Cultural Reminiscing of Late Twentieth Century Television, with Practical Applications You Can Try at Home!
I always thought one of the most brilliant bits of television comedy writing over the past few decades was David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists. The Top Ten List was a nightly feature on both Late Night with David Letterman, and The Late Show with David Letterman, after Dave made the jump from NBC to CBS.
The Top Ten List was a nightly ritual. The first commercial break would end, and a long camera shot from the audience would center on Paul Schaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band ending a tune mid-measure by holding out whatever note they were playing, while a series of Hammy B3 runs would end with Paul cuing the band to silence. Sometimes that night’s musical guest would sit in with the band. A lot of times, David Sanborn would sit in with the band, adding a dizzying array of runs, finishing with a ridiculously high-even-for-an-alto-saxophone note.
I bit through a lot of reeds trying to hit some of those notes.
The audience would cheer, and Dave would welcome everyone back from the break.
I always thought that was odd. Outside of sometimes going to take a leak, I didn’t go anywhere. I was already in bed, waiting for the Top Ten List so I could shut the TV off and go to sleep.
You know, unless somebody cool was going to be a guest. Like Howard Stern. No one could make Dave uncomfortable like Howard. Not even Jack Hannah letting a bunch of wild animals loose on the set. Crispin Glover taking a swing at Dave was up there, but only Howard could do it consistently.
Finally, it was time for the Top Ten List, from wherever the Home Office happened to be at the time.
Cities that were the supposed source of the Top 10 lists:
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin(The first Late Night with David Letterman home office)
- Scottsdale, Arizona(–1990)
- Lebanon, Pennsylvania(1990–1992)
- Tahlequah, Oklahoma(1992–)
- Oneonta, New York(May 7, 1993–June 25, 1993; The last office from the Late Night with David Letterman show)
- Sioux City, Iowa(August 30, 1993–June 9, 1995; Was a home office primarily to make fun of its CBS television station KMEG, who refused to air Late Show with David Letterman for months after it debuted in 1993.)
- Grand Rapids, Michigan(June 12, 1995–May 2, 1996)
- Wahoo, Nebraska(May 3, 1996– ; Became a home office after the town lobbied Letterman for the status for months after Letterman mentioned that he liked the word “Wahoo”.)
Other home offices:
Kankakee, Illinois(Used during David Letterman’s Chicago shows in 1994)
Liverpool, England(Used during David Letterman’s London shows in 1995)
Sometimes the topics were… topical. Other times they were just silly. I remember around Christmas time one year, Dave did a list of the Top Ten Elf Pick-Up Lines. “I’m a magical being; take off your bra!”
Sometimes celebrities would read the list. One night, Dolly Parton read the Top Ten List of Dolly Parton Complaints. “Nobody notices I have a great ass, too!” Hearing Dolly laugh after delivering the line was as funny as the line itself.
Nostalgia aside, I have another, more self-serving, reason for bringing up all of this.
I’ve been known to write Top Ten lists of my own. They are not all gems. Some of them only make sense to me. Some didn’t even have ten items. I figure, it took Letterman a table full of writers to come up with ten items, so, if I could make up at least three, I was doing pretty well.
Couple this with my past job as a graveyard shift casino security officer. Some nights, it took a lot of effort to keep your mind active while standing at a lonely entrance at 4:30 am. I tried to come up with Top Ten lists.
One night, during our President’s Day promotion, I began to wonder, “What would George Washington say to me if he came through my entrance?” I started coming up with answers. Also, excuses to explain to my manager why I was standing alone, giggling like I just farted at a funeral and tried to blame the deceased.
Ladies and Gentlemen, from the Home Office in Parma Heights, Ohio, the Top Five Things George Washington Would Say to a Graveyard Shift Casino Security Officer if He Were Alive Today. (Anton Fig begins the drum roll.)
#5: “This establishment won’t be open for long, for your games are tighter than Betsy Ross’ stitches, if you know what I mean.”
At which point, Paul would interrupt, “Dave? Dave? Dave!”
“Yes, Paul, do you have…”
“Dave, what does he mean?”
Dave grimaces and laughs uncomfortably into the camera.
#4: “I’ve slipped and fallen in the indoor outhouse. How much free play could I obtain after swearing not to prosecute?”
#3: “I require a beverage. Have you seen the serving wench?”
#2: “Excuse me, Officer, but, how might one win this horseless carriage?”
And finally, the number one thing George Washington would say to a graveyard shift casino security officer is:
“I seem to have forgotten my identification. Will this one dollar bill suffice?”
The band breaks into “Soul Finger,” while Dave throws his note card through the background window, complete with the sound of shattering glass.
Now shut the TV off and go to sleep.
Unless Howard Stern is on, of course.