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Letterman From the Third Row


NEW YORK — The last time I spoke to David Letterman, he mocked me.

I had done a satellite interview with him, and he concluded it by saying: "Listen, Roger, if you ever come to New York City ... "

Yes? I said. Yes?

"If you ever come to New York City," Letterman said, "just keep it to yourself."

Ha-ha. Funny man.

So I took it as a challenge: I would get a ticket to the David Letterman show, the most difficult ticket in the world to get.

And I would not send in a postcard and wait for months and months like you are supposed to.

No, I would show Letterman who he was mocking: I would get a ticket through raw clout.

Which I happen not to have.

So I called the most powerful person I know, a person so high up in national media circles that I ask myself the same question every time I speak to her: Why does she take my phone calls?

I need a ticket to Letterman, I said.

"Tickets to Letterman are impossible," my friend said.

So? I said.

"So I'll see what I can do," she said.

I may not have clout, but I do have cunning: I had made getting a ticket a test of her power.

Two days later, she called back.

"Good news and bad news," she said. "The good news is that I got you a ticket to Letterman."

So what could the bad news be? I asked.

"Neil Diamond is the musical guest," she said.

I decided to go anyway.

I took a train to New York and went to the Ed Sullivan Theater on the corner of 53rd and Broadway.

I went up to the box office, and a ticket was waiting for me, though not exactly under my name..

"It was the only way I could get you in," my friend had explained.

I know I don't look like Dan Rather, I told the box office woman. But I am Dan Rather.

I ended up with a swell seat in the third row center. About 10 minutes before air time, a guy came out on stage carrying a big unlit cigar.

"I am Bill Scheft," he said.

"I am a writer for the show. You know the part where Dave says: 'We have a great show for you tonight'? I wrote that."

We all laughed.

"One thing," Scheft said. "You know when the camera turns toward the audience? Well, don't wave. When you wave on TV, you look like a yutz."

We all laughed again.

Then David Letterman came out carrying a big lit cigar.

"Is it raining outside?" he asked.

No! we all shouted back.

"Oh, yeah?" he said. "That's what you think!"

We all laughed uproariously even though this was not an uproarious joke. Which is Letterman's talent.

The show began, and the difference between seeing a show at home and seeing it in person became apparent:

At home, you have a good view.

In person, your view of Dave is always blocked by six or seven people who are standing behind cameras or microphones.

Dave did his opening monologue, and then during the first commercial, he re-lit his cigar. When he was about to go back on the air, he hid the cigar behind the desk and waved the smoke away.

Matthew Broderick was the principal guest, and after he did his opening segment and they went to commercial, Letterman leaned over to him and said: "It went well; it went well."

Then a staff person rushed over to Letterman and began making suggestions, and another staff person rushed over to Broderick and began making suggestions.

Being spontaneous on TV is not as easy as it looks.

Neil Diamond came out and sang a song off of cue cards. I thought he was awful, but I applauded when the applause sign came on just to be a good sport.

During the show, the camera took pictures of the audience a few times, and my friend later told me she saw me on TV.

But if you want to see me on TV, there is still a chance:

During a commercial, Matthew Broderick came out into the audience to tape a segment to be shown at a future date.

Broderick sat just five seats from me, and I am pretty sure that when they air it, you will be able to see me.

I'm the yutz who's waving.

To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at




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