Wednesday, October 07, 2009
(This piece appeared in my Canadian newspaper column...):
Late Night, In The Afternoon
I had never been to New York City before, so when my wife and I planned an impromptu trip to The Big Apple recently, she made a request for tickets to attend a taping of the Late Night With David Letterman show. Despite our limited but hopeful expectations – we got a call, and correctly answered a Late Night trivia question – we were in! And as it happened, we were present for history being made, with guest Sir Paul McCartney appearing on the show for the first time in his career.
Even having pre-arranged tickets before leaving Canada, you can’t start to breathe easy until you’ve got the actual tickets in your hot little hands. Anything can happen – a freak infestation of holidaying killer bees, street vendor hot dog stand food poisoning, aging Paul McCartney fans threatening to pummel you with their Beatles memorabilia – it is a gauntlet of gnawing anticipation, as you watch the crowd gathering.
But wait – I’m getting ahead of myself! Before the show, we stopped in at Hello Deli, owned by Letterman recurring character Rupert Jee. His business was the trivia question I answered correctly, to get our tickets. It just felt proper to reward him by taking up space in his deli, to split a roast beef sandwich. I even kept his hand-scribbled note, indicating we ordered the “Brian” sandwich (although he should maybe have been a prescribing physician instead – it looks more he wrote “Pmai”).
After lunch, we finally began the lengthy queue to get those tickets in our hands, waiting to get into the Ed Sullivan Theatre – the very theatre that The Beatles, Elvis, heck - virtually every top performer of that era appeared. Just above us, on top of the Late Night marquee, Sir Paul was doing a sound check for a mini-concert he was doing as part of the show. “Get Back” – Holy Flashback of “Let It Be”, Batman!!! You got goose-pimples…
The process in the ticket line is a bit secret-agent-ish. You wait in one line, then get herded off to the other side of the street, while your heart sinks as you briefly believe that they are escorting you away from the theatre. Keeping your eyes peeled for gentlemen in pin-striped suits with cement buckets, you are relieved to discover that the next stop is the Roseland Theatre, directly across the street from legendary former New York disco Studio 54, where you are sorted by groups into more groups, to (at long last) find tickets to The Late Show in your sweaty palms. Your pulse soon returns to normal.
But, you’re not done waiting. Another line, this one under the marquee, where McCartney is rehearsing “Coming Up”. I hope it’s more like “Staying Up”, as that marquee looks awfully old…
Despite the charade, the show is taped in the afternoon, for broadcast later that night. You have never been so thankful for air conditioning as you are when you finally step foot into the theatre – sweaty goose pimples are considerably unsightly.
In the theatre, we ended up in the second row, just off to the side. We were about 5’ from announcer Alan Kalter – 20’ from Letterman himself while he was sitting at his desk with Sir Paul, after his opening monologues and silly bits. We had a clear view of The CBS Orchestra, and hammy cohort Paul Shaffer. The whole thing just made your head swim. Even more surreal, action star Bruce Willis strolled out to do the Top Ten List, of things he was doing that summer. Fine sense of humour, Mr.Willis. He turned up for the mini-concert afterwards, soliciting more photo ops – cameras not allowed IN the theatre, but free to snap on the street. A street full of happy snappers, there was…
Oh yeah, the concert – McCartney did a half-dozen songs, even though only two were broadcast as part of the show. Great blend of Wings, Fireman and Beatles stuff. The Late Night audience had a special viewing area, as the streets of Manhattan were literally swollen with McCartney fans.
So, not only did I attend a filming of David Letterman’s enduring show, I also had the opportunity to see Paul McCartney make his first-ever return visit to the site of one of the most memorable TV broadcasts of all time.
I have the feeling that getting a High Score on my Wii Bowling just won’t be the same anymore…
©Dan St.Yves 2009