well, first of all, thank you for continuing to laugh and for tuning in. Without the fans we wouldn’t be where we are today and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. The fans have been absolutely great. The ones who come to the show couldn’t be finer, couldn’t be nicer people, couldn’t be nicer to me. And the people who watch on TV, when they talk to me and I see them around the country and around the world, they always have great compliments. They compliment the members of the cast and myself, and especially Dave. I don’t think I ever walk away from any encounter with anybody who’s ever watched The Late Show where they haven’t said ‘Please say hello to Dave for me.’ Not ‘Please say hello to Mr. Letterman.’ or ‘David Letterman.’ ‘Please say hello to Dave for me and thank him for the great job that he does and for the entertainment for so many years on late at night.’ I’m just so pleased to be a part of it.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

Will Lee: Bassist, Recording Artist

WILL LEE is the sensational bassist on The Late Show with David Letterman he joins us for an in-depth interview.  Will Lee has released 3 studio albums of his own as well as appearing on thousands of songs by many of the biggest names in music.  Will Lee also performs as the bassist in the Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s our pleasure to welcome the one and only Will Lee. Thanks so much for joining us.

Greetings. It’s my pleasure. It’s nice to be here. How are you guys doing?

We are doing fantastic.

Alright.

It’s been along time that we’ve been corresponding so it’s great to finally bring this into the reality.

I appreciate your patience. I know how it’s been and you’ve been great about this. Thank you. It’s great to finally connect.

Who is Will Lee?

(Laughs) Well, that’s a loaded question. I guess there’s a different answer for everyone who gets asked that question. You know, in England, they would say ‘that’s your penis.’ But that’s a whole other story. (Laughs) We’re not going there. Um, if you’re a Sesame Street fan, you’d say ‘Oh, that’s the actor who played Mr. Hooper’s real name’, right?

Right.

I don’t know if you know that but that’s a little bit of trivia. When the Will Lee actor guy died, people – I actually got a note handed to me from backstage at the Letterman show saying ‘I was a really good friend of Will Lee the actor’s and you still have his name. Please carry it on respectfully and proudly.’ So I hope I do. (Laughs) I’m no Mr. Hooper, I’ll tell you that. But, uh, Will Lee these days is aworking musician, very happy to be working, happy to have a job and happy to be in music, which I love the most, and I don’t take it for granted for one minute. I really love, uh, serving the music, making it as good as I can.

What was life like growing up in the Lee house?

Oh boy, well you know, we were Texans and, uh, in a small town called Huntsville TX where my father was the head of the music department of the Sam Houston Institute of Technology. You’ve probably heard of it – S.H.I.T. (Laughs) No, that’s just a joke. Actually, it was Sam Houston State Teachers College and my parents were both very heavily into jazz so, musically speaking, the Lee household was always filled with music. My mom was a singer ala sort of Sarah Vaughan and that style of jazz singing. My dad was a bebop piano player at heart and a jazz educator as a livelihood so he could support his four kids. I’m the oldest of four. My brother Rob, my sisters Pat and Peg, are below me in age. So it was fun. We all sang together and, you know, enjoyed being together and we’re still close.

Can you remember specific songs that you heard playing around the house?

Um, I can tell you that as far as I can remember – when I was very young, I remember a the sound of Miles Davis’ muted trumpet so I guess that could have been around the kind of blue era, maybe. I’m not sure what year that album is but that was the first thing I remember hearing. And my parents also were big, you know as I said before, fans of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and, you know, we heard a lot of Joe Williams in that house. And we heard quite a good bit of “Cannonball” Adderley and Nancy Wilson so, you know, and Miles Davis, and “Bird” – Charlie Parker, who dad had played with.

How did you come to fall in love with the bass?

Oh boy. Well, that was, that was not an overnight, uh, ‘love at first sight’ thing. That was a matter of, you know, necessity. When we were, like, 11 or 12 years old as kids in bands and all the kids our age had the mentality of ‘you’re drums or guitar.’ The functionality of the bass was really something that was a little bit over a young kid’s head at that time. First of all, the bass was a brand new instrument, very young instrument, and we’re talking about like 1964, you know, ’65, just after the Beatles hit, hit America. So, you know, I was the drummer in our band which we had put together. The band had two guitar players, drums, and then we added a sax player. But I felt it would have been really nice to have filled out the sound and make us sound just a little bit more professional. So I said we needed a bass player. Unfortunately, nobody our age played bass so we hired a drummer and I said ‘Oh, I’ll just play bass’ like it was nothing. Meanwhile I was the lead singer of the band and I hadn’t realized how tough it was going to be to play bass and sing. So, once we had hired the drummer it was kind of too late to fire him so I kind of went for it, you know? And it seemed – it was pretty humbling to try to be able to,you know, keep singing the lead and now playing bass underneath that, that vocalizing. But, you know, I kept sticking with it and now it’s, like, you know, it’s my passion.

Are there any other instruments that you tinker around with?

Um, I still play a bit of drums. We have this Beatles band, the Fab Faux, a very successful national touring kind of act. We go out every weekend. Um, so I sort of play strictly Beatles music. And sometimes I’ll go back and play drums when our drummer comes up front to sing a lead solo. And, uh, I play a little bit of keyboard and a little bit of guitar in that band. And I mess around with those instruments at home. As a songwriter I kind of play keyboards, you know, at about the level of a basic five-year old.

There have been a lot of interviews with great bass players on this show and I’ve asked a lot of them who their favorite bassists are, ‘who do you think the best bassist is?’ and there have been a lot of answers but the name Will Lee has been on a few people’s list. So who is on your list?

Oh man, my list is huge! You have to go with the masters that most people know about: Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius is way high on the food chain. Chuck Rainey is my all-time favorite bass player. Of course, Larry Graham, father of thump and slap plunk. Uh, for finger funk you’ve got Pino Palladino, Rocco Prestia. You know, a lot of studio players from New York who I came up with: Marcus Miller, Neil Jason, Sal Cuevas – a great Latin bass player – Ray Brown from the upright jazz world, you know, in addition to Paul Chambers. And a guy who, no day goes by without me thinking about – Mr. James Jamerson, the sound of Motown, is way up on the top of the list as well. And many, many others.

You’ve done a lot of session work over the years. What was the first one?

Oh, my first session in New York? Or my first session period?

Yeah, first session period.

Um, I think the first time I ever went in the studio was, uh, with a band that we had in Miami when I lived in Florida. It was called the Loving Kind, the Loving Kind and that was very exciting. We went into Criteria recording studios where lots of great hit records were made, and did a song that we performed on a local American Bandstand style type show on a Saturday. I think we lip-synced to our recording that we had done. That was pretty cool, pretty exciting.

You played on so many people’s records. Is it possible for you to pick a favorite session?

Well, there’s lots of, you know, lots favorite moments in the studio. The outcome of some of the sessions have been, you know, better or not as good as the sessions themselves. But, uh, there’s was one in particular that Steve Gadd and I played on. We played on and it was one of the most fun and best unknown records that we ever did, and it was the New York Community Choir. And we did two albums with this choir in New York and both of them are so filled with joy, I think everybody should go out and pick them up as fast as they can. I think there’s, some of it is appearing lately as a reissue, on like, the iTunes or maybe as imports. I think you can find it on Amazon. But it’s the New York Community Choir –NYCC – and there are two albums that we did and both of them are really, really special.

There’s someone that I wanted to talk about in particular. You played on a lot of his albums, uh, our passed friend. Uh, his music is still very much alive – Mr. Ralph MacDonald. What was it like recording with Mr. MacDonald?

Oh boy. Ralphie. Well, there are so many layers to my relationship with Ralph. One of them is our personal friendship, which was very, very strong and forever, you know, is dear to my heart. And I’m forever influenced by Ralph’s positivity that he gave me as a musician and friend. In fact, he gave me my nickname ‘Uncle Will’ which people still call me to this day. The Ralph MacDonald musician that we all know about is responsible for writing all those great songs like Where Is The Love Mr. Magic and, uh, of course, The Two of Us and many other album cuts and songs that we’ve heard a lot of. Um, he’s a guy who, I can say very confidently, is the person who introduced pop percussion playing to records, you know? He was he guy who knew what to play on tambourine, knew what to play on congas, knew what to play on cowbell, shaker, you know? And he exercised the utmost elegance and taste in everything he played. So, you know, if you were to look at a discography of Ralph MacDonald you’d be shocked, I’m sure, at how many great records that he made happen.

How did you come to meet Paul Shaffer?

Um, well, back in the days when I was – well, let’s say it was the day when I was a musician for hire and in one instance I had a lot of success with, you know, I had done a lot of Barry Manilow records and, you know, a lot of other records. And he had come down from Canada and he was seeking out a rhythm section of guys that he had heard of. And a producer that he knew from some of the Manilow hits – a guy by the name of Ron Dante – who a lot of people out there may know him as the voice of the Archies. He’s a very special, very talented guy. Ron was Barry Manilow’s producer and Paul Shaffer had gotten in touch with Ron to produce a demo that he was doing with a guy named Paul Jabara, who is, uh, now deceased. Paul Jabara is the guy that wrote Last Dance for Donna Summer and also co-wrote It’s Raining Men with Paul Shaffer. But anyway, Paul had hired Ron Dante to get us all together in a studio to record some of these songs that he was arranging and writing with Mr. Paul Jabara. So Shaffer and I met in the studio on the first day of these recordings, and we hit it off right away as great friends and we’ve been really close ever since. You know, I couldn’t believe how nice of a guy this guy from Canada was, Paul Shafer, and what a great talent and what a great ear he has. And how much he knew about music and how aware he was of what I had done by the time he got to New York from Canada, way back in the ‘70s. So we always, we’ve always had a great relationship.

What do you think about Paul Shaffer as a musician?

Well, Paul Shaffer is a guy who is so well schooled – uh, he can read music really well – but his hearing and ears are so great, when he picks up something that he listens to, and he has a chart in front of him, I’m surprised he can even look at the chart because his ears take over and, you know, sort of always tell him what to play. He’s like a walking archive of music history, too. He can really, he’s really a guy that knows so much about pop music and it’s really hard to fool him. Yeah, I always look, look to him to try to find out what’s the right part of the song that I’m supposed to – the song that I’m playing right now – especially if it’s a cover song that, you know, we’re trying to duplicate or something on the set at Letterman or even in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Wherever we’re playing.

Just a few minutes ago you were talking about Barry Manilow and both you and Sid McGinnis, you both played on Barry Manilow’s albums. What is Barry like to work with in the studio?

Well, Barry is a real –he’s like a real arranger, a real guy who knows how to orchestrate horns and strings and stuff, so he’s a very schooled, accomplished musician. He really knows his stuff.

There have been so many great, great acts that have played on the Letterman show and you’ve gotten to play with so many of them. What are some of the favorite acts that you’ve just had to pinch yourself and thought ‘Man, I’m going to get to play with him tonight.’ or ‘I’m going to get to play with her tonight.’? Who are those people?

Oh man, there’s so many. I mean, you know, Melissa Etheridge is almost a regular on the band. We’ve played with her. Uh, Dr. John has been on the show. Stevie Wonder came and started testing the band, started playing obscure songs and thanks to Paul Shaffer we could jump right in on them. But the number one guy, the number one musical guest of all time, without a doubt, was James Brown when he came on the show, especially in the very early days of Letterman – like maybe in ’82 ,’83 – he came on, brought a couple of his own horn players but used our band to back him up and it was just incredible. That was the greatest.

Just as kind of as a ‘what if’ kind of question, if Letterman was going to retire soon what would you do?

Uh, I’d probably take a nap. (Laughs) I’d probably sleep for the first few hours – the first free few hours I’ve had in a long time. And then I would probably, uh, maybe, you know, skip out, skip out of town for a little vacation. And of course I would get antsy and come right back and probably work on, continue working on my record. My own solo CD that I’m working on..

Ahh. So tell us about that. Is it a follow-up to “Oh!” or what is it?

Well, yes. Actually, I have so many unfinished pieces of music that I’m actually finishing up and trying to record. But I think it would be more than a follow-up. I think I’m, at this time, I’m probably working on about three albums.

Oh, awesome.

And I got some great people playing on some great tracks. I just did a track with Billy Gibbons and Allen Toussaint and, you know, I’m just doing one song at a time and seeing how it goes, and everything’s coming out really nicely.

Is there any, uh, tentative date that that will be coming out?

Well, I’m trying to get the first batch of stuff out by October.

Oh wow. Fantastic.

And since this is, uh, 2012 we’re talking about, I’m talking October 2012, so I’m busy.

Tell us about the Fab Faux. How did that come to be?

Oh, the Fab Faux is a miraculous, a miraculous thing. We formed in 1998 and it started when, um, I was doing a little mini-tour of Europe with, uh, the late, great Hiram Bullock. And Hiram used to always want to have a trio of three guys that played and sang so he could get a three-part harmony going. And he, actually, you know, had kind of exhausted his supply of singing drummers. Uh, nobody was available for this particular little tour that we were doing. So then came a guy named Rich Pagano, who I had never met before. And when Rich came and started playing with us, I could hear right away that he was very Ringo influenced in the tuning of his drums and the way he played. And the way he sang was quite a lot like John Lennon. So, you know, as much of a Beatles freak as I’ve always been, I never had thought of having a Beatles band until I met this Rich Pagano. And after the tour was over, it kind of dawned on me that it would be fun to go on stage and play Beatles music as if we were bringing the records to the stage – you know, note-for-note detail stuff. And I knew right away that a four-piece band wasn’t going to work because you have to have, you know, like, you want to hear all those great percussion parts and double-vocal harmonies and keyboard parts and stuff that are on the Beatles records. Where I think a lot of Beatles bands have made the mistake of trying to look like the Beatles – you know, maybe not a mistake, that’s probably a bad way to phrase it – but they’ve suffered in that they’ve settled for having a four-piece band which really doesn’t allow you to have all those great luxurious sounds. So I knew right away it needed to be a five-piece band. And you know, the genesis, you know, was first calling Rich and having him say yes. And then asking Jimmy Vivino if he would kindly join our band, because I knew he was a guy, like Paul Shaffer, who really was a musical historian and archivist who could really focus on getting all of those details right. And he knew what some of those details were supposed to be, better than I did in many cases. And then we met two other guys – a guy named Jack Petruzzelli and a guy named Frank Agnello – and that completed the five-piece band. And we got busy and got started on seeing what we could do as a five-piece band to make it sound as much like the records as possible. And that’s been many years of, uh, trials and tribulations and successes and lots of really great moments on stage replicating these fantastic Beatle albums and singles and stuff. So it’s been a really great trip so far.

What was it like for you when you heard Paul McCartney had given you props as a bassist?

That was a moment that was actually kind of hard, you know, for me. It was really, uh, a tearful moment. One that, uh, I still can sort of relish and take great pride in knowing that, you know, he has some respect for me as I do for him, you know? I don’t think he’ll ever, ever be able to know how much influence he’s had on me and every other bass player. And, in fact, actually, anybody who has ever tried to think melodically, you know, in this pop world that we have. So it’s been incredible to see that in print and see Paul McCartney saying, you know, “Any great bass players that you dig?’ and have him say, ‘Well, Will Lee and Pino Palladino come to mind.’ and have me included in that statement was pretty amazing.

Yeah. Magical.

Yeah. Humbling, too.

Tell us about the gig that they did – I think it was two years ago – when they played on top of the marquee there.

Oh yeah! That was really fun. Well you know, the Letterman show takes place at the Ed Sullivan Theater which, uh, to me it means the place that the Beatles first were seen in America and which really changed the shapeof all pop music from that point. When the Beatles hit the scene, you know, and showed us what they looked like and, you know, fashion-wise, and they took a lot of chances, and they were very confident, and they knew they were getting over and it was incredible. So to see him return to that stage, to that building where he and his other band mates – the rest of the Beatles – changed the course of history, uh, all I could say to him was ‘Welcome home.’

What was recording the Birdhouse album with your dad like?

Well, my dad was a bebopper, you know, and his view of, you know, what music should sound like is all about 4:4 jazz, and how well something can swing, and how well a song is composed. And he had a little history with playing with Charlie Parker – “Bird” – who, you know, who kind of laid down the law as far as what bepop is supposed to sound like, and my dad was a great improviser himself. And, you know, we thought a great place for he and I to come together would be in a setting of Charlie Parker’s material. So we went into the studio as father and son with a bunch of other great musicians – uh, Billy Hart on drums and we invited other guys to perform with us – Randy Brecker and Michael Brecker, and Lew Soloff on trumpet, and the great Bob Dorough on vocals, and John Tropea on guitar. And we got together and played a bunch of Charlie Parker material in our own sort of way. And it, uh, was heartwarming to look over and see dad playing piano with me in the studio – something that had never happened before. So it was a wonderful experience, to have something on tape, so to speak, something recorded with my dear dad who is just recently deceased. So it’s a great memory and a great keepsake of our musical relationship.

As someone who has performed on so many albums, has performed with so many great artists of our time, has recorded albums of his own – all the things that you’ve done – do you still have some dreams you want to pursue? What are they?

Well, for me, I have a ton of things that I would love to finish writing. I keep, you know, I keep these crazy ideas in my head and I just want to see them through. So for me, it’s like, to try to finish, um, these crazy songs that I’ve started writing. And, you know, that’s kind of how “Oh!” happened – my first solo album. There’s quite a few original pieces of music on there. So you know, just to kind of nurture these tunes that I’ve written, and I try to be a writer who’s not derivative. I don’t try to, like, do my version of this other person’s song or anything like that. I try to just go with my instinct and see how far I can take it. So you know, for me I have sort of a list or a supply of unfinished ideas, and I want to keep working on them until they’re finished and move on to the next song. And that’s how the songs are coming for this new album, or set of albums, that I’m doing right now.

What’s the best thing about being Will Lee?

(Laughs) Uh, for me, it’s being the husband of Sandrine Lee. That’s the best thing about being Will Lee. Sandrine is my wife who I’m very proud of, who’s a great, great person who’s a music photographer, who’s having a great deal of success as a photographer these days. And you can look at her web site, SandrineLee.com and see some of what she’s up to. She’s, it’s fascinating for me to watch her grow.

She did the photography for one of Ralph’s albums, if I remember. Isn’t that correct?

That’s true. Homegrown and then the next one, another one called Mixty Emotions. And she was also the photographer of Esperanza Spalding’s two CDs. Pat Metheny’s last album and Mike Stern’s next album and many, many, many other things she’s doing.

For my last question, for anyone who’s listening to this – wherever they are, whenever they hear it – what would you like to say to all the people listening in?

Um, boy that’s a loaded question, man, and I actually have an answer for it. If anybody’s listening – this country of ours has become way, way more divided than I’ve ever seen and there’s really no sense in that at all. I think the only way we’re ever going to be able to move forward, as a country and as fellow human beings, is just to put our differences aside and start loving each other.

Well spoken. Mr. Lee, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

Thank you, Paul. I sure appreciate your time and, again, your patience in waiting for this interview to happen

Well it happened. (Laughs)

Good man. Thank you.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.