My wife and I have been told to arrive between 2 and 3 to get our tickets to see the Late Show with David Letterman. We arrive at a quarter to two just to be on the safe side, and people are already lining up. We're one of the first to line up, excited, thinking that pretty soon we'll be inside the historic Ed Sullivan theater, and out of a blustery New York winter day.
In this, we were wrong. See, they have you line up for a good long time before they let you in. As you wait, though, you're invited to fill out these forms—audience participation forms, specifically, that ask if you have anything special you or a pet can do (Stupid Human or Pet Tricks), someone famous that you have evidence of having met (a Brush with Greatness), or perhaps a song with which you'd like to try to challenge Paul Schaffer (Stump the Band). Fair enough.
But here's the thing I didn't know—all of those featured audience members on any given night are all plants. The Stupid Human/Pet Tricks are more obvious—those folks come from backstage, so I assumed they were flown in, after having sent a videotape or whatever to prove their (or their pets') ability. But even the people in the audience are brought in, put up at a hotel, made a guest of the show, and then given their free dinner certificates in those little envelopes. Now maybe—just maybe—the quiz contestants that they have on from the audience now and then—usually in a game like "Name Your Cuts of Meat"—are picked that day…but now I have reason to doubt. Brush with disappointment.
So we fill out our forms (me, personally, I talk about being in a shot from "Bowling for Columbine" and peeing next to Mel Gibson—though I happily have no proof of that latter story, so I doubt they call me), and we wait. And we wait. And finally, they let us in, give us our tickets, and tell us to come back at a later time. So we end up at the Hello Deli, where I wonder, as I'm eating my Big Ass Ham sandwich if Rupert Gee does better business in shirts than he does in food. When I'm later buying a couple of his t-shirts, and I ask Rupert if he can break a hundred, he doesn't look up from his cash register as he says "You're in New York, buddy." I don't really know what he meant by that, specifically, but it seemed like a sufficiently Rupertly thing to say.
Back outside, waiting in line again, we can see a lot of the stage guys running around. Biff Henderson walks in with a smile and a wave to the crowd. Cue card boy Tony Mendez comes through with a bag of his own from the Hello Deli. Pat Farmer walks around looking like he's lost something. Everyone is wearing bomber jackets with "Worldwide Pants" patched on the back. I ask if I can buy one anywhere, and one of the pages laughs and says "we don't even get to keep ours when we leave."
When we finally enter the Ed Sullivan theater, the theater itself is somewhat underwhelming. The entryway was probably pretty grand (it still is from the outside), but seeing as how it's not used for anything but velvet-rope lines anymore, it's pretty drab. Here, in the same vestibule in which audiences once stood to wait to see Elvis and the Beatles and Topo Gigio, we're trained by a page (who's also obviously an aspiring actor, as evidenced by his performance) in how to be a good crowd, which more or less amounts to laughing loud and not whistling. Then we wait again.
And then, suddenly, the doors open, and we're allowed in. Paul Schaffer, Will Lee, Sid McGuinness, Anton Figg, and the rest of the band come out, play a couple of songs. Then Dave comes out and talks to the audience for a very short time. And then the show starts. There's not as much to say about the show, really, once it's going. It's a well-oiled machine. We're in our seats no more than an hour. We don't even see Dave very well, because of the cameras in the way, and end up watching mostly on the monitors mounted above. But it was astounding to see it all in person. It's a pretty magical thing to see a guy in person that you've watched on TV for over twenty-five years. The whole thing, from getting the tickets to eating the sandwich to hearing a Top Ten done live—it all felt serendipitous.
And a little surreal. I mean, it was great to see Dave, to get to be there. But it was a little deflating, too. Like realizing that one of your childhood heroes is just a guy doing a job. That there's not some little Dave-world that produces this show like it was a snarky Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, complete with a hip, bald, piano-playing Mr. McFeely. This is a common pathology, this misunderstanding of the real world, this canonizing of what's, in essence, no different than the mundane place we inhabit.
This, of course, is all the intellectual bullshit way of excusing my fan-boy excitement at seeing David Letterman. I came, I saw, I bought the Worldwide Pants t-shirt. -- Teague Bohlen