Saying Good-bye to David Letterman


Leno on Letterman

That is so 1981.

You see, I tried to get a job writing for Letterman when he had a morning show, back in 1980 and I was at NYU. I sent a bunch of material and received this in response:


Then the word went out that Letterman was getting a late night show. So, having been told they could not accept material, only a resume, I sent them a resume, care of 30 Rock (please keep in mind that this was written in late 1981):



OK, so it’s not exactly Swift or Wilde, but I was barely out of my teens. And those pencil markings? They’re from Merrill Markoe, co-creator of Late Night and Letterman’s head writer (and significant other, as they used to say). Along with my phony résumé, I sent two postcards: One said, “Keep your day job.” The other said, “We loved your resume and would love to see samples of your work.” Markoe sent me that one:So I sent her material: 21 ideas, along with some sketches. Among the ideas:



(2) David “visits” prisons across the country and interviews those prisoners on death row. He asks embarrassing questions (“Where do you get your hair cut?”), steals french fries from their last meals, and offers some small token (a giant chocolate Kiss, small wool, one of those glass balls you shake and it snows on a Bavarian town, etc.), from Late Night.

(11) David and Larry Bud perform in a radio drama based on a little known work of science fiction in a vain attempt to terrorize credulous Americans. An operator can be stationed at a switchboard waiting for it to light up with hysterical callers.

(12) David is surrounded by a gaggle of moon-faced kids as he attempts to dispel the myths and lies their parents have fed them concerning everything from Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to sex and insurance.

(13) David offers a list of weak and unstable countries for America to go to war with in an effort to revitalize the economy.

And so on.

This is what Markoe wrote back:


Now, I had an uncle who worked at NBC at the time as a video tape editor. He started by editing The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when it was still taped in New York. I got to visit the set one day, and remember like it was 30 years ago how small it was, and the fact that there was a sheet thrown over Johnny’s desk. My uncle later went on to work for NBC Sports and won two Emmys: for work he did on the World Series (I forget the year) and for the Olympics.

In an attempt to help me get a foot in the door, Unc strolled over to the Letterman offices, and talked with Markoe. She was sincere in her desire to hire me, but the staff was closed and she didn’t have the budget to add another writer. (It seems those who were hired weren’t crazy about the pay: it was a mere $1,500 a week. At the time, I was making $3.65 an hour as a part-time clerk at Barnes and Noble.) She did pass alg a phone number to the office so I could check in periodically.

Which I did. Like clockwork. Unfortunately, Markoe moved on, and the new head writer had no idea who I was and couldn’t have cared less. He intended to staff up with hip Ivy Leaguers, and a working-class kid from Queens with a degree from NYU wasn’t going to cut it.

Am I bitter? Of course. Do I curse my fate every single day? Of course. Do I believe that everything works out for the best? Of course not. Do I believe I will regret this lost opportunity even through eternity such that heaven will be a living hell?

OK, that’s a bit much…everybody just calm down, a little perspective…

The funniest rejection letter I ever got (with the possible exception of the one I got from MAD magazine when I was in high school) was from Bob & Ray (Bob being the father of Chris Elliott, who would go on to be a regular on Letterman’s show, as the guy under the couch). Read the names along the left-hand border of the letter:

Scan 6

I leave you with Bob & Ray:

And Chris Elliott:

P.S. The closest I got to the Letterman stage was as an audience member—20 years later, when I attended a taping with my Beliefnet colleagues. Here are the Top 10 Rules for being the ideal such member:



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