Thursday, May 21, 2015

PHONE YOUR NEIGHBORS AND WAKE THE KIDS: HOW DAVID LETTERMAN INFLUENCED ME


It has been a curse through out my life that the things I like are the things that are frowned upon by Ozarkers. I prefer heavy metal, punk,  urban and psychedelic rock over country music. I'm more interested in horror movies and comic books than hunting or sports (except golf). I also like comedy, whereas Ozarkers have absolutely no sense of humor. One of my favorite comedians has always been David Letterman and, according to several opinion polls taken by our local media outlets, Ozarkers hate David Letterman. My thought has always been, "Tough luck, you dumb rednecks!"

My first recollection of seeing David Letterman on TV was when he substituted for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. I remember he came out and said, "I was watching the monitor backstage and there was a commercial on for Preparation H. At the end of the commercial, the announcer said "Use only as directed." Like you would spread it on crackers."

One of the reasons why I liked David Letterman was he didn't take things too seriously. On his NBC shows, he wore a jacket, dress shirt and tie like other TV show host, except he wore blue jeans and sneakers with it. If a bit went wrong or a prop didn't work he would say, "Screw it!" and move on to something else. Even funnier was when a prop didn't get a laugh, he would throw it in a corner and break it. Dave was always quick to let you in on the fact that, especially in the early days, the segments were probably not going to be great television. In introducing those segments he would say, "Phone the neighbors and wake the kids! It is time for Stupid Pet Tricks!" and then midway through, he would look into the camera and say, "We are having more fun now than humans should be allowed."

Dave did strange things like drop light bulbs and bags of jello off of a building or let the audience give nicknames to former presidents like "Old Beanie Weenies" and "Old Scratch N Sniff." The first show gave aging monster kids a thrill with Larry Bud Mellman/Calvert DeForrest giving a introductory warning like Edward Van Sloan at the beginning of Frankenstein on the first show and ending the first show with a guy reciting dialog from a Bela Lugosi movie called Bowery After Midnight. He interrupted a live Today Show broadcast by yelling out a widow with a bullhorn that he was a major NBC executive and he wasn't wearing pants.
  
Like Ernie Kovacs before him, David Letterman knew that the medium of television itself could be part of the joke. In the early days of his show, NBC ran reruns of the show on Monday night (just like they did with The Tonight Show). At the time, I was a media major at Missouri State University (then it was Southwest Missouri State University) and most of my media classmates would watch these reruns because you never knew what was going to happen. One week they would be dubbed into French or Spanish or re-dubbed in a phony voice over like a Giallo film or Japanese monster movie. Once the voices were sped up. During one show Dave kept popping in and making comments like, "Don't worry folks, Bob Hope (the guest) will eventually talk about someone who is still living."

He used transitional wipes as windshield wipers to "wipe away the snow." Flashback sequences were introduced, as on many shows, with a wavy screen effect and Dave saying, "It is coming back to me like a flashback sequence we filmed yesterday." Of course, we can never forget The Late Night Monkey Cam, which was a camera mounted on the back of a roller skating chimpanzee. One of the trademarks of his show was the breaking glass sound effect as he threw a pencil or an index card through the window.

I was hoping to get to do some of the same kind of things David Letterman did, but unfortunately, as I stated above, I live in the most humorless state in the union. However, Letterman's influence is in this blog with every post. Something that, as a nation, we should be thankful for.


That is why I'm closing this post with a cover of an LP by a Scottish guy, who looks like David Letterman. Dave would want it that way.

 




 

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