I get to go to DaveCon!
The more you're invested in something, the more you get out of it. That's the best way I can describe how thrilled I've been to be included in DaveCon 2007 and 2008. As of now, I've seen all but one of the 2,950 Late Show episodes, so this is a big deal for me. To share this experience with such a fun group of dedicated fans was far better than making the trip alone. Thanks to anyone and everyone (certainly Traci and Renee) who allowed me to be a part of this. Along with that, thanks to a number of people at the Late Show. None of them have to go to the effort they do to make this such a great experience. I especially want to thank Tony Mendez, David Kay, Walter Kim, Jay Johnson, and a very nice staffer who didn't want to be mentioned.
Note: All the commentary posted here is from a Late Show fan, namely me, and shouldn't be mistaken as coming from our pals at CBS or Worldwide Pants, Inc. All of us in the DaveCon group are very grateful to the nice people at the Late Show for putting up with us.
March 10, 2008: That's the date the e-mail came from Traci to let me know I was officially invited to DaveCon 2008. I was overjoyed that this date was picked over the alternate, as the other date was right in the middle of three days of training for my 24 summer conference staff. It would have been one of three days the entire year which would have been impossible for me. That was a close one!
I'd been linking to trip reports from the first eight DaveCons on my fan page, secretly hoping that someday I might get to go. By some mix-up, I was invited to DaveCon 2007. Having had that awesome adventure, I was even more excited about attending a second time.
I booked my trip on Dave's birthday on Expedia, and I was all set. I tried to practice being funny, because there's top notch comedy going back and forth among the group in a few hundred e-mails leading up to the big event. For the next two months, all I had to do was dream that Amanda Peet would be a guest, and/or I'd be present for the triumphant return of Nadine Hennelly for float tank duty, Hi Ho duty... anything, actually, for the June 19 episode.
Travel to New York
I'd be the AFLer to come the farthest for DaveCon, since Mr. Jeopardy Winner, Dave Sikula, had some sort of big-time show business conflict in sunny California. I'd travel from midtown Manhattan, Kansas to Midtown Manhattan, NYC. The trip on I-70 to Kansas City International is about 2¼ hours and 125 miles, and the flight from KCI to LaGuardia is about 2¾ hours and 1,102 miles. Midwest Air gives you two chocolate chip cookies on your flight, plus a complimentary ½ can of Diet Pepsi. Sweet. My flights were on Boeing 717s. The 717 is a nice, 10-year-old jet that was actually designed by McDonnell-Douglas before a merger with Boeing. They zip along at up to 570 MPH, compliments of two Rolls-Royce engines. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. No, not lifting. I mean buying.
This time I took some Mapquest maps of Midtown Manhattan and a key chain compass, so I wouldn't get lost and have to move in with Donz. I'm sure he's great company, but I'm almost positive I'd have to sleep on videocassettes. Plus, I hear that Donz starts each day by singing the old Late Night anthem.
There's a cool breeze blowin'.
You can listen to the anthem in my Audio Archives. You can choose either the Paul Shaffer or Tom Jones version. (The laughs in the background come from Chris Elliott acting up.)
Life in the Big City
The downside of using a compass is that Manhattan Island sets at a 30° angle to the right of true north. Then, if you're on Broadway, it's at an angle to the streets and avenues, as it weaves its way down Manhattan Island. I got turned around once in a while. If you're from Kansas... anywhere in Kansas, you're lost and it's not noon hour, you can look at the sun to get your bearings. Our biggest skyscrapers are grain elevators, and usually you have one per town. Anyway, it helps to remember that street numbers get bigger going "north," and avenue numbers get bigger going "west."
Now, where were we? I traveled the day before DaveCon, and checked into the Best Western President at 234 W. 48th St. on Wednesday evening. I like it because it's about 100 feet from Broadway, and five blocks south of the Ed Sullivan Theater. I can walk to the Ed or Rupert's in about five minutes. I had an hour or two to mess around before the Wednesday Late Show began, so I walked around Broadway. The shows were just getting out. There was lots of activity, and young people everywhere. I think I was seeing a bunch of end-of-school trips in progress.
After the Late Show ended, I went back outside and walked up and down Broadway until 2 A.M. I grew up in a Northeast Kansas town of under 200, with no stop signs or traffic lights. My Manhattan is a college town of just about 50,000, the home of Kansas State University. New York is a different world for me. On the other hand, I've spent around 5,000 hours learning about New York City, compliments of Dave. You see every aspect of our society, from sidewalk vendors to the Naked Cowboy to uniformed drivers feather-dusting a fleet of Lincoln Town Cars along the curb outside Morgan Stanley. Out on the sidewalk, I overheard a mother tell her two young daughters, "Don't assume anything will move for you, or stop for you." That seemed like good advice for us all.
The Ed Sullivan Theater
The Ed Sullivan Theater has quite a history. It's had several names over the years. It was built by Arthur Hammerstein between 1925 and 1927, according to Wikipedia, so it's 81 years old. Converted by CBS for television broadcasts in 1950, over the years it's been home to such well-known shows as What's My Line?, To Tell the Truth, Password, The Honeymooners, The Merv Griffin Show and of course, The Ed Sullivan Show. CBS bought the theatre in February 1993 for a reported $4 million, when the deal for David Letterman to switch networks was finalized. As is well known, the first Late Show was broadcast from the Ed on August 30, 1993. It's an interesting feeling to stand on the stage where the Beatles played their first American performance, which I clearly remember watching on TV. Every second or third season, the theater takes a break from Dave long enough to host the Survivor finale on a Sunday evening.
Learn about the history of the theater from the Internet Broadway Database. Here's a Real Estate Weekly article about the purchase of the Ed in 1993. I've added an article from December 2009 from the New York Times, "If The Soundproofed Walls Could Talk."
During DaveCon 2007, there was time for Tony Mendez to take Bob Shriver and me on a tour of the theater. You can see that every effort has been made to preserve as much of the 1920s architecture and style as possible, while accommodating millions of dollars' worth of television and lighting gadgets. The main control room, the green room and other critical operations are one floor below the studio. Tony pointed out some very sturdy-looking vertical steel beams in the basement. They were put in during Ed Sullivan's years there, because every so often there was an elephant act on the stage above. Elephants are kind of tubby, so you can't be too careful. I don't think any special measures were necessary for Topo Gigio. Are you a youngster? Don't know Topo? Look here.
On June 19, the big day, I intentionally got up late. There was a big day ahead, and snoring is one of the discouraged activities in the Ed Sullivan Theater. I strolled up Broadway to Angelo's Pizza. Angelo's has great food. Here's a review. DaveCon 2008 was underway. I didn't really meet everyone last year, so I had a cheat sheet with me this time. I'm still a newbie at this convention, you know. Thanks to Pat Fleet for my shiny new DaveCon kazoo! I can't imagine a better souvenir from the big city. Angelo's is part of the Ed Sullivan Theater building. The Late Show marquee obstructs one's view from Angelo's second floor windows, where the DaveCon group had lunch. Recently several acquaintances from home have mentioned New York pizza. I had it twice on June 19.
The DaveCon group picked up tickets for the show at 1 P.M., and we were instructed to return to load in the theater by 2:30 P.M. for a 3:30 P.M. taping. I got ticket #12. I'm actually not sure what I did for the 1½ hours. I think I just hung around 53rd St. I was delighted to have a short visit with bassist Will Lee of the CBS Orchestra as he arrived for work. His parents lived in my Manhattan for a while, back a few years ago. Will's father, Dr. William F. Lee III, was President of the International Association of Jazz Educators, which was headquartered in Manhattan, Kansas for many years. I made it a point to tell Will where I was from, and he immediately knew why I'd told him. It was a real privilege to meet this tremendously talented, original member of Paul's bands. By the way, Will did some nice work with one of Pat Fleet's kazoos. I couldn't place the tune, but it was a fine performance, nonetheless. For those who are new to North America, Will Lee has been with Dave's shows since Day One in February, 1982.
I also visited for a few minutes with another very nice staff member from the show, but I can't mention his name. I know it... I'm just not supposed to mention it.
We saw the man who every so often is a fake guest. For example, on Feb. 19 he appeared as "The Millionaire Matchmaker," Todd Pendleton, if I'm not mistaken. We also spotted the guy who wears the tank top, who beats Alan Kalter to a pulp. Since neither gent appeared on the June 19 episode, my guess is that they work for the show.
Thanks to Bob Shriver for the outstanding Catherine's Chocolates he smuggled into Angelo's.
I must have strolled around the corner when Don Giller got in the doghouse with a security person for an alleged act of capitalism. From all the commotion, one would have thought he'd set up a lemonade stand. Sure, maybe he had a couple of dozen fake Rolexes under his long, winter coat, but no one was complaining, because they were very sparkly, and quite a bargain. He was just passing out DVDs of the YouTube videos we made for Shirlee DiBacco's birthday last spring, as well as the DVD of last year's Tony Mendez Show that the Late Show sent us! When the #1 Letterman fan in all the world got in trouble with the show he's supplied historical information to for years, everyone thought the confrontation was a joke. The truth is, the producers all know Donz, but one security employee didn't. Maybe Donz will get a fig tree out of the deal. Mike McIntee has the official Late Show response to the incident in the Wahoo Gazette for the following day. He reports, "Before the show on Thursday, one member of the group who shall go un-named, Don Giller, was nearly arrested at the corner of 53rd and Broadway for being a pain in the ass."
Into the real home office...
When you go inside, you enter a zigzag pattern of crowd control ropes, as the lobby of the theater is small. The pages were real nice, and full of energy. All audience members receive a warm-up session from a page standing on a folding chair. It lasts about 10 minutes. They want us to understand that Dave feeds off the energy of the audience and, when in doubt, laugh. Before being admitted to the theater, we're duly warned about no-nos, which include sound effects from electronic gadgets, anything resembling photography, getting up and running around, wearing of DaveCon buttons, shrieking, hollering when our home towns are mentioned, and various Arsenio Hall audience antics (although not mentioned by name).
As the hour drew close, Marilyn Sargent distributed complimentary Altoids. It's a DaveCon tradition. Thanks, Marilyn. (We're glad you didn't get in trouble with security.)
We're admitted to the theater in pairs. Tom Wolper and I were sent to the third row, by the band. It was fascinating to watch the CBSO at work throughout the show. Paul has two boom microphones. One's for interacting with Dave on-air. The other allows him to communicate with the CBSO members during the show, via their earpieces. The band has become famous for putting together spontaneous musical numbers to respond to discussion points during the show. We were about 10 feet from Will Lee and Sid McGinnis, and got to watch them arrange Take Me Out to the Ballgame, to accompany Jason Bateman's song for his daughter. Will played a bit of air guitar as he went through what he was going to play. Sid did a bit of notetaking. It's awesome to watch such talented professionals at work, and certainly to hear them!
Talent Coordinator Eddie Brill is in charge of warming us up. He always does a good job. I've read an interesting piece on how Eddie evaluates comedians for possible appearances on the big show. At some point the audience is shown "Dave Works at Taco Bell." (I have his other Taco Bell shift in my Video Archives. It's the one with "She's gone already, Chief.") Eddie introduces the members of the CBS Orchestra, who take their positions onstage. Anyway, Eddie even mentioned the DaveCon group as "alt.letterman." Not quite right, but we appreciated the mention. It's alt.fan.letterman.
The band gives us a mini-concert, and we clap along with the highly energetic group of pages, strategically positioned around the theater. The band begins with Greenday's Basketcase, and at the moment I can't remember the second song. For those who have never been to the show, you cannot imagine how good the CBS Orchestra is. With the personnel in the band, it of course shouldn't be a surprise, but my, they are as good as it gets.
Next on the agenda, David Letterman, a long-time employee of the Late Show, comes out to torture microphones and cameras, tell a few jokes and take a question from the audience. Naturally, the lovely Shirlee DiBacco, front and center, gets our host's attention. Her question is why Dave is not represented in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. I don't recall Dave's answer, but it does stand to reason that the most famous person in New York (sorry, Donz, Renee and Traci) should have a place in what's billed as the city's #1 tourist attraction. By the way, Dave Dorsett's camera has dents all over it from Dave's pre-show antics with his microphone. I'll bet the audio guys have to tear off their headphones while that foolishness is underway. As is customary, Dave finishes up, says he'll see us in a couple of minutes, and Paul fires up the theme song as Dave turns to walk offstage, and Alan Kalter does his voice-over. Dave goes backstage, where he has about 45 seconds to put on the jacket of his suit and appear onstage.
Late Show with David Letterman, episode 2944
If you'd like a professional report of the happenings of the June 19 episode, read Mike McIntee's Wahoo Gazette for that day.
I like to know how things work, so I'm on information overload during a taping, fascinated with who does what, behind-the-scenes activity, what staffers appear onstage during a taping, everyone's role during commercials, etc. Since my first taping on May 8, 1996, I've been struck with the calmness and professionalism of all the staff before and during the show. I know that with my first taping in San Francisco, I expected to see staff like Biff scurrying around, as you'd see before a rock concert. Nope. No one was onstage. Everything was ready. This time, in New York, we saw a bit of last-minute activity, but everything was still like clockwork. A stagehand ran a floor polisher on the part of the stage that would be visible on TV. A staffer set a full cup of pencils on Dave's desk, just before he came out. All the work is divided into manageable tasks, and everyone is an expert at his or her job. Anyone who watches the show knows that Alan Kalter and Executive Producer Barbara Gaines are at stage left. What you don't see is that Eddie Brill and writer Bill Scheft are always nearby, and they interact with Dave a lot during commercials. I expect they're around because they keep Dave upbeat. Finally, for anyone who hasn't ever seen a script for a show, they are loaded up with extra segments, ready to air, in case something goes wrong.
We audience members see all the video segments that go on-air, but we don't see commercials. The band plays throughout commercial breaks, and we watch compilations of remotes and stunts from past episodes on the monitors. I think the Late Show is a little different from the "live on tape" approach that seemed to be the case with Late Night. Commercial breaks seem to be longer than they will be when the show airs, especially if a band has to set up. According to Dave, during the Late Night days it was rare to stop tape or edit. I think they kind of enjoyed the screw-ups more in those days. The Late Show has always been more polished.
Dave likes to move around during commercials. Sometimes he's at his desk, conferring with Bill Scheft and Gaines about last-minute changes. His suit coat usually comes off throughout commercial breaks. One time Dave even stepped off the set for a little bit, probably to finalize dinner plans with Regis.
Coming out of one commercial, Gaines got too close to our host, and he grabbed her arm. Struggle as she might, given the fact that Dave is 6' 8" / 280 (and has the strength of ten men), Barbara couldn't break free in time. The last of her futile struggle for freedom made it on air.
I really like Bill Scheft's pre-taped bits. Tonight's installment came after the latest Sen. Larry Craig joke. Bill says,
"Hi, I'm Late Show Strike Captain Bill Scheft. I know what you're thinking. 'Good Lord, they're still doing Larry Craig jokes?' Yes, we are! It's all part of our Old Comedy Reference Summer Clearance! Watch for jokes about jetBlue stranded on the runway, Dick Cheney shooting old guys, Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch, even John Kerry's crazy ketchup heiress wife. And remember: Once these jokes are gone, they're gone! (Until we start using them again in the fall.) Thanks a lot. Have a great summer."
One of the video segments tonight was "Tony Mendez Talks to the Chevron CEO." Our favorite cue card technician wanted to get to the bottom of high oil prices. What a thoughtful, attentive, respectful interview Mr. Mendez conducts! His journalistic skills are remarkable. With no warning Tony snaps, grabbing a vase (with flowers) and demolishing it upon the noggin of Mr. Chevron himself. While the CEO is enjoying his vase-induced coma, Tony takes the liberty of taking a cash loan from his billfold. Dave asks, "Was that the real guy?" "Yeah. He had it comin'," Tony says. Yes, he did. A desk chat in which Dave teases Tony for twisting his line, "But aren't the oil companies greedy?" was edited out. Tony sort of mixed together aren't and oil. In the process, Tony coined the word ouyant.
Prior to this taping, all I knew about Jason Bateman was that he's the younger brother of that Family Ties cutie, Justine Bateman. (Justine, seriously, call me.) Anyway, I thought he was a great guest. I must have been snoozing on the job, because my episode logs show prior visits to the guest chair on Nov. 24, 2004 and Aug. 5, 2005, both times plugging Arrested Development. As mentioned earlier, it was fascinating to watch the CBSO members arranging "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to accompany Jason's cute song for his daughter Francesca's diaper changing procedure. It goes something like this:
Let's go change the diaper,
Dave subsequently refers to Jason's number as "The Dumpy Diaper Song." Our host got more and more nervous as the song went on. Short of gaffer's tape, he tried everything to keep Jason from delivering the second stanza, but to no avail. In thinking back, I'm not certain that the whole song was aired. Dave was clearly nervous about where it was headed.
Other than the announced guests or an opportune sighting on 53rd earlier in the day, the audience have no idea what we'll get during the show. For example, we had no idea that Johnny Dark, as Francis Albert
The Show's Over
After the short version of the theme song, Dave takes a microphone for a moment to thank us for coming.
As the DaveCon group was moving toward the lobby, Al Chez was nice enough to approach us and shake hands. It was a real nice surprise to meet him, and tell him how much I appreciate the CBS Orchestra. Al posts on alt.fan.letterman now and then.
Afterward, Will Lee made sure that each of us in for DaveCon got one of his guitar picks, imprinted with info on his other band, The Fab Faux. You can keep up with Will via his personal Web site, Will Lee's Funk House.
Oh... I wanted to mention the temperature. As we know, Dave keeps the temperature in the Ed Sullivan Theater in the low 50s, to keep the comedy fresh. I was advised last year to wear a sweatshirt. So far, I've worn long-sleeved dress shirts to the tapings, and haven't noticed the cold at all. You're just too caught up in the excitement to notice, and I'm usually the first in a room to whine about the cold.
The Tony Mendez Show
Immediately after the audience was shown out, the carpet under Dave's desk (stained when Kevin Spacey dumped Jamba Juice all over on May 19) was replaced. The DaveCon peeps didn't get to hang around the theater, as we normally would. We went straight to the lobby of the Ed to begin slapping together an eventually-classic episode of the Tony Mendez Show.
The premise of tonight's show was that we DaveCon participants were down for a meet-and-greet with David Letterman. We should have known better. Dave goes straight home and hides under the porch after every episode. Dave's right-hand man and cue card technician, Tony Mendez, has agreed to speak with us, and he has big plans for us. Tony has taken up photography. Being a very cutting edge professional, Tony decides that all of us in for DaveCon should be nekkid in his photos. All the rats in the Ed Sullivan Theater run for cover when they hear of this plan. The plot is Worldwide Pants Removal! While most of us in the group are a bit hesitant to take the plunge, the world's #1 Letterman fan (and our spiritual leader), Don Giller, steps forward to step out of his drawers. Then Tony's doggie, Petey, gets involved, and before you know it, we've got an NC-17 on our hands. (Cut!) The majority of our program will never be seen on the Internet. The North American viewing public has been spared. (Note: All of us involved have a DVD of the Director's Cut, but we're under strict instructions that it is never to get on the Internet.)
Thanks so much to Walter Kim and Jay Johnson (Creative Directors, Digital Media), Tony Mendez (For Video Cue, Inc.) and Jerry Foley's beautiful assistant, Kim Reynolds, for taking the time and effort to put together post-show fun and games for all of us. I'd also like to thank Executive Producer Jude Brennan for keeping us all out of jail. Remember the DaveCon 2007 button, "We all go to jail"? We came quite a bit closer in 2008, for various reasons.
Hey, what was that happenin' score during part of the June 25, 2008 Tony Mendez Show "Dave's Fans Gone Wild"? That's right! It was "One Night Out" from Red Horizon, by Tad Lathrop and Don Giller. Just follow my link to CD Baby.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen... my most recent acting work was on Broadway!
Post-Show Dinner and Whoop-Tee-Do
We ate very well, Tony Mendez came by for while, and we called Pat Fleet (provider of the DaveCon kazoos) and serenaded her. It was a nice time to get better acquainted and/or relive past scandals. Thanks much to Keith Rose for persuading the owners to let us come back.
At Cascina, I had a nice visit with Keith Rose, Dr. Rod Fernandez and Don Giller. Although I've exchanged two or three hundred e-mails with Don since I landed on AFL in 1996, I'd never really talked to him until this trip, so that was great. I was also very happy to meet Brad Hill for the first time, and Greg Evans, who I'd been visiting with by e-mail this spring.
Released on My Own Recognizance
After a post-dinner gathering at a place which shall be known only as "Smith's," I hurried back to the hotel to catch Late Show #2944 on WCBS. At 12:30 A.M., I set out for the Apple store at 767 Fifth Avenue. I didn't really need anything, but I'm a very minor stockholder, and just wanted to make the pilgrimage. The only other store I've visited is on Broadway in Kansas City. Anyway, the transparent cube is just a gimmick. The store is accessed by taking a plastic spiral stairway, or transparent cylindrical elevator, down one floor.
I walked around until about 2:30 A.M., just seeing what I could see on Fifth Avenue, and later, on Broadway and Times Square. I came across Tiffany's, Carnegie Hall, the Russian Tea Room, and so on. I wouldn't walk around like that in Kansas City at that hour, but somehow in New York there are enough people (and police) around that I wasn't uneasy at all. I still haven't seen a rat in New York City. Are Renee and Dave making this stuff up?
Hoping to get a good nighttime picture of the Late Show marquee, I went back again. There were little ads all over for one of the neighbors that Dave has made famous, Flash Dancers. I didn't venture inside, but thought I should report the facts.
On Friday morning, I set out to take my prepaid tour of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. I wanted to see Dave's old home on 6th floor, and hopefully Saturday Night Live's sets on 8th floor. No such luck. The next available tour was at 2:45, when I would be enroute to LaGuardia. I know now to make a reservation a day in advance.
I'd heard that some remaining AFLers planned to visit the Little Pie Company, on 43rd St. between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, for lunch. I made the trek down there to see what was going on, but to my amazement, a sign stuck to the entrance had the news that the place was shut down by the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Nonetheless, I like pie. Look here for Helen Read's picture of the official notice. It's #24 of 27.
While I'd struck out on two of my goals for the day (and found out that Super Shuttle refused to pick me up on a prepaid trip on five hours' notice), I knew Rupert would save the day. I checked out of the hotel, and dragging my suitcase behind me, made my way to 53rd St. to Hello Deli. Who needs pie, anyway, when you can have an Inky and a Diet Pepsi for lunch? I sat at the very tables where the Hi Ho babes have dined on Deli Platters, and watched as countless nonpaying tourists came in for their photo ops with the ever-patient proprietor. One even had the nerve to ask Rupert how much he got paid for appearances on the Late Show.
Now quite stuffed, as the Inky is a meal in itself, I hopped over to Jamba Juice in the 1700 Broadway building, where Alfred E. Neuman works. I got a small Peach Pleasure™, which I thought was yummy. It didn't make me angry at all. I was still working on that frozen refreshment when I got to LaGuardia. Seriously, I wish I could have brought some home with me.
After the Inky and Peach Pleasure™, I returned to the Best Western President to catch a non-Super Shuttle shuttle to LaGuardia. My flight left on time at 5:15 P.M., and it was back to Kansas City International, I-70 and Manhattan, Kansas, former home of the #2 NBA draft pick, Michael Beasley.
June 25, 2008
All the DaveCon 2008 attendees get on Late Show with David Letterman in the Act 5 Audience Pan, via the promo for The Tony Mendez Show, "Dave's Fans Gone Wild."
Back to DDY's Late Show Fan Page