I entered high school in the fall of 1997. Somewhere around there I started watching Letterman every night. Part of the allure was that it was late--10:35! I didn't usually stay up to watch the guests. But the monologue, comedy segment and top ten list were a routine. To 14-year old Dave this was a gold mine. I was a quiet, reserved teenager (still am quite a bit at times) and this show taught me what was funny.
Over 4 years of high school, estimating 4 nights a week...that's 832 episodes of the Late Show. I had two books of Top Ten Lists and a t-shirt and everything.
When I visited New York in 1999, I walked by the theater. I was still two years too young to see the show. So I went to the Hello Deli and got a picture with Rupert Jee. I got a slice of pizza from the place to the right of the Ed Sullivan theater. It was neat.
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When I found out that I was going to New York in April 2010, I tried to get tickets. I filled out a form online weeks in advance and waited. About a week before the trip, I got a voicemail. It was from Jack, a Late Show audience coordinator. He said I could get tickets for the April 1st taping. All I had to do was call back and answer a trivia question.
I shouldn't have had too much to worry about. But still, I hadn't been watching much in the last 9 years. The prospect of being so close to seeing the show and then losing it was enough to make me nervous. I called Jack the next morning and after taking my name he gave me this question:
"Alan Kalter is on the show every night. What is his job?"
I answered "announcer" without hesitating. There's that split-second from when it leaves your lips until you hear a response where you panic. Did I say what I meant to say? Is it possible I was thinking of the wrong name?
But it was of course right. He told me that I had 2 tickets. When I showed up on the 1st, all I had to do was tell them I was on "Jack's Gold List."
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Upon arriving in New York, the first thing I did was get an Italian sub at the Hello Deli.
It wasn't as good as my favorite Italian deli in Chicago, but the ingredients were good quality and I didn't feel ripped off. It was fun to sit there and watch people come up and interact with Rupert. He's really nice and took 5 pictures with tourists in the 10 minutes I sat there.
I went with my sister-in-law Bridget and after getting our tickets at 2, we were told to line up at 3:45. Despite just eating that sub, I felt like had to get a slice of sausage and pepperoni from the Ray's Pizza across the street from the theater.
We tried to line up at 3:25, but it wasn't time for our group. So we walked around the block again and we just happened to see Paul Shaffer walking south on Broadway. We didn't bother him but we heard him talking to someone else, and it was cool to hear his voice not on TV.
From 3:45 to 4:15 we got a pep-talk outside the theater. This was the worst part. Of course they have to run through all the rules, no photography at all even after the taping, no high-pitched woos, etc. But they went as far as having us practice laughing to a punchline without a joke "Donald Trump's hair" and told us that even if we don't think a joke is funny that we should laugh at it. That was a little disheartening and I can only assume that Colbert and Jon Stewart don't have to say that to their audiences.
They directed us inside and up to the balcony of the Ed Sullivan theater, the same place the Beatles played. Of course, it's smaller than it seems on TV. But it also seems so different. There is only 5 rows in the balcony. We were in the top row, center, right next to the spotlight guy. He literally stood there for an hour and only did anything when a guest walked across the stage.
From the balcony, you were looking straight down. You could barely see the desk and the front part of the band was obstructed from view. When Dave was doing the monologue, only his head was visible. The furniture looked fake. The floor looked dirty. And the colors showed up a lot darker on the monitors. And there were 50 lights hanging from the ceiling that blocked a lot of the view, as well. And the cameras were just feet in front of Dave and the desk. It was surreal to compare the live action with the live monitor.
Once we sat down they played a classic Late Show clip on the monitors. There was a big red digital clock visible. At 4:15 a terrible comic came out and made jokes about Times Square. How they replaced the hookers with Disney stores, and how they're even bigger whores.
At 4:20 the band came out and played 2 songs.
And then at 4:28:30 Dave SPRINTED out across the stage wearing his white dress shirt without a jacket. He welcomed us, thanked us, and at 4:29:07 he asked if anyone had a question:
Dave: Where are you from?
Dave: You know I'm from there, born and raised there?
Woman: Originally I'm from Atlanta.
Dave: HOTLANTA! Is Atlanta the capital of Georgia?
Dave: So that's something that both cities have in common. They're both capitals. Atlanta is of course, HOTLANTA, and Indianapolis is naptown.
At this point it was 4:29:52. The band started the theme song, Dave ran backstage to get his suit jacket. Alan started announcing and the woman never got to ask her question.
The actual show was interesting. I was fascinated by watching the red light on the active camera. It actually seemed funnier in person. I don't think the jokes or bits were that great but I was laughing the whole time (just like they told me to do!) The best part was when Dave licked the iPad.
Also Mike and Mike were announced as guests and then bumped due to time. And that was the only part where Dave screwed up and they had to do it again. It really is a once in a lifetime experience. So glad I went but I don't need to do it again.
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One other note. It might seem like nostalgic bias, but I really think that the Late Show hasn't been as good as it was when I was watching in high school. Supporting my theory...the clip they played before every taping is a clip from 96 that I'd seen before. Dave at Taco Bell:
Now if only I could find video of him playing "Stop calling me chief."