Just Hanging Out with Letterman
By GIL BLISS
Sunday News Correspondent
Manchester, New Hampshire Union Leader
Everyone has dreams - not many of us get to really live one.
For Plymouth native Stephanie Birkitt, the dream has become reality as she's seen by millions of television viewers each week as a regular participant on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Birkitt, 29, has taken an unlikely road to success, and she's as mystified as her family and friends back at home as to how she became a favorite of the late-night comedy host and a weekly regular on the CBS television show.
Teatime with Tom Brokaw, hallway chats with George Clooney, dancing with John McEnroe and "hanging out with Dave" are not the usual exploits of a Plymouth High School grad.
"It seems like it must be happening to someone else, somebody who is more deserving of this," Birkitt said during a week off from the show. "It's so funny, almost like I'm living someone else's life."
"It's like I'm some goofball who made some sort of terrible mistake and I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop all of the time," she said.
Working for Letterman
That shy, self-effacing quality has an obvious appeal for Letterman, who clearly enjoys teasing Birkitt and involves her in all manner of zany activity on the show. He's had her cover the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and the Emmy Awards for the show, as well as scaling a climbing wall out on Fifth Avenue and diving into a pool with competitive canines.
Lately, Letterman has her dressing in outrageous costumes when she announces the weekly "CBS Mailbag" feature, where the host answers viewers' mail.
How did this all come about?
Birkitt grew up in Plymouth, daughter of dentist Steve Birkitt and wife Kathleen Boyle, assistant principal in Plymouth's K-8 school.
"My father is from New Jersey, and he took me on numerous trips to New York when I was young," she recalled. "I went to see Donahue and other talk shows."
"I knew what I wanted, which was to come to New York eventually, to be a lawyer here or be in television."
She went to Wake Forest University, where she majored in history, with a minor in communication.
"I had every intention of going to law school, but something went awry," she said. "I was always fascinated with television and had always been a huge fan of the Letterman show so I applied for an internship there and got rejected."
"I decided to give it one more shot, and they accepted me in my junior year - the spring of '96," Birkitt said.
She finished her senior year, moved to New York and applied to the CBS page program, where she got to work with CBS News, the Letterman show in the afternoon and, mostly, 48 Hours, working as associate producer on segments for correspondent Erin Moriarty.
"She took me under her wing. I traveled with her and she let me work on her stories, which were lots of things with DAs and sheriffs, lots of wives murdering husbands and husbands murdering wives."
"I heard there was a job in Dave's office opening up and I applied, because I didn't think I was much of a news hound, as it was a little too serious for my personality," she said.
She got the job, helping to handle Letterman's charities and Indy car racing team, and was pressed into service as junior office member by answering the phone when he would call live, on the air.
"We developed some sort of a phone rapport, just like we get along in real life," Birkitt recalled. "He teases me and gives me a hard time and I'll give it back, but overall, he's super nice."
Meeting the guests
A Yankees uniform one week caused ripples at home, where she comes from a family of Red Sox fans. "I got a lot of problems from that, even my grandmother (85-year-old Irene Boyle of Newport) was on my case."
On the show, "You can meet the guests if you want," she said, so Letterman introduced her to hunky movie star George Clooney and most impressively, to rock star Rod Stewart.
"I've worshipped Rod Stewart since I was 8 years old," Birkitt said. "He was my No. 1."
Her childhood tennis idol, John McEnroe, turned out to be very nice in person, and she compared notes about being from the Granite State with Manchester's Adam Sandler.
"I met him and hung out with his dog and talked to him about New Hampshire. He seemed like a sweet, normal guy," she recalled.
Her mother Kathy Boyle said when Stephanie comes home, "She's embarrassed when people make a big deal about her."
"It's almost a character. She plays herself," Boyle said of her daughter television personna. "Steffi has a good sense of humor and that comes through on the show."
Boyle's other child, son Johnny Birkitt, 23, is also in television in New York, working in production for BBC America.
Birkitt has to pinch herself now and then to see if this is all really happening. "Sometimes I just laugh. I was upstairs doing something with John McEnroe and Gavin McLeod the other day and I just turned to my friend and said, 'Can you imagine that this is my job?' "