CBS's Late Show with David Letterman regularly features different sketches that follow the monologue and precede interviews with guests. Often these are repeated absurdist segments, involving various cast members, Dave's friends, audience participation, edited or contrived news or promotional videos, or competitions or stunts staged outside the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Currently, the show's regularly scheduled segments consist of "Small Town News" on Mondays and "Fun Facts" on Fridays. Thursdays often feature a rotating set of three audience participation segments: "Know Your Current Events," "Stump the Band," and "Audience Show and Tell."
"Stupid Pet Tricks" and "Stupid Human Tricks," two of Letterman's trademark bits from Late Night, continue to be presented on the Late Show, though much less frequently.
There are also running gags, which may continue for about a month, such as playing "José Feliciano's Old Turkey Buzzard" or other sound effects when a card "crashes through the window" or telephone calls from "Len Easton, California Highway Patrol" on a telephone that Dave acknowledges is a prop that is not connected. Dave expresses amusement or annoyance when these recur.
This article focuses on sketches that have been featured on the Late Show, past and present.
Announcer Alan Kalter
's introduction of Letterman, while technically not a skit, assigns a bizarre modification to Letterman's name and appears at the beginning of every show. ("And now: Microscopic Sea Creature, David Letterman!
") Letterman's title changes every night and often makes reference to a current event. ("And now: Disenfranchised French Youth, David Letterman!
") Prior to September 11, 2001
, the first line of Kalter's introductions contained humorous descriptions of New York City
("From New York! Where the rats hate the subways, too!
"). Once the Late Show
returned to air on September 17
, the introduction changed simply to, "From New York! The greatest city in the world!
" It has not changed since; however, "The greatest city in the world!" is omitted from episodes with guest hosts, as is the host 'title'.
While Letterman himself often participated in many of the show's non-"desk comedy" routines in its earlier years (as well as on Late Night), over time he has increasingly preferred to have others star in them instead. Letterman is now rarely featured in any of the show's frequent pre-taped bits.
Kalter, bandleader and sidekick Paul Shaffer, and Hello Deli proprietor Rupert Jee are often utilized instead in comedy routines, as are stage manager Biff Henderson, stagehands Pat Farmer and Kenny Sheehan, handyman George Clarke, "cue card boy" Tony Mendez, head carpenter Harold Larkin, cameraman Dave Dorsett, assistant Stephanie Birkitt, former writers Gerard Mulligan and Chris Elliott (who almost always appear together), and Johnny Dark (a personal comedy friend of Letterman's).
Letterman's mother, Dorothy, also makes appearances (via satellite from Indianapolis) from time to time, including each Thanksgiving. She perhaps rose to fame mostly as a result of her nightly reporting from the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Former recurring players from the show include Sirajul Islam and Mujibur Rahman (employees of a nearby gift store which has since relocated), Calvert DeForest, and scenic designer Kathleen Ankers (reprising her Late Night role of "Peggy, the Foulmouthed Chambermaid"; on CBS, she was the equally censored "Helen, the Ill-tempered Ticket Lady").
Countless random cameo appearances had been made during the span of the show, most notably in the earlier years by the late Tony Randall, with Regis Philbin filling that void in recent years.
For a while, Letterman took great delight in making fun of his employer, continuing a tradition established at NBC, with senior CBS Corporation executive Les Moonves often serving as the target of his abuse. In time, Letterman's relationship with Moonves has improved; a segment titled "More with Les" features jocular phone calls between Letterman and Moonves.
Announcer Alan Kalter is frequently used in comedy bits, often with Kalter as the butt of the joke:Kalter the Pervert
- In some skits, Kalter is portrayed as a deluded sexual deviant, often referring to himself as "Big Red." Letterman will frequently follow them up by jokingly commenting to Shaffer on Kalter's disturbing, sickening nature, while Kalter grins mischievously. Often such skits begin with Letterman informing the audience that Kalter had approached Letterman prior to the show (about which Letterman often adds, "I've asked him not to do that"), and explaining that Kalter had asked to comment on a current news or pop cultural event.
- Kalter then begins a monologue where he speaks directly to the camera, setting up the nature of the topic (often the separation of a public couple) in a serious manner. He then addresses a separate, closer camera in a sexually provocative manner as amorous music plays in the background. The material is often a series of double entendre, with Kalter offering to romantically console the woman that is the center of the issue, and ends with him making passionate moans. A disturbed Letterman then interrupts Kalter and chides him for behaving inappropriately. Kalter often ends the bit by making a provocative quip to Letterman. Kalterworld
- Occasionally, Kalter will use his segments to promote "Kalterworld," a supposed web site selling "the finest in adult toys, games, and novelties." The Kalterworld.com URL leads to the official Late Show web site."Alan Kalter Makes Your Product Sound Sexy"
- Kalter promotes an actual commercial product (such as Ajax) in a provocative, suggestive manner. He then pours the product on his head and smears it on his body, often moaning as he does so. A bland voice-over then encourages companies to participate in the segment by submitting their own product to a particular address.Kalter the Singer
- Kalter is introduced with the implication that he will provide a serious commentary on current events, but instead exuberantly sings a contemporary pop song filled with sexual innuendos (often from the female perspective). Songs thus far have included "My Humps" on "Alan Kalter's Political Roundup", "Don't Cha" on "Alan Kalter's Mideast Update" and "London Bridge." As he performs, Kalter struts across the stage with a disturbed and annoyed Letterman visible at his desk, and ultimately exits at the other side. Kalter Gets Maimed
- The show will often employ bits where severe bodily harm is supposedly inflicted on Kalter (such as when a cocktail waitress walks across the stage in Kalter's direction and then tosses the drink into his face). He then writhes on the ground groaning and acting as if in serious pain. A wry Letterman will sometimes advise an inattentive Kalter to use a medication normally used for more mild injuries, such as Neosporin or Ibuprofin.The Guy Who Beats Up Alan
- In one recurring gag, Kalter will make a statement on a particular topic, only to have a large man appear from nowhere and object to Kalter's comments. He then proceeds to pummel him, which results in Kalter rolling on the ground in agony, and storms off backstage. Letterman will often amusedly ridicule the obviously fake nature of the violence, as the man's blows never come anywhere near Kalter, despite Kalter's best efforts to sell his pain. ("That last punch came at least within a foot.")
- More recently, the beatings have been followed up by pre-taped pieces, in which the relationship between Alan and the man who beats him (indentified as "Brian") is shown to be more complicated. One sketch involved Kalter catching Brian being "unfaithful" by beating up another man on the street, and the two being heartbroken by the event. Another followed Brian punching Kalter in the face despite his "Not the face!" pleas. After Brian storms off backstage, a video shows Brian expressing guilt to his wife or girlfriend about his abuse towards Kalter, fearing it was "pushing him away." The two later make up at the end with Brian meeting Kalter and punching him in the stomach instead of the face, much to Kalter's happiness. The videos are presented in a mock romance-drama style, with a soundtrack of emotional pop songs."TV's Uncle Jerry"
- In 2006, Alan began to introduce himself by saying "I'm Alan Kalter, TV's Uncle Jerry", much to Letterman's delight at first, but over time Letterman would regard the moniker with faux-irritation, which appeared to be part of the joke. In August of that year, several weeks after the bit started, the Late Show aired a clip from a new, fake CBS domestic sitcom entitled "Oh, Brother!" where Kalter played the aforementioned "Uncle Jerry" character. In the clip, Jerry abandons babysitting his brother's children on his wedding anniversary to instead join a friend at a bar who had met two flight attendants. He then uses a would-be catch-phrase: "Hey, Uncle Jerry's gonna get busy!" Despite introducing the clip with some enthusiasm, Letterman quickly dismissed it afterwards, saying "That sucked! That just sucked!" Recently, Kalter has taken to introducing himself as other beloved television characters such as TV's Professor Withers, TV's Johnny Mambo and TV's Uptown Ricky Brown. He has also introduced himself as "TV's Howie Mandel," to which Dave said that made no sense at all."Alan Kalter's Campaign Roundup"
- A near-daily running gag presented late in the 2000 presidential election season began with Letterman introducing Kalter, who would ostensibly give a summary of the latest campaign news. Instead, Kalter would perform an energetic rendition of the chorus to "Who Let the Dogs Out?" which was a popular and ubiquitous song at the time, and walk across the stage. In the skit's later occurrences, Kalter would sometimes rip off his shirt as he sang (revealing a pale and flabby physique), while adding a manic and deranged tone to his performance. Kalter has demonstrated a compulsion to disrobe in many of his other segments before and since.Alan Punches Someone Out
- In another long-running gag, Kalter would take issue with something said at his expense, such as a Top Ten List entry, or a letter read during the "CBS Mailbag" segment. Kalter would press Letterman about the statement, asking "Did he really say that?" and Letterman would confirm its accuracy. Kalter would then leave the stage to hunt down the person who said it, usually up in the Late Show offices. During his transit, an individual would often greet Kalter with "Hi, Alan!" only to be ignored. Upon finding the guilty party, Kalter would then punch him out and walk away with a look of satisfaction. In one instance, the person on the receiving end was Regis Philbin, who had just been shown in a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" clip where a question described Kalter as "creepy."Alan Kalter's Celebrity Interview
- Occasionally after the first or second guest, Letterman will turn over the show to Kalter, who's supposed to conduct an interview of his own with a celebrity. Invariably, it turns out the guest booked for "Celebrity Interview," who is seated next to Kalter, has already appeared on the show as the first or second guest earlier that night. An angry Kalter accuses Letterman of deliberately booking the same person as a regular guest on the show in an attempt to sabotage Kalter's segment and steal the limelight. The sketch typically ends with Kalter storming off the stage after hurling insults at Letterman, as well as the celebrity interviewee, who usually deadpans confusion or mortification.
When Letterman left NBC and moved to CBS to begin the Late Show
in the summer of 1993, several of Late Night's
long-running comedy bits made the move with him, including perhaps his best known, the Top Ten List
. Letterman renamed a few of his regular bits to avoid legal problems over trademark
infringement (NBC cited that what he did on Late Night
was "intellectual property
" of the network). For example, "Viewer Mail" on NBC became the "CBS Mailbag", and Larry "Bud" Melman began to use his real name, Calvert DeForest
One recurring sketch on both the NBC and CBS shows has been the destruction of household items by various methods including explosives, steamrollers, and - most often - throwing them off the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater. While popular with fans, Letterman has gradually lessened the frequency of such segments in recent years.
Letterman also has a knack for consuming food products and drinks that appear on his show. Among the items that he has consumed are: wine from a bottle used for a cooking demonstration; various kinds of liquor (while quipping "We're gonna lose our liquor license"); Popeye's "Full Flavor Green Beans;" "motor oil" (actually chocolate syrup) from a bottle that bore a "Quaker State" label; Red Bull; liquid from a bottle that supposedly contained Wite-Out; pills from boxes labeled "Lipitor" and "Cialis" (obviously not really the drugs); and even cosmetic products. On one occasion, Dave took a healthy swig of "low-carb suntan lotion" and immediately spit it out, having discovered that it actually was suntan lotion.
The Late Show is well known for its repeated absurdist segments, often taking the form of competitions or audience participation. The charm of such segments is often that they are completely pointless, yet are taken seriously by Letterman and all involved.
Top Ten List
The Top Ten List
appears daily on the Late Show,
and remains one of the few regular segments carried over from Late Night.
It is often the last comedic segment presented prior to the show's first guest. List topics are often inspired by current news and pop cultural events, with typical lists bearing titles such as "Top Ten Signs..." and "Top Ten Reasons..." The Top Ten List is compiled by the show's writing staff, and is usually read by Letterman, although the show occasionally uses guest presenters.
For a long time, the Top Ten Lists were said to have been written in a so-called "Home Office". There were various Home Offices before the part was dropped, but the list included Sioux City, Iowa; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Wahoo, Nebraska - all actual, extant towns. (Late Show staffer Mike McIntee's nightly online recap of the show, the " Wahoo Gazette" is named after the Nebraska town.)
Recently, the Top Ten List has often become a casualty of time constraints, often being pulled from the show at the last minute. Dave will often announce that the Top Ten List is coming up, when, in fact, it is not delivered on that night's show.
Great Moments in Presidential Speeches
The near-daily segment presents a series of three video excerpts, the first two of which come from actual famous moments such as Franklin Roosevelt
's inaugural speech ("The only thing we have to fear is fear itself") and John F. Kennedy
's inaugural speech ("Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country").
The third excerpt features George W. Bush in an unintentionally comical moment, often during press conferences or town hall gatherings. These moments frequently focus on the vacuous Bush stuttering, finding himself at a loss for words, or uttering a nonsensical Bushism. The excerpts are also often taken out of context for humorous effect, such as when Bush declares, "My kids can't read!" Lately, the "Great Moments" presentation have also featured Dwight Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and even President Bush's father, followed by Bush himself. One adaptation is President Kennedy's Berlin speech, with the words "Ich bin ein Berliner," followed by President Reagan's Berlin speech ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall") in 1987 (Reagan was also featured in another Letterman skit "The Reagan Diaries"), and as always, an excerpt from President Bush's recent speeches. An Abraham Lincoln impostor has also given the "Tear down this wall" speech. President Lyndon Johnson made his debut on "Great Moments" with his declaration not to seek reelection in 1968. George Washington's, Abraham Lincoln's, Roosevelt's, and Kennedy's portraits are shown in the graphic at the beginning and end of "Great Moments."
After a few months into the segment's inception, the Kennedy inauguration clip began to include a Late Show staffer (often dressed in formal period garb) superimposed over the empty seat to Kennedy's right. The staffers include announcer Alan Kalter, "cue card boy" Tony "Inky" Mendez (who shows cue cards to President Kennedy), costume designer Susan Hum (whose actions include taking his picture with a disposable camera, removing lint from his shoulder, stealing his wallet, and eating a jumbo pretzel), associate producer Nancy Agostini, and stage manager Biff Henderson. All "cameos" end with the staffers clapping along in real-time response to Kennedy's speech.
Will It Float?
An item is dropped into a tank of water by two models
, often referred to by Letterman as "The Hi-Ho Girls." The segment starts out with Kalter identifying a household item that will be tested, and a faux prize that is supposedly at stake. A picture of that prize is flashed on screen for a split second. Letterman and Shaffer debate the buoyant
properties of the item before they each decide on whether it will sink or float (a frequent deciding factor is the nature of the item's container).
Two models then drop the item into the tank while the Late Show "Hula Hoop Girl" (Anna Jack) and "Grinder Girl" (Kiva Kahl) perform on either side of the tank. Depending upon the outcome, large flashing words appear reading, "It Floats!" (accompanied by a ringing bell) or "It Sinks!" (accompanied by a buzzer).
Letterman often espouses the educational merit of the game in jest, citing positive feedback from parents, educators, and clergymen. He has acknowledged that while the segment is not popular with the Late Show staff, he insists on continuing it for his own amusement. According to Letterman, the skit was adapted from a similar BBC programme entitled "Is It Buoyant?" He also often advertises the (fictional) "Will It Float" home game, which "has everything you need in a box to play the game for only $19.99." The game consists only of a list of suggested household items and a bottle of water. Recently, Dave has also been advertising the Playstation 3 version of the "Will It Float?" home game, and in the past would highlight the Xbox 360 version. At one point, he issued viewers a warning to stay away from the knockoff version, "Does it Sink?," which could be found being hawked by street vendors on Canal Street. After the game is over, Letterman often addresses the women by saying he will see them at "the big 'Will It Float?' party" after the show.
Is This Anything?
In the increasingly rare segment, the stage curtain is raised to reveal an individual or team performing an unusual stunt
, often accompanied by music from the CBS Orchestra
. Flanking the performer, who varies, are two previous performers who became regulars for the segment:
After about thirty seconds the curtain is lowered and Letterman discusses with Shaffer whether the act was "something" or "nothing." As the segment continued over the course of time, Letterman would increasingly express disinterest in the featured performer, opting instead to admire the Grinder Girl. Shaffer in turn would often admit to having been too distracted with his performance of the music.
On an episode in June 2003, the curtain rose to reveal members of the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils. Martin Brodeur hoisted the trophy, leading the crowd in a chant of "Devils! Devils!" Letterman and Shaffer ruled it as definitely "something."
Is This Anything lay dormant for almost a year before it was resurrected on the March 22, 2006 episode. A man balanced himself on a ladder and juggled: Paul voted a clear "nothing", and Dave was going to vote "something" before he noticed a safety mat. Dave then concurred with Paul.
In an uncharacteristic move, Dave invited Sharon Osbourne to assist in officiating Is This Anything on the July 26, 2007 episode, due to her involvement with America's Got Talent. The act consisted of a man balancing an aluminum ladder on his chin while riding a unicycle, and all three agreed that it was nothing.
Small Town News
Often presented on Mondays, Letterman presents a series of actual news items, advertisements, and police
blotter excerpts which are shown to be unintentionally humorous. In earlier incarnations, Letterman would precede the segment by asking the audience to "please wait for the humorous comment," which consisted of him reciting a scripted follow-up to each news item. While this ostensibly differentiated the segment from Jay Leno's similar sketch, "Headlines," the current revival of "Small Town News" only includes an occasional impromptu remark from Letterman.
Audience Participation Games
Thursday episodes usually include one of three rotating variations of audience participation segments. Each game starts with Letterman making small talk with each of the featured audience members, asking about their background and occupations, often with humorous results. When the individual has completed their portion, they are given a gift certificate to a local restaurant as well as random gift items. Occasionally, the participant is a ringer
from the show staff.Know Your Current Events
- In what is described by Letterman as "America's Fastest Growing Quiz Sensation", a "contestant" is chosen at random to play a quiz game. He or she first chooses a category. Besides the title category, there are often a total of "six big ways to win big," with other categories being topical and often esoteric, and rarely reappearing. Some of these have included "Know Your Home Depot Locations in Delaware", "Know Your Late Show Production Accountant Joe DeGeorge", "Know Your Department Store Return Policies", and "Know Your Shocking Facts about Peter Jennings."
- A regular category is "Know Your Cuts of Meat," which itself consists of five categories: beef, lamb, veal, pork, and "variety meats." After playing, the individual is also rewarded with a box of assorted meat cuts from "Lobel's: pound for pound, the finest butcher shop in the world."
- Throughout the course of the segment's history on the show, Dave has varied back and forth between discreetly feeding the contestants the answers, and making them guess.Stump the Band
- This is a variation of the segment from Johnny Carson's tenure on the Tonight Show. A pre-selected audience member requests an obscure song from the CBS Orchestra, which then performs a humorous pre-scripted song based only on the title of the requested song. The band will then jokingly insist that they've correctly played the correct song, only to be told otherwise by the individual, who then performs the actual song. These segments often feature a segment with Paul Shaffer in character as Carnac the Magnificent, another Tonight Show carryover.Audience Show and Tell
- This revolves around a pre-selected audience member relating an anecdote, presenting a personal item of note, or demonstrating a hidden talent.
Usually presented on Fridays, the segment consists of Letterman reading a series of random trivia, records, and statistics. Letterman explains that they are submitted to the show each week by "Gary Sherman," an acquaintance at the Federal Bureau of Miscellaneous Information, a supposed subsection of the United States Census Bureau. The segment often begins with Letterman presenting a few actual facts to set up the premise (although they are often of a humorous nature in their own right and are mistaken by some audience members as made-up). He then presents several humorous, fictional "facts." Most of these are of an absurdist nature, such as "The first pair of binoculars had a 1x magnification," or "For a short amount of time, the rock band The Who broke up, and formed two new bands called The When and The What." An irrelevant promotional announcement of some kind is mixed in on occasion, much to Letterman's confusion.
The segment was initially presented on the show sporadically before being made a regular weekly feature. Letterman is also promoting a Fun Facts book (unlike the Will it Float? game, a real book, ISBN 978-1401323073).
Hello Deli Games
A camera crew is sent to Rupert Jee
in the neighboring Hello Deli, where Jee is asked to invite a potential player from the crowd outside. The player introduces his or herself, relates his or her background, and is told what prize is to be won. Regardless of the outcome, the player is also awarded a "Hello Deli Platter" by the Hi-Ho Girls.
Recurring games include "Beat the Clock" (where the confused player helplessly attempts to stop a clock from counting down to zero) and "What's on the iPod?" (where Rupert sings along to a song on his iPod and the contestant has to guess what song he is singing). Other random games involve a player searching for a hidden item in the deli, and guessing the nature of an item obscured under an item of clothing worn by Jee (such as a Hillary Clinton-esque pantsuit). Occasionally, the "player" is a plant and the segment ends when the "player" appears to be severely injured. Johnny Dark has also appeared as a contestant under various names, and the routine consists of Dark asking so many questions that there is no time for the game. Biff Henderson has hosted similar games on the street.
Stupid Pet Tricks/Stupid Human Tricks
These segments were carried over from Late Night, and consist of three pre-selected participants (or in the case of "Pet Tricks," pets and their owners), who each demonstrate an unusual talent or stunt on the stage. Letteman will often precede the segment with the tongue-in-cheek warning: "Remember, this is not a competition, it is only an exhibition — please, no wagering." While still a trademark feature of the Late Show, the segment has been featured on a more sporadic basis in recent years. The show's regular "Audience Show and Tell" bit will often include an audience member performing a "Stupid Human Trick"-type act.
Explod-O-Pop is a brand of popping corn
, and is usually given as a prize to the participants of the audience participation games. Letterman often describes the product using various slogans such as "America's Only Atomic Popping Corn," "It's Carbolicious," and "It's Contaminated with Flavor!"
It can also be purchased online at CBS' online store, with the proceeds benefitting the American Foundation for Courtesy and Grooming, a charity of Letterman's which contributes its proceeds to a wide variety of foundations, most of which are of a health, youth, or educational nature.
Late in the show, a short segment will consist of a camera panning across the audience as it applauds during the break. A comedy piece will usually be superimposed above this video; in most cases this is either a graphic presenting a game or announcement narrated by Kalter, or a comedy piece featuring Kalter himself. Since returning from the hiatus caused by the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, however, these segments now usually feature a Kalter voice-over promoting future guests, concluded by a phrase such as "Get your VCRs ready!"Games
- Games often consist of parodies of simple time-killers such as word jumbles or quizzes. One example consists of the viewer being shown a short jumble where the letters are barely mixed up, seemingly making for an obvious answer. When the letters are supposedly shuffled into their "correct" order, the answer will actually consist of a completely different, longer set of letters.Announcements
- Some examples of announcements include "Late Show Reminders" (advising viewers to set their VCR for an "upcoming" episode featuring guests that have already appeared earlier that very night), "contest winners" (such as a supposed "My Pet Looks Like Dave" contest), and promotions for "all-new" episodes of old CBS shows, such as Jake and the Fatman.Bored Kalter
- A common example of Kalter's audience sweep comedy bits consists only of a silent and apathetic Kalter engaging in some mundane activity, such as eating or shaving.
- Letterman introduces a man claiming to be James Keyes, President and CEO of 7-Eleven, who then announces to the audience and viewers of the convenience store's latest promotional tie-in with the Late Show. The announcements first began with a commemoration of the date of July 11, 2006 ("7-11"), when all 7-Eleven stores would supposedly give away free Slurpees, hot dogs, and muffins to anyone who said "Dave sent me!" (all items were said to be paid for by Letterman). Since then, the man portraying Keyes has sporadically appeared, enthusiastically announcing other food item giveaways and lavish prize drawings. After the man walks off stage, Shaffer then asks Letterman if the man really is president and CEO of 7-Eleven, only to have Letterman reluctantly admit that he isn't."Action News"
- Letterman will occasionally interrupt a bit for "Action News", a bit that mocks "teaser" promos for local newscasts. Dave will look to the camera to his left and read a fake news headline with an ostensibly disingenuous smile and cheery demeanor. On the screen, in the style of a newscast, appears a news graphic next to Dave's face and the legend "Dave Letterman, Action News" at the bottom of the screen. After delivering the headline, Dave will then turn to the camera to his right and deliver another fake headline. He'll then "promote" Action News ("That's all coming up tonight on 'Action News.'"), and then return to the original bit as if nothing had happened. Occasionally, a weather reporter from an actual CBS affiliate will also deliver a pre-recorded fake weather tease. "Action News" most frequently interrupts "Fun Facts", although it occasionally interrupts other bits, including the Top Ten List. "Action News" began appearing in early 2008.Cameraman Dave Dorsett Leaves the Theatre
- During the segment of the show following the monologue, Letterman will be setting up a comedy bit when the camera trained on him begins to drift downward and stops with Letterman's head out of frame. Letterman will continue for several seconds before noticing the camera's new position, when he stops his bit and asks the cameraman, Dave Dorsett, what is happening. Dorsett explains that he has to leave the theatre for one reason or another (normally tied to a hyped event such as a new movie or video game release), and speaks of his disdain for the show as he exits through the guest entrance. The camera remains in its resting position for the remainder of the segment, causing Letterman to have to lean down and turn his head sideways to get into the shot. In another variation, Dorsett will not leave the studio, but will be preoccupied with something else, such as reading. When the show returns from commercial, the camera shot is back to normal.Campaign 2000
- Throughout the summer and fall of 2000, Dave and the cast (featuring producer Maria Pope) would ostensibly recap the latest on the presidential campaign between Al Gore and George W. Bush. An opening animation would roll accompanied by the orchestra, after which Alan Kalter would read a series of "sponsors," which included party ice (available in clear, semi-clear and opaque), the "ComposTumbler", onetime informercial sensation Hairagami and the then-new "Liquid Plumbr Foaming Pipe Snake". One of the most notable (and well-worn) bits from this segment was a video clip of then-candidate Bush whispering (despite an open lavalier microphone) to Dick Cheney that a reporter was a "major league asshole, to which Cheney chuckled back. Outside this, however, it was common for Campaign 2000 to include no campaign-related content whatsoever.
- Coincidentally, that was the same summer in which Survivor achieved its initial meteoric success. Campaign 2000 segments on days following new Survivor episodes (usually Monday, but occasionally other days) soon included that week's eliminated castaway. Dave often feigned disinterest with the castoffs, forcing them to stand next to Pope at the producer's podium; in fact, only one contestant, Survivor: The Australian Outback's Elisabeth Hasselbeck was ever invited to sit in a guest chair. Generally Dave would ask the contestants irrelevant, nonsensical questions; over time, he began to work Stephanie Birkitt into the segment, initially calling her upstairs in the office and later having her appear on stage in costume. She would routinely ask the castaways, "Did you see or touch any monkeys?" to which Dave would scold her. As time passed, she would promise, increasingly vehemently, not to ask the question and then ask it anyway.
- For reasons unknown, the Campaign 2000 segment would appear at first regularly and then sporadically into 2001 (retaining the name "Campaign 2000"); Dave would feign exasperation at discovering its inclusion in the show, open the segment, and immediately close it without any of the "sponsors" or jokes."CBS Mailbag"
- A Late Show staple on Fridays until it was phased out in recent years (the last time it aired was December 3, 2004), the CBS Mailbag carried on the Late Night tradition of taking actual viewer letters (usually four at a time), and responding to each of them with a pre-written comedy routine."Charts and Graphs"
- Letterman displays poster boards with various charts and graphs, usually with the last element on each being the absurd one. (Pie Chart: What will be the top priority of the next president? 43%: Stabilizing Iraq. 31%: Stabilizing climate change. 26% Stabilizing The View.)"A Day in the Life of..." (such as "A Day in the Life of George W. Bush")
- A slide show with the time of day indicated on each slide, accompanied by a humorous caption, such as "4:30 p.m. Receives FTD's 'Good Luck Bouquet' from Osama bin Laden," "5:30 p.m. Yoo-Hoo break," "6:00 p.m. Nap.""Fun with Rupert"
- One of the most popular pre-taped pieces during the show's earlier years was a Candid Camera-style bit which featured the normally mild-mannered Rupert Jee interacting with ordinary, unsuspecting people around the city. Letterman - usually hidden in a van - would covertly observe the action and provide a disguised Jee (wearing a cap, glasses, backpack, and headphones) with ad-libbed instructions via two-way communication. This resulted in Jee performing humorous and unusual antics while amusing, confusing, and in some cases irritating, various victims. The segment was ceased after an unaired incident in which Letterman would only explain that a man had pulled a knife on Jee. It was unofficially revived in a few live bits in 2006 where Jee (not in disguise) would visit a neighboring restaurant and perform similar antics.George Clarke's "It's a Fact"
- Handyman Clarke is seen backstage, bloodied and severely injured from an earlier incident. He addresses the camera, indirectly explaining the incident by imparting advice such as ”Women on the street don't like to be called 'Candy Pants.'" He will then point to the camera and say, "It's a fact!”The Guy Who Swears at Dave
- A man, often portraying a Late Show staffer, calls out Letterman, expressing his irritation with him. He then addresses Kalter and Shaffer in turn, flipping off and shouting something that is bleeped to each of them. He then repeats this with Letterman, using both hands and repeating the same phrase with extra emphasis. He then storms away, much to the shock of the three men. One time, after Dave and Paul decided that an "Is This Anything" act was nothing, the performer turned out to be the Guy, who then went into that routine. After a Stupid Pet Trick, in which a dog barked at someone giving it the finger, Dave said that he hoped the dog would not not run into the Guy backstage, but in the segue before the next commercial, they were together."How Many Guys in... Suits Can Get into a ...?"
- Examples include "How Many Guys in Spider-Man Suits Can Get Into a Jamba Juice?" and "How Many Guys in Pirate Costumes Can Fit Into A Sandwich Shop?" As the title indicates, the camera is focused on a local establishment, and Dave counts the number of persons wearing the costumes entering the store (first one at a time, then "send in 5 more") until the store is crowded. The bit usually ends with persons in other random costumes being sent in, like a horse, tooth fairy, panda bear or wizard."Late Show Equations"
- Similar in concept to "Charts and Graphs," except there is a slide covering the comic answer to the equation. ("A rollercoaster + the smell of goat = New York City cab ride.")"NBC 4 News Update"
- A portion of a news report from WNBC in New York City is aired and then at the very end of the clip is punctuated by Sue Simmons's infamous "What the (censored) are you doing?" outburst."On 53rd Street"
- A daredevil demonstrates his or her skills outside the theater (such as Tony Hawk performing skateboarding jumps), a half-ton pumpkin is exploded on the street, or dogs compete in the Diving Dog Competition (in which the dogs long jump into a pool). The remainder of one show was canceled when a snowboarder was injured while performing a stunt. Osama bin Laden Tapes
- Usually on the heels of recent news reports of actual propaganda video announcements released by bin Laden or Al-Qaeda, the Late Show will present their own satires of such videos. Often this consists of a stock clip of bin Laden speaking into a microphone, with the audio being overdubbed. The new dialogue will range from bin Laden partaking in distinctly American pastimes (such as giving personal football predictions) to providing Al-Qaeda members with mundane advisements (such as staying home during periods of extreme weather).
- A common conclusion to the bin Laden parodies depicts him putting down his microphone, only to pick it back up and declare in a blasé manner: "Oh, and death to America.""Pat and Kenny Read Oprah Transcripts"
- Stagehands Pat Farmer and Kenny Sheehan read an actual transcript of an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, usually involving a female celebrity guest, with Farmer taking the part of Winfrey and Sheehan the guest. Each read their lines in a distinctly monotone fashion, in humorous contrast to the enthusiastic nature of the original interview (which often includes Winfrey utterances such as "Woo hoo!" to Letterman's amusement). During the reading, Sheehan sports a cigarette consisting mostly of ash which rarely breaks off. On some occasions the absurd nature of the bit will cause the two to break character (more often just Sheehan). The segment starts with Farmer and Sheehan performing a brief re-enactment of Winfrey’s opening sequence ("Run on with Oprah"). At the end of the routine, Kalter gives an address for where to write to obtain a transcript of Pat and Kenny Read Oprah Transcripts.Pat Farmer's "Surprise, You're on TV!"
- Presented as a supposed clip from Farmer’s own reality prank show, Farmer is seen standing next to an unsuspecting male victim in an ordinary setting, such as an elevator. Farmer is then shown to be holding a baseball bat, which he uses to strike the man in the pelvic area. As the man doubles over in pain, Farmer will address him and point to the camera, saying "Surprise, you’re on TV!" Ostensibly this is a blunt satire of reality shows which utilize lowbrow physical humor, such as Jackass, as well as slapstick shows such as America's Funniest Home Videos."...Quiz" (such as the "Auto Show Quiz," "Boat Show Quiz," and "Toy Show Quiz")
- Letterman presents video clips of people at a current event, on which is superimposed a multiple choice question, with the last choice being the punchline."Rejected by the FDA."
- A desk segment in which Letterman displays samples of bad food concepts, such as "NyQuil Dessert Topping," and eats some of them."Sorry, Tom"
- Letterman will explain that while not a scheduled guest, actor Tom Hanks is waiting backstage to make a surprise appearance. Hanks is then shown in the green room, smiling and waving to the delight of the audience. Letterman then informs Hanks that the show doesn’t have enough time for him, causing Hanks to yell at an individual off-screen (ostensibly including obscenities). In reality, the footage of Hanks is a recycled clip from his visit on a much older episode, recorded specifically for later use in this bit. A notable use of this bit occurred during an interview with Hanks' own actor son, Colin. (Hanks also does many other comedy bits for the show whenever he's a guest, from making a glass-breaking noise, to a memorable "Audience Q & A" where he posed as a seat-filler for a member of the audience and was told "Wanna get outta my seat now, Fathead" by the angry woman.)Susan Hum
- As Letterman presents a comedy bit or converses with Shaffer, costume designer Hum will approach his desk carrying a food or drink item. Only after some time will Letterman acknowledge Hum, who will then inform him of the item she has with her. She then stands silently as Letterman attempts to proceed with the show. After noticing that she is still there, he will politely inform her that he is not interested in the item, provoking Hum to angrily insult Letterman (and sometimes throw the item to the floor) and walk off stage.Ticket Scalper
- Letterman will be setting up a bit when a man wearing a ski cap and jacket walks onto the set behind Dave and nervously and quietly gets Dave's attention and offers to sell him scalped tickets to a high-profile sporting event or concert that has already taken place. Dave points out that the man is obviously holding tickets to the past year's Super Bowl (which is when the bits began), and that the current event for which he's trying to sell tickets has already taken place. The man will then quickly change his story, announcing another event which grab's Dave's attention. Dave pulls out his wallet and approaches the man, when the nervous broker thinks he hears the police and both he and Dave quickly scatter. Dave then returns to his original bit.
The following is a partial list of recurring comedy bits that now appear on the show on a sporadic basis, as well as other notable bits from the show's past:
- Alan Kalter's "Are You F*cking Kidding Me?" segment, which questions the sanity behind major news stories (for example, after the Michael Jackson verdict, Kalter's response: "Are You F*cking Kidding Me?!!")
- Alan Kalter's "Oh No You Didn't!" in which Kalter mentions a recent news story (such as a 5-week working vacation George W. Bush had once announced) and then says "Oh No You Di-int!", which is immediately followed by a mention of a celebrity who has recently done something which Alan finds sexy, and a "Oh, yes you did."
- Alex Trebek Came Back Too Soon. Starting with a premise such as that Alex Trebek is losing it, or just suffered a heart attack and came back to work too soon, an edited piece of Jeopardy! is shown where the question does not match the answer and Alex says "correct," such as "The J in J.D. stands for this kind of doctor," the contestant says "What are jujubes?", and Alex says "correct."
- "Ape Or Artist?" A game in which an abstract painting is shown to Letterman and Shaffer, who then discuss whether it was an ape or an artist who painted it. After the first couple of instances, Letterman based his guesses more on psychology than the painting itself (saying things along the lines of "They want me to think it's an artist this time, so I'm going with ape"). After a while, the game became "Ape or Artist or Elephant?"
- "Ask ..." Dave says that a celebrity, such as Hillary Clinton or Paris Hilton, will appear to answer questions the audience has submitted in advance. However, it is always Gerard Mulligan. There is usually one question about the celebrity being egotistical, which Mulligan does not initially answer, and then says to Dave, "Oh, sorry. I thought that one was for you."
- "Bruce Willis's Mystery Word." Bruce Willis says a random word from a pre-recored video.
- "Can A ... Hail A Cab?" Usually someone in an animal (Can a Guy in a Turkey Suit ...") or superhero ("Can Spider-Man...") suit stands on Broadway and hails a cab, seeing if a taxi driver will stop and give the person a ride. This has also been tried by a person wearing a surgical mask portraying the traveler with drug resistant tuberculosis.
- ... Cards. Before Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, Dave displays a series of mock greeting cards, with messages such as "I'm sorry I called you a dirty whore on Maury."
- CBS News Special Report. The news bulletin slide appears, but there is no bulletin.
- Chris and Gerry. Dave introduces former writers Chris Elliot and Gerry Mulligan, who are there to promote their latest television program, which end up being parodies of existing shows (eg., "Skink the Bounty Hunter"). Often they explain that the development of their new shows are due to the failure of their previous efforts. After the interview, a short clip of the contrived show is played. The interview segments usually involve the two wearing the outlandish costumes they don in the clip. Another recent version consists of clips from "John Adams on HBO," where Elliot plays President Adams, and Mulligan plays a portrait artist or some other part. In one of these, Adams and companion did a Mac vs. PC commercial.
- Chris and Gerry also appear in "Late Show Tips for Green Living with Chris and Gerry." In addition to the recorded spots, showing the unexpected effects of carpooling or turning out the lights, they were together on stage in a sketch in which Gerry implied that Chris would taste organic and conventional produce, but instead tasted organically fertilized and chemically treated soil.
- Cool or Not Cool. Debuting in June 2008, this is a sketch designed to juxtapose Presidential candidate Barack Obama with President George W. Bush. First, a clip of Obama engaging in an activity is shown, followed by an on screen graphic reading "COOL" and the sound of a bell. That is immediately followed by a clip of Bush engaging unsuccessfully in a similar activity, and then a graphic reading "NOT COOL" with the sound of a buzzer.
- Crystal Clear Party Ice - In 2000, Kalter presented a running gag in which he promoted this fake sponsor of the show. The lengthy pitch was recited daily with little variation: "It's not a party without party ice, and isn't party ice unless it's crystal clear! Have you ever been to a party where the ice was cloudy? How did that make you feel? Like a loser! Crystal Clear Party Ice is really, really clear! And, it comes in a bag! Hey, the weekend is right around the corner, so why not pick up a couple of bags of party ice? You'll be glad you did!" As the bit wore on, Letterman would respond to Kalter's pitch, such as pointing out that the "weekend" was still several days away. Eventually a "Semi-Clear" variation was added to the bit.
- "Get To Know Delaware." In recognition of Joe Biden being selected as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, this series promoted tourist attractions such as Independence Hall and the Franklin Institute in Pennsylvania, which is next to Delaware, or, in another installment, the announcer described the Battle of New Castle, and then admitted that he made it up because he knows nothing about Delaware.
- Hose cam. On a hot day, a hose shoots water on pedestrians near the Ed Sullivan Theater. Inside, Dave uses a toggle switch to turn the water on and off, and a microphone (similar to one used with a taxicab radio) to make comments to the people on the street.
- "Immigration Success Stories." A segment running since immigration reform was brought to the United States Congress in 2006. The segment profiles various well-known immigrants, before switching to archival footage of actor and Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger shown doing suggestive things with females.
- "Johnny Twain Tonight." Johnny Dark dressed as Mark Twain sits in a rocking chair and recites Rodney Dangerfield jokes. Dark has also appeared in a similar segment called "Johnny Lincoln Tonight," with the only modification being Dark dressed as Abraham Lincoln.
- Lance Armstrong. An overweight man pretending to be a prominent athlete of the day, usually Lance Armstrong, but also (among other examples) a recently victorious NASCAR driver, golfer, or jockey, but always dressed in Armstrong's yellow Discovery Team jersey. He is introduced with, "Ladies and gentleman, name of athlete" while riding a bicycle through the aisles of the theatre and exiting through a door in the back. This segment is always accompanied by the CBS Orchestra playing the Ike and Tina Turner version of Rollin' On The River On the August 21, 2006 show, the segment was mixed up even further, with an introduction of golfer Tiger Woods, and a caption of cyclist Floyd Landis.
- "Let's Talk About the Candidates." A faux audience participation bit where Letterman initially chats with actual audience members about the 2008 presidential campaign. After Letterman comments on a recent candidate's departure from the race, a plant in the audience, always played by the same show staffer, reacts with disbelief and outrage. He then storms out of the theater and pummels pages along the way. In one segment, the plant reacts in this manner to the news that John Edwards was ending his campaign. Afterwards, the first audience member, himself a staffer, reacts in the same violent manner upon learning that Rudy Giuliani was also dropping out, and beats the same pages as he leaves. Letterman often closes the segment by lamenting that they no longer have any time due to the outbursts.
- Live Crash Footage. Letterman will point to his ear, as if taking instructions from the director, and announce that he is being told that they have "live" footage of various celebrities and public figures driving to a particular destination, and ultimately crashing (actually stock news footage of actual, spectacular crashes). Subjects have included Patrick Kennedy, Billy Joel, Nicole Richie, and NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (on a motorcycle). Letterman will then assure the audiences that he is being told that the celebrity is "all right."
- Lt. Len Easton. Barbara Gaines asks Letterman to pick up his phone, on which he gets a radio call from a fictitious Lt. Len Easton (voiced by Jeff Altman) of the California Highway Patrol driving on a California freeway on police business, requesting backup. The majority of these calls begin by sounding seemingly normal but will end with an absurd, humorous statement or request. In recent sketches, Letterman says that he is not the only one who is getting Easton's calls, and then shows a clip from a popular call-in show showing its host, such as Larry King, Suze Orman, or Mike and the Mad Dog, receiving a call with the audio of Easton being overdubbed, and occasionally a caption such as "Len from California" superimposed.
- Lyle the Intern. A supposed Late Show intern (played by actor Jimmi Simpson) who appears out of nowhere to interrupt a befuddled Letterman for a casual chat. He is portrayed as a smooth, laid-back slacker-type who often uses hipster slang and fancies himself a ladies man. In his first appearance, he encouraged Letterman to act as his "wingman" at a bar after the show.
- Mac vs. PC. A parody of Apple's Get a Mac series of commercials, with former writers Chris Elliott and Gerard Mulligan portraying the roles of Mac and PC, respectively. The bits often end with Mulligan inflicting bodily harm on Elliott.
- The Man on Fire. A stuntman wildly runs across the stage back and forth while screaming with his clothes on fire before being extinguished backstage. A variation of this was performed in which the man was not on fire but acted as if he were.
- "Millionaire or Kenny?" A man is shown while Dave and Paul debate whether the man is a millionaire or a man named Kenny.
- News Bulletin. Suddenly, an old ABC Radio News theme is played, Dave confusedly looks through his papers, and then tells Barbara Gaines that he thought he had to read a bulletin.
- Portrait of Biff Henderson. Various artists create a portrait, using ketchup, Legos, post-it notes, and other "art media."
- "Psychic Sandwich." In the Hello Deli, Deborah Lynn - a self-described "intuitive" - attempts to guess the sandwich being made by Jee, which are all named after various Late Show staffers. Lynn, who is blindfolded, had never successfully named a sandwich. In 2005, a variation of the game involving chocolates was played, in which Lynn picked up a piece at random before guessing its content. On her second try, Lynn successfully guessed "nougat." On another episode later that year, a variation was played involving Jee’s Slurpee-like drinks, and Lynn correctly guessed "cherry" on her first try. In these segments, Lynn is often asked by Letterman to explain the difference between a psychic and intuitive. On a recent episode, Lynn was asked to guess the price of a gallon of gas that Rupert provided her in a gasoline can. She guessed $4.40, however the gas was actually $4.30. Dave made note of the fact that Lynn admitted she had heard something on the news that morning about gas prices in New York by saying she had integrity in disclosing that information up front.
- Putting Away the Late Show Bear. A man in a bear suit is pushed and locked into a closet. The last time this sketch was played, a young intern lost control of the bear and it went on a rampage before finally calling for a taxi.
- Quarterback Challenge. Letterman challenges an NFL quarterback on the show to throw as many footballs at some target, such as into the open back window of a moving cab, as possible A version of this challenge gave rise to the annual throwing of the football at the ornament at the top of the Christmas tree, when Vinny Testaverde could not hit the target, but Jay Thomas did.
- "Telemundo Highlight of the Night." Usually a short clip from a Telemundo show, such as Laura en América, showing something similar to a Jerry Springer Show fight, but, of course, in Spanish. A similar concept is "Spanish Television is Better."
- "Trump or Monkey?" Played in the Hello Deli, the game involves a contestant being presented by Jee with two photos of monkeys, and a photo of celebrity businessman Donald Trump. Only the tops of the heads are visible, with the rest covered by a card. The contestant then attempts to guess which of the photos is Trump's. Around the release of the film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005, a variation of the game called "Trump or Wookiee?" was played.
- "What the Hell is it?" In the style of "Is this Anything" and "Will it Float," this game had Letterman guess the name of a mystery object. The game was played only a handful of times. A running gag was that when Alan Kalter would announce the object's name to the audience, Letterman would unintentionally hear it clearly, thus leading to greater and greater amounts of soundproofing each time the game was played.
- "What's the Deal with Old Guys and Giant Glasses?" Letterman simply presents a series of photographs of celebrity men (and occasionally, women). The photos are often dated with the subjects sporting large, old-fashioned style glasses.
- "Who Asked for It?" A staple of late-night television, audience members approach a microphone and ask a question, resulting in a prearranged sketch in response (such as a person asking if Regis Philbin will run into the theater, and a staffer does instead).
- "Women in Prison." Dave offers to conduct a remote interview of Martha Stewart or Paris Hilton in jail, but the show then runs stock footage of women in prison having a food fight or rioting.
- Writers' Guild Strike. Some other routine (usually a fake promotional announcement) is interrupted by Head Writer Bill Scheft, who announces that the Writers Guild is currently in negotiations for a new contract, and at this time we have chosen not to reveal the punchline to this hilarious joke until the big media companies show they're ready to play fair with the writers. The routine continued after Worldwide Pants settled with the WGA and the Late Show returned, to show solidarity with the other writers still on strike, and Scheft has interrupted other routines, such as one dealing with Hillary Clinton's pantsuit, to protest having to write those jokes after she should have left the race.
- Biff Henderson's "Fun with a Bullhorn"
- Biff Henderson's "Fun with a Stopwatch"
- Biff Henderson's "Wanna Hang Out?"
- "Celebrity X-Ray Challenge"
- "Dave's Record Collection"
- Dick Assman, who made several appearances in 1995
- "Dr. Phil's Words of Wisdom." Out of context clips from the Dr. Phil Show. This bit was similar to the "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" sketch.
- "Dumb Ads"
- "George W. Bush Joke That's Not Really a Joke"
- Harold Larkin's "Sidewalk Idol"
- "Late Show Checklist"
- "Late Show Pay Phone Trifecta"
- "Late Show Unfair Edit," later "Late Show Fun with Editing," later "Late Show Editing Fun"
- "May We See Your Photos Please?"/"May We See Your Digital Photos Please?"
- Pat Farmer's "Gaffe-Busters"
- Pat Farmer's "Long Story Short"
- Pat Farmer's "Anything Can Be a Musical Instrument"
- Paul Shaffer's James Brown cape routine (with various celebrities, including James Brown himself on one occasion, caping Shaffer)
- "Pedestrian Theme Songs" - A sketch in which various clips of pedestrians walking around New York City were accompanied by a humorous short song clip performed by The CBS Orchestra.
- "Week in Review" (used to be a regular Friday feature, using a variation of the "Laugh-In Looks at the News" theme).
- "Who Said It?"
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