And tonight, folks, I was there
Tip: If you know you’re traveling to New York within three months, there is a a form
you can fill out to put yourself on the list for Late Show
tickets should there be cancellations, which are apparently routine. The tickets themselves are free.
I had actually forgotten that I’d filled out that form when I first learned I’d be coming to New York to cover the LinuxWorld trade show. So I was a bit shocked when my cell phone rang yesterday and the voice on the other end said, “This is Molly from The Late Show
.” It didn’t take long for the shock to turn to elation.
I was a freshman in college when Dave jumped ship from NBC to CBS and shifted to an 11:35 start. Initially, my dorm room was the only one around with a TV in it, so when the new show debuted, everyone crammed into my room to watch. I’ve been watching ever since. And tonight, folks, as I said, I was there
The Late Show
doesn’t tape on Friday nights, so they do two shows each Thursday. I was slated for the second taping — the “Friday” show. Molly told me to come to the Ed Sullivan Theater between 4:30 and 5:30. I got there around 5:00 and stood in line in the bitter New York cold for about twenty minutes before I got inside. They checked my name off their list and gave me a ticket, then herded me into an area with about thirty other folks. One member of Dave’s army of interns (or are they pages?) began to bark at us.
INTERN/PAGE: All right! Here’s what you need to know! We’re cutting you loose! At six o’clock, you show up at Roseland! Sir [pointing], ask me a question!
MEEK-LOOKING SIR: Where is Roseland?
INTERN/PAGE: Right! Where’s Roseland? Well! [He holds up a large map.] You are here! Roseland is here, right around the corner! You will know it because it says Roseland on the front of the building, and that’s how you know it is Roseland! Now, what time will you be there?
DAVE-ADORING HUMAN CATTLE: Six!
, it turns out, is a ballroom across 53rd Street from the Ed Sullivan Theater. When I arrived at six, more members of Dave’s army directed us all — a couple hundred of us by now, I guess — into three large groups. After a while, another minion came out to give us a speech meant both to get us psyched and to lay down rules.
- Laugh a lot, and laugh loudly. No reserved chuckles like you have at home. Clap, too. A lot.
- No whistling, screaming, or wooooing.
- No cameras. Cell phones OFF OFF OFF DAMMIT.
- If you’re not sure something’s funny, pretend it is, laugh loudly, “and think about it on the way home.”
- Use the bathroom here if you have to; no bathroom-going once we cross the street.
After a while, we cross the street. My group is shepherded upstairs to the balcony, which may sound like a bummer, but it really isn’t. You’d never know it from watching the show, but the Ed Sullivan Theater is absolutely tiny. The main floor only has a dozen or so rows of seats (I’ve been watching the show all this time and would have sworn it was at least twice that deep) and the balcony has about half that. I was in the balcony’s back row, and I could see pretty much everything just fine.
The stage itself is tiny, too. I really cannot understand how they make it look so big on television. It must have a lot to do with how they set up shots, how they zoom in and out to create a sense of depth, and so forth. But it was absolutely shocking to realize that if he wanted to, Dave could damn near spit on Paul while seated at his desk. Equally shocking was how small the “Will It Float?” tank is.
The taping is set to begin at exactly 7:00. Around quarter-till, the warmup guy comes out. I didn’t catch his name, but I assume he’s had this gig with Dave since forever. He was pretty entertaining, and did a great job getting the crowd pumped up. Then all the CBS Orchestra members came out, except for Paul, and started rockin’. They sounded just great. Then Paul came out to very large applause and joined in the jam. Finally, Dave came out around three-minutes-till to chat with the crowd. If you watch the show, you’ll know that Dave frequently refers to things that came up during his pre-show audience chat, leaving the home viewer a bit in the dark. He did so tonight, as you’ll see when you watch tomorrow. Some dude in the audience, a P.E. teacher, said he knows how to cure lower back pain through “stretching and strengthening.” That was enough meat for Dave.
Perfect timing, because now it’s 7:00, and the lights go down, and on the monitors, we see the familiar Late Show
opening sequence, and right there in the building with us is Alan Kalter, doing the spoken introduction, and now, holy shit, here we go, here comes Dave, striding right up front, the audience going nuts, me unable to believe that I am really there
, and when the commotion dies down, there’s Dave, pretending he’s got a horrible hitch in his back. Time to laugh. Loudly.
And now it feels like you’re just watching The Late Show
, which of course you are, but the fact that it is real and happening in front of you is just, well, surreal. I was especially fascinated by the commercial breaks. I’d always assumed that, since they’re taping the show, they wouldn’t really pause for those. But they do. The band keeps playing, and folks run around on stage doing all sorts of things. And you see all the faces you’ve known for years: Biff Henderson, George Clark, Pat Farmer, Tony “Inky” Menendez, Maria Pope. They’re all there. They’re all real. Three-dimensional. Not on a screen. Someone comes out and powders Dave and Paul. Pat Farmer places the guest’s coffee mug on Dave’s desk. We’re coming back from commercial now, so it’s time to applaud. And the show rolls on.
It was especially cool to see the wonderful Friday night “cape” routine unfold in its entirety. For those of you who don’t watch the show, each Friday, toward the end of the hour, the band breaks away to commercial playing “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
” by Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Paul does the vocals. And as we come back from commercial, he stumbles out to center stage to deliver the final, anguished verse. In doing so, he always falls to the ground, despondant, crying out, “I looooooooooooove you!” at which point an unbilled guest comes out holding a cape. Said guest proceeds to wrap said cape around Paul, standing him up, giving him “there, there” pats and generally trying to console him. Paul, crazy from grief, breaks free to return to the mike, and the guest on cape duty looks back at him, eyes sad, head shaking, before slinking offstage. Cut back to commercial again.
Ninety percent of the number happens during the commercial break. It is a musical event, I am here to tell you. Tonight, Mayor Bloomberg was manning the cape, and as he left the stage, Paul sang out, “Bloomie, I love you! Bloomie, I love you!” causing Dave to remark, once we came back from commercial again, “Paul, were you singing ‘Blew me, I love you’ just now?” Which of course brought the house down.
- The “Will It Float?” Grinder Girl is even hotter in person.
- Dave’s affection for both his crew and his gig is palpable.
- Dave apparently hates it when things go wrong. Tonight’s musical guest (Phantom Planet, thumbs down) had a false start — one of the electric guitars lost power just as the act began. Dave was visibly annoyed.
- The crew all wear sweaters and such, because Dave keeps it so cold inside the theater. I don’t think it was much more than fifty degrees in there. Dave does this deliberately. Sometimes the guests even complain on camera.
- The intern/pages all wear letterman jackets bearing the logo of Dave’s production company, Worldwide Pants. The jackets are blue and gold (Go Bears!) and are quite something.