This Is Only An Exhibition. This is Not A Competition. Please, No Wagering

When Dave took a few questions from the audience, Helaine asked about his makeup.

“My boyfriend is a weatherman in Buffalo…”


After 33 years on nighttime TV, David Letterman calls it quits tonight. He’s pretty much admitted to no longer being contemporary in this era of YouTube clips and Twitter memes. Sad.

I was a Letterman fan from Day One, back when he was a young stand-up comedian appearing on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He was edgy and vital, always willing to bite the hand that fed him.

I was in Buffalo when Dave started in late night. It was a show we, an NBC affiliate, didn’t carry. Vicky Gregorian, our program director, heard my pleas to clear “Late Night” nearly every day.

It took time, but we did finally air him. My kvetching probably had little to do with it in the long run.

David Letterman autographed photoThe photo on the left was an early 80s gift from my girlfriend, Helaine. It’s an autographed Happy Birthday greeting from Dave, standing on 5th Avenue across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

David Letterman was so strong at one point I forced myself to stop watching! I was inadvertently doing my Letterman impression on-the-air.

Helaine and I first visited the show in 1982. Andrea Martin was a guest. Maybe July 11?

We’d gotten tickets through a friend, were brought in early, sat up front and schmoozed with Biff Henderson. When Dave took a few questions from the audience, Helaine asked about his makeup.

“My boyfriend is a weatherman in Buffalo…”

geoff-at-ed-sullivan-theaterLetterman answered her question, started the show, then referred back to his conversation with Helaine.

“Sir, Where are you a weatherman?” Letterman asked coast-to-coast.

“Buffalo,” I shouted in my network debut (voice only).

I’ve been back to see Dave a few times since. The latest was when Matt Scott invited me to the Christmas show with Darlene Love. Dream fulfilled.

I rooted for Dave when Carson decided to retire. Dave was shafted. Everyone knew it. Alas, the revenge we all hoped for, Dave beating Jay Leno, never came.

Dave was the cutting edge. No more. That’s the saddest part for me. He had it, but let it slip away. As a performer I work hard every day making sure my flame is always lit, my passion always there. Dave seemed to have given up.

Though I no longer watch as often, I will miss knowing Letterman is there. Like his hero, Johnny Carson, Dave will probably fade into the woodwork out-of-the public eye.

Dave is my hero.

Sue, Johnny and Stump The Band

I’m posting this clip for a number of reasons, but mostly because it’s good to remember the good times. Too many people I know have died recently. I’d wish I could stop that.

About a month ago when I wrote about my friend Sue’s passing I mentioned she was an NBC page when I first met her and how she had appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson holding the prize envelopes during “Stump The Band.” I’ve just gotten the video

I’m posting this clip for a number of reasons, but mostly because it’s good to remember the good times. Too many people I know have died recently. I’d wish I could stop that.

[jwplayer mediaid=”12157″]

Ed McMahon

I have one Ed McMahon story and it involves my very secretive friend from the San Fernando Valley and his spectacularly beautiful wife. I asked if he could get me tickets to see The Tonight Show and he asked her.

ed-and-johnny.jpgFor the past few days I’ve been torn as to whether there should be an Ed McMahon entry in the blog. Though a huge presence on television he struck me as a man with little personal integrity. He sold what can politely be called “crap” on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and never really changed. Seemingly he’d shill any product.

His moral code aside, where he was really excellent was as Johnny Carson’s announcer/sidekick. Howard Lapides coined the term we liberally sprinkled Ed’s way. It was “FL” for fake laugh. If Carson intended something to be funny then it was funny to Ed! His laugh was loud and recognizable.

Don’t underestimate this power. The Tonight Show was ‘sweetened’ in real time by Ed. No post-production house could add a laugh track that would help as much.

I have one Ed McMahon story and it involves my very secretive friend from the San Fernando Valley and his spectacularly beautiful wife. I asked if he could get me tickets to see The Tonight Show and he asked her. She had been a page at NBC. She’d even appeared on The Tonight Show giving Johnny the prize envelopes on Stump The Band!

Her specialty was making sure you’d be seated “DIF” or “down-in-front.” That’s where I sat. Thank you Sue.

There are few places I’ve been that immediately seemed so eerily familiar–Mission Control in Houston and the big digital clock at the shuttle launch facility in Florida, CNN’s newsroom, the floor of the NYSE and Carson’s studio on West Alameda in Burbank. I’d seen it a thousand times before I ever set a foot inside.

The crowd entered and politely sat. We were excited. As taping time approached the band played a number and Ed came out to warm everyone up.

“There seems to have been a mistake–a clerical error,” he said.

The audience sighed worrying what was wrong and how it would affect our best laid plans.

“I don’t know how,” he continued, “but Johnny, Doc and I have been scheduled to work on the same night!”

The audience went nuts!

I remember that moment as if it was yesterday–in fact it is the only part of my Tonight Show experience I remember.

People Continue To Die

My friend Farrell, currently winning hearts and minds in Warsaw, Poland, just sent me the news – Joey Bishop is dead.

Bishop was a fixture of late night television in the late 60s, often subbing for Johnny Carson, then hosting his own talk show on ABC (where Regis Philbin got his network start… and nearly his end).

Hosting on the very weak ABC, versus the well established Johnny Carson, Bishop was an immediate underdog. His status as a member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack was a small mitigating factor, but in the end not enough.

Originially a standup comic (Comedy Central says he’s #96 on the all time 100 best), everything I’ve heard in the last decade or so said Joey Bishop was a very bitter, angry and not very nice guy. I’ve got a list of people like that, performers who felt they deserved more success than they got and couldn’t get over it. It seems like an awful way to live out your life.

Bishop was know for the phrase, “Son of a gun.” It was said in an almost question-like way. Typing the letters doesn’t have the same impact as hearing him say them.

Also entering the ‘file footage’ category yesterday was Teresa Brewer. Her top-40 hits, Ricochet and Music!, Music!, Music!, came too early for me to care about.

She’s important in my life, because she was the first ‘act’ I saw in Las Vegas. It was 1975, I was traveling the west with my friend Bob, and we went to Caesar’s Palace to see her open for Rowan and Martin.

The stage was large and full of people. We sat where the maitre’d sat losers and bumpkins – far from the action.

Rowan and Martin were hosting Laugh In at the time. It was one of the hottest shows on TV. They were OK. Teresa Brewer was dynamite.

I’d never seen a show like that before, with a polished performer and big band. This was old school Vegas, still extremely glitzy and moneyed. In the midst of her act, she brought on John Bubbles&#185, someone I knew nothing about. When they tap danced, I was blown away.

She was tiny, but her voice was huge. I remember thinking how close her performance was to the original records I’d heard on the radio.

If, before I went, you would have asked if I wanted to see Teresa Brewer, I would have said, “No.” I left as a fan.

I’m sorry I never got to meet her to tell her that. A performer can never hear enough praise.

&#185 – From Wikipedia: In 1978, John Bubbles spoke at the Variety Arts Theatre in Los Angeles as a participant in a seminar on vaudeville. Someone asked him who the best tap dancer was. Bubbles answered, “You’re looking at him.”

I Like Chick Flicks

OK – I know, this entry doesn’t have the most macho of titles. Unfortunately, it’s true. I like chick flicks.

Today, the three of us (Helaine, Stef and me) sat and watched Music and Lyrics. This was a Netflix ‘sneak in’. We had “Walk the Line” for over a month without watching it and finally gave up, sending it back

Music and Lyrics is the story of has been pop star Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant). When Cora (Haley Bennett), a scantily clad Britney – Christina – Shakira wannabe wants a new song from Alex, Alex needs a lyricist. That’s where substitute plant wrangler, Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), comes in.

Here’s my sad admission. The story is contrived. It didn’t make any difference.

Johnny Carson used to say, “You buy the premise, you buy the bit.” I did. I did.

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. No surprise there. It was a sweet, unencumbered love story… though Hugh (sadly) seems a lot too old for Drew.

It was tough to watch, especially the performance sequences, and not think of Rick Springfield, Helaine and Stef’s favorite 80s pop star. No hits in decades and he consistently packs ’em in.

As has been the case in a lot of the movies I’ve seen recently, the supporting cast made a huge difference. Brad Garrett was very good, but it was Kristen Johnson (remember Third Rock From the Sun) who dominated every scene she was in.

I was surprised to see Aasif Mandvi of the Daily Show in a tiny role with one short sentence of dialog. So that’s how you get to the Daily Show. Who knew?

Forty years ago, James Garner or Rock Hudson was doing this movie with Doris Day. Today, it’s Hugh Grant comfortably playing the clever guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously and Drew Barrymore as the somewhat less chaste Doris.

It still works.

Our Last Vegas Show

This is the part of the trip I like the least… getting ready to leave! We’re not done vacationing, but we still have to make sure the loose ends are tied. Helaine’s in charge of all this and I marvel at her efficiency and organizational skills.

Dinner tonight was the Grand Wok, a very nice Chinese restaurant here in the MGM Grand. We shared two appetizers. Helaine ordered a shrimp lo mein dish while I had beef tenderloin, asparagus and a black pepper sauce.

Mine was marked spicy on the menu, but it was more flavorful than hot. All in all we were very pleased with our dinner. As in nearly always the case in Vegas, the service was attentive and friendly.

We headed across Las Vegas Boulevard to the New York New York Hotel. We had tickets for a show tonight and this one was an interesting choice. Actually, it was a difficult choice – not a slam dunk by any means.

We saw Roseanne Barr.

I remember watching Roseanne the first time she appeared with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. She was truly a breakout star from that very first moment on-camera. A Jewish housewife from Salt Lake City, her performance was totally unexpected – words and actions!

Some people can take success, others cannot. Roseanne was in the second category.

After burning white hot, he career careened. There were work related difficulties, canceled shows, bad marriages and that incident with the National Anthem. It was as if she was working hard at being a failure.

We had heard rumors the original Roseanne was back. That’s why we bought tickets to see her in the Cabaret Theater, a small (450 seat) venue.

Opening was Jackie Beat, a female impersonator/comic. It was, to say the least, a little strange. Though engaging, Jackie was doing (mostly) predictable shtick. Hey – it’s an opening act.

Roseanne came on and she quickly won over the house. She’s a grandmother now. She a little more realistic and fatalistic in choosing her subjects. Still, the observations of life that made her domestic goddess persona so enjoyable came through.

It was a reasonably tight set by an (obviously) professional comedienne. Both Helaine and I laughed a lot. I hope Roseanne can maintain.

We returned to the MGM and I headed directly to the poker tables. I needed a little more before going.

I played astoundingly tight. For 45 minutes, I played one hand! Considering a ‘blinds’ of $3 per round, I was down $15 before I really began to play.

I started to build a nice stack until getting clobbered in a big hand. I mean really clobbered. I reached in my wallet and bought more chips.

One the next hand… the very next hand… another monster pot. Again, I went all in. This time it went differently. I was within $25 of my starting point.

It never happens like that… except when it does! I continued to play, finishing the night nicely up.

I’ll probably play a little tomorrow before leaving, but right now I’m up. It’s not a lot, but I’m not down! I lost all the tournaments I entered, but won nearly all my cash sessions. That was the difference.

I had a great time and really can see a difference in my no limit cash game play. I was cautiously aggressive. When I had a hand, I did my best to keep ‘limpers’ out. I never got ‘married’ to my cards… OK, seldom did I get married to my cards.

There surely was some luck in my winning. Over time, luck evens out. I hope my good play stays.

How Comedians Were Made

I’ve been watching YouTube tonight. That’s probably a bad thing to say, since watching YouTube means I’m not watching television.

It’s interesting how, in many ways, YouTube (or one of its wannabe sister sites) has become the conduit for many of our shared mutual experiences. That used to be the province of TV. Now, if you missed it when it happened, you can catch up online.

Tonight on YouTube I was watching airchecks of a few comedians first appearances with Johnny Carson. I remembered seeing Rosanne Barr’s first set as it aired on The Tonight Show. Others I may have seen, but they didn’t leave an impression at the time.

When I was going to college and long into my working life, Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show was the only thing on nationally after the late news. There was no Letterman or Leno or Conan or Jon Stewart. Yeah – there was cable, but cable had few additional channels and fewer original productions.

A comedian making his/her debut appearance on the Tonight Show could expect their life to change forever instantly. I’ve heard more than one comic say that.

There were three responses you could get from Johnny. He could politely applaud. That was bad news. He could give you the ‘hi’ sign. That was approval.

If you were really good, Johnny would call you over to the couch for a minute or two. Ellen DeGeneres was called over on her first night. You could see in her eyes she totally understood what was happening.

That era, where one program could have such an impact, is gone. It will never come back. In a multichannel universe, no one show can dominate.

As much as the rights holders are probably upset, having these moments of television history available is yet another luxury of the Internet.

Letterman’s Impressionists

My DVR was set to record David Letterman tonight. It’s been a long time since I did that. His show is must see TV for me this week, because it’s “Impressionist Week.”

I love impressionists. I remember watching them perform on Ed Sullivan when I was a kid. They did voices that made my parents laugh, based on references I didn’t get at the time. My dad’s laugh of approval was good enough for me.

I knew Rich Little would have to be part of the Letterman line-up at some point, but I didn’t expect him to be the first up.

Thirty years ago… can that be right… Thirty years ago, Rich Little was as hot as a comedian gets. The intervening years hadn’t been kind. I saw him a while ago and he was lackluster – like a guy just going through the motions.

I forget what show he was on, but it demanded more than just an impressionist. As a person, he seemed drab and cold.

Obviously, my hopes were not high as he walked out. The first thing I noticed was his hair. I’m 56 and people complain, thinking mine’s colored (it’s not). Little has twelve years on me and has bright brown hair.

Maybe I’m wrong about his hair as people are about mine. I doubt it, but maybe.

He started his act doing Dr. Phil – and he killed. I am thrilled to say, Rich Little was as good tonight as I’ve ever seen him. I was happy for him – happy for me.

He then proceeded to run through some ‘names.’ He was Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Andy Rooney.

He finished with his signature, Johnny Carson. As fresh as Johnny is in my mind, that show hasn’t been on since 1992! And, I’ve seen Rich Little do Carson a zillion times.

This time, he began with a new set-up (at least for me), explaining how his inspiration for the Carson impression came after seeing an ostrich at the zoo. Without saying a word, he began posturing, shifting his body and moving his head.

He was Johnny Carson before he spoke a word! He killed some more. And then he did a silly, slightly off color Carnac joke. Letterman’s audience ate it up.

Is it possible for a performer to ever get too used to… to be blas

Observations From Colbert

Helaine and Stef had a very good time at the Colbert Report. Here are a few of their observations.

They waited in line&#185 in an alley, adjacent to the studio. The alley is covered, which wasn’t an advantage yesterday, but would be in inclement weather.

None of the standbys got in. Some of those with ‘real’ tickets were shut out as well! The tickets say that’s possible, but how awful to schlep to New York and see nothing.

The studio itself is small. Actually, tiny is the word Helaine used. There were 100 in the audience, at the most. Their seats were off to the side, but Helaine and Stef said the sight lines were good.

The taping started at 7:15 PM. It was supposed to start at 7:00 PM. I’ve been to Letterman, Leno, Conan and even Johnny Carson tapings. They all started on time and ran straight through. There were two restarts when Stephen blew a cue at the end.

I thought the show was taped straight through like the others. Bad guess.

Last night’s show featured a segment called “Formidable Opponent,” where Colbert debated himself. One Colbert wore a red tie, the other a blue tie.

Helaine told me the bit was done ‘live to tape,’ which was very surprising. It looked like it was totally done in post production. In fact, the shame is, it was so flawlessly done, you miss the difficulty in pulling it off. Very funny. Well written.

The red tie, blue tie ruse was done electronically.

I think they’re both glad they went, but two hours travel in each direction, plus the waiting was an awful lot for a 30 minute show.

As they were leaving, some people behind them caught sight of Colbert. “He looks shorter than he does on TV.” Helaine and Stef laughed. People always say that about me.

In person, Colbert is younger and better looking than he is on TV. Me too?

I am efforting photos from Stefanie’s camera.

&#185 – Since this happened in Manhattan, I could say “waited on line.” That’s the preferred local usage.

Quick Emmy Observation

I was sitting for a while, watching the Emmys. This show, unfortunately, has less of an appeal to me than it once did. It could be because of how diffuse TV has become.

With 100+ channels, how can any one show be known by all, or even most?

When David Letterman came on to introduce the Johnny Carson retrospective, Helaine turned to ask how Jay Leno must have felt? Good question.

OK, it’s possible to justify this by saying the Emmys are on CBS. Still, it always seems Jay succeeded Johnny but has never really been his successor. Do you know what I’m getting at?

Toward the end of the Tonight Show clips, the famous scene with George Gobel, Bob Hope, Dean Martin and an ascot wearing Johnny Carson came on. It’s the one where Gobel says he feels like life is a tuxedo and he’s a pair of brown shoes.

Whether ad lib or scripted, it’s one of the all time classic talk show lines.

I wondered aloud, how many of those watching knew who these three guys were. Helaine said a lot of them don’t even know who Johnny was.

Not only that, when was the last time a talk show had two “A” list and one “B” list guests out at once (sorry George)? I’ll bet none of them was plugging anything. This was in an era of career enhancement, not product placement.

The class comedian moment of the night was when Jon Stewart’s show won and he came up, saying Letterman was his Carson. Now Jay has a reason to feel bad.

Blogger’s note: A friend, who was actually at the ceremony, told me he watched Jay Leno get up and leave as soon as his category’s winner was announced.

My Sources Tell Me: Watch Letterman

I spoke with a friend tonight – a Hollywood insider. He told me David Letterman would be back from a week off on Monday and that his show would be:

1) special

2) dedicated to Johnny Carson

3) feature only one guest who was a true Carson insider

All I know is this is the same guy who told me, at least a week before it was announced, that an unknown named Conan O’Brien would be hosting after the Tonight Show on NBC.

My DVR is set.

Johnny Carson

My friend Farrell just forwarded this to me from Variety:



Former ‘Tonight Show’ host was 79

Johnny Carson, the “Tonight Show” TV host who served America a smooth nightcap of celebrity banter, droll comedy and heartland charm for 30 years, has died. He was 79. “Mr. Carson passed away peacefully early Sunday morning,” his nephew, Jeff Sotzing, told The Associated Press. “He was surrounded by his family, whose loss will be immeasurable. There will be no memorial service.”

Over the next 24 hours you will learn more about Johnny Carson than you ever knew before. There will be obits and documentaries all over TV and in print. I cannot begin to provide that detail and won’t attempt it. There are a few things I do want to say about Johnny.

I found it interesting that David Letterman, Steve Martin and other people of that ‘stature’ always referred to Johnny Carson as, “Mr. Carson.” In the beginning, I thought it was for effect. I later came to understand it was the best way for them to express their respect.

Without Johnny Carson there would have been no Letterman, Martin, Jay Leno, Joan Rivers or any number of comedians who made their mark on the Tonight Show.

I only saw Johnny perform once. It was in Las Vegas (I think – though it might have been Atlantic City… I’m just not sure). When he walked on stage – the first moment he walked on stage – he was already a hit. I found that remarkable. I have never seen another performer with that kind of presence.

I remember a part of the act where he talked about his childhood in the Midwest. He talked about ‘puberty,’ but pronounced it “poo-berty.” Back then I thought, and I still do now, his pronunciation was to make a point. He was speaking of sexuality and proclaiming innocence at the same time.

When Johnny Carson left the Tonight Show, he never looked back. He became a recluse, at least as far as TV was concerned. He made one or two minor appearances, but was never a headliner or even a performer.

He could have done anything he wanted to do. Any network… any syndicator… any cable outlet would have moved heaven and Earth to get Johnny on for what certainly would have been a major event. He had no desire. He had nothing to prove. I suppose he had everything to lose because major success had already been achieved and was now expected.

I give him credit for resisting the temptation, though I would have preferred he’d done something… just once.

Toward the end of his run on the Tonight Show, Johnny developed a habit that bothered me. The show would end and the band would play as the credits rolled. On set, Johnny would get up and walk off – while the cameras rolled and the audience watched. That was disrespectful to his audience.

It has been said, “The Golden Age is always in the past.” There will never be another Johnny Carson, with a show that so dominated its time period (a time period, at that time, populated by old movies and scratchy prints of re-runs). There will never be another venue so suited to launching careers, and successful in its execution.

It’s sad Johnny without saying goodbye. That is how he wanted it. I’m sure his opinion in this matter was in the minority.

Public Speaking

This past summer I agreed to speak to the North End Club in New Haven. I can’t always say yes, but this was at a convenient time, in a convenient place. I like speaking – once I’m doing it. I hope that makes sense?

Today was a significant weather day with snow/sleet/freezing rain/rain in various parts of the state. The president of the organization was nice enough to shuffle her meeting and get me on early – which got me out early.

I don’t work from a script, but I’ve given variations of the same talk for 20 years. I know where I’m going and where the laugh lines are. Actually, the laughs aren’t guaranteed and there are places where I can gage how my audience is accepting me. I’ll field edit if it isn’t going well.

I hate to bomb but audiences have group personalities… and not all are conducive to what I do.

Of all the people I’ve seen on stage Johnny Carson brought something I had never seen, before or after. It was in Las Vegas, and as soon as he walked on stage, he was a hit. For the rest of us, the first goal is to win over the audience. I’ve never seen anyone but Johnnybe a hit from second one.

The woman who introduced me read from my bio. Oops – a few of the jokes I wanted to tell were there and she was delivering them. Oh well, – my fault.

My program ran 30-35 minutes followed by some questions. They were very responsive while I spoke and their questions afterward were also very good. So, all in all, a success.

I won’t take money from a non-profit organization, but they did give me an honorarium to donate to charity. Since our morning meteorologist, Dr. Mel and his fight with cancer became a topic of discussion, I will be donating the check to the Cancer Center at Yale.

I Don’t Want This to be the Death Blog… But

It’s often possible to turn on the TV, and even with the sound down, know someone has died. Today, it was CNN, “voice of Mickey Rooney” fonted on the screen, and video of Tony Randall showing.

It wasn’t as obvious as the time Helaine and I were in the Carribean and stations that normally played ‘island music’ were all of a sudden wall-to-wall Karen Carpenter, but it was pretty obvious. Tony Randall had died at 82.

I was a big Tony Randall fan. He was one of those guys who seemed to make a career of playing himself – prissy, exacting, erudite, fastidious.

I’m not quite old enough to remember him from Mr. Peepers, with Wally Cox. I do remember him from some light comedies – especially Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson and Doris Day.

OK, I’ll admit it. I thought Rock Hudson was the macho one and Tony Randall gay. Oops.

Back in Buffalo, twenty some odd years ago, I got the chance to meet Tony at a charity event. I think it was for the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, which would have been appropriate. He was a great champion of opera and other live performance arts. He seemed older than I had expected. His blue blazer and button down shirt looked worn. He was charming.

Tony Randall never dumbed down his performance. In fact, he played up his intellectual accumen. When he was on with Johnny Carson, or later with David Letterman, there was no doubting that he was the master of all he surveyed.

He didn’t have children until a second marriage when he was already in his 70s, much later in life than most people would think of raising kids. Stories I’ve heard today portray Randall as very happy.

His humor will be missed. His presence, mugging in some inappropriate sketch with Letterman, will be missed. He will be missed.

Larry Sanders

There are a few shows I regularly record on the DVR. One, and the first show I’m likely to watch, is The Larry Sanders Show.

I never did watch this when it was first run on HBO… we didn’t get HBO. I’m sorry I didn’t and glad it’s available now.

My favorite character is not Larry, though I am a big Gary Shandling fan. I’m much more interested in Rip Torn’s, “Artie.”

Artie or Arthur is the producer of the show. He is my fantasy boss. His only concern is the success of the show, and if that means hand holding or coddling – he does. But, there’s never any thought that he’s weak or a less in charge because of that.

Rip Torn is perfect in the part. I wonder how much of it is based on Freddie DeCordova, Johnny Carson’s producer?

Like I said, this is a fantasy, not reality. I don’t expect this to ever happen to me. And, though I’d like to be, I never expect to be as pivotal to a show I’m on as Larry Sanders is to his.