Letterman On Here’s The Thing

Excellent interview by Alec Baldwin with late-night host David Letterman. Believe it or not, Letterman’s been doing Late Show for 30 years.

Full Transcript at WNYC Radio.

He doesn’t go to meetings and he’s on antidepressants and this podcast is so riveting it will make your lips smile and your ears orgasm.

I’m rushing out to the beach for Felice’s family reunion, and then off to Fullerton for the rehearsal dinner for my nephew’s wedding, but I cannot help but tell you about this podcast. Because it’s so damn good, it’s life itself.

Speaking of good, that’s what Alec Baldwin is here. Because he’s in his element. Unlike interviewing musicians… He asked Peter Frampton how many albums he had before “Comes Alive,” whether Humble Pie ever played in the U.S… We know those facts cold.

And Alec knows most of Dave’s story cold.

But not all of it.

He majored in radio and TV because there was no foreign language or math requirement. These are the choices we make in life, based on arbitrary obstacles that we do not want to face.

And he got a gig at a TV station as the late night booth announcer… I don’t think the younger generation remembers what a booth announcer is. I barely do.

But when he came back to Ball State, Ole Duck Lips was famous.

And he gave up the TV gig to go on radio. His boss said he was finished in show business. That’s something you never forget. Someone in power telling you you’re finished, because you made a bad choice. That separates the men from the boys. It’s usually too disheartening to go on. I remember the first day of law school, which I didn’t want to attend anyway. The career counselor told us if we were here to get into the entertainment business, to drop out immediately, the odds were insurmountable. This almost made me do it. I really didn’t want to go to law school. I’d just run out of options. Ski bumming had no future and I’d caught the world’s worst case of mononucleosis, now what? And I certainly would have dropped out if it hadn’t been the worst snow year on record, look it up, 76-77 in Utah… Everyone thought I was lying until last year, when it was the second worst ever in Utah…hell, the worst ever in Colorado. And the professors kept saying to never use outlines, they were the
enemy. But I employed them after giving up the books to pursue a woman and ended up in the top 15% of the class… Because it’s not the hours you put in, but how you do on the test. Kind of like those 10,000 hours Gladwell talks about. They’re meaningless if you screw up at the major league tryout, if you blow the audition. I memorized the Gilberts in sheer fear and desperation and aced the tests. I knew what was important.

And Dave moves to L.A. to write sitcoms. He talks about how clueless he was. That he didn’t know there was a template. That he really couldn’t do it. That’s what I hear all day long, especially in L.A… “Oh, I could do that!”

Right, you’ve got no idea.

And then he got his chance on Carson. And here’s how it works… You either kill or you’re done. It was just that simple. Talk about pressure.

And from there Dave lives somewhat of a charmed life. Within three appearances, he’s guest-hosting “The Tonight Show.” He and Merrill Markoe create his own show, which he thinks everybody is waiting for, but they’re not. That’s the arrogance, you think everybody is waiting for you, when you show up they’re gonna drop everything and pay attention. You’ve been woodshedding off the grid and now you’ve arrived. Huh? Most people just don’t care.

And then all Dave does is work. Because he’s afraid not to. He forestalls kids, almost his entire social life, because he believes if he doesn’t work, he’ll fail. He believes this attitude caused him to have a quintuple bypass.

And Dave doesn’t hang with the rich and famous, because what would he say to them, what do they have in common? He’s on TV every night, that does not make him a member of the club… As a matter of fact, the club members are suspicious of him.

But now he’s got a kid, and his social life is dictated by the kid, and…

Dave didn’t want to be a standup comic from a young boy. And unlike Jimmy Kimmel, it wasn’t like he never stood in the lone spotlight. Dave’s a weird hybrid…of comedian, grumpy uncle and ten year old who wants to upset the apple cart.

Oh, you’ll learn a lot of inside info. The restrictions put upon “Late Night” by Carson’s team. No monologue, no orchestra, no jokes about Bob Hope becoming a drug addict.

But you’ll also learn that Dave likes nothing more than banter. When you give it back to him, play along. He doesn’t want you to let the ping-pong ball fall to make him feel good, he wants to engage in a game!

This is a story. That’s honest. Thinking about it later, you’ll realize how much Dave left out, but listening you feel like the guy who invented modern late night TV, which is about sketches and gags as opposed to serious conversation, a comedy show, knocked on your front door, sat down on your couch and told you his story. He’s so present, so there, so into it, he laments when it’s done.

Podcasts were supposed to rule half a decade ago. But they’re only coming into their own now. Because no one knew the format. Kind of like they tried to sell you a personal computer to handle your recipes…huh? Turned out a computer was a communication tool, once the Internet burgeoned everybody had to have one to connect… Who knew?

Turns out podcasts are everything society says is gone. Long form entertainment for people who want to take the time to get really deep into a subject. Traditional media is ruled by ratings, producers are so worried you’ll flip the channel, they keep trying to dazzle you, there’s no depth. And the commercials! I’m done with them. I never ever listen to terrestrial radio… Why? Give up all that time of my life? Podcasts are akin to the radio of the sixties, when we’d put on the nascent FM stations and let them play all night. When we felt we were buddies with the deejays, when we felt we were part of a secret club.

Listen to this Letterman podcast. You’ll feel like a member of a secret club. On one hand, you want to keep it to yourself. On another, you want to tell everybody you know, about this listening experience, it’s FANTASTIC!

P.S. You’ve got to hear the story of Alec Baldwin auditioning for “Knots Landing”… We’re not prepared for our dreams to come true, we don’t even have a frame of reference…


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