INSPIRATION

This is going to be a rough eight days.

On May 17th, ‘Mad Men’ ends its magnificent seven-season-over-nine-year run. A study in character and nuance and subtlety that might not come around again for some time.

Wednesday May 20th will see the curtain fall on the Late Show with David Letterman. This is one is hitting closer to home. In 1993, when Dave debuted on CBS (I never really caught his NBC ‘Late Night’ program), I had just finished my first semester studying theatre following a transfer from the school where my major was baseball. Needless to say, I quickly became addicted – a master class on how a solo performer works a live audience. I learned how to react, hold and extend a laugh, turn a dud of a comedic moment into a positive shared experience.

There was a favorite bit of mine that only happened less than a half dozen times. Letterman would come back from commercial & preview the next day’s show. Then, inexplicably, Tony Randall (Felix in the original TV version of ‘The Odd Couple’) and Broadway superstar (and Inigo Montoya) Mandy Patinkin would burst from the side door on 53rd street and rush onto the stage.

They, in a panic, explain to Dave that they were on their way to rehearsal and their car broke down and want to use the stage to work Mandy’s big number. Before Dave can say ‘no’, they hand bandleader Paul Shaffer the sheet music and the song begins. Mandy tears the house and then, while the audience stands in wild approval, immediately bolts from the stage with Tony Randall in tow – leaving Dave in the dust.

I found this bit to be exhilarating. It was wildly effective in its simplicity. The audience played right into it, rolled with the energy, and were the benefactors of its crescendo.

The bit went off the grid and, before long , Leno started winning the ratings war.

I’m sure that’s not the reason why.

For some odd reason, the Letterman-Randall-Patinkin combo always reminded me of one of my favorite interactive theatre bits.

I draw some strange parallels.

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