Friday, May 22, 2015

My Year as a Page for The Late Show with David Letterman Part 1 of 7

My Year as a Page for The Late Show with David Letterman

Since David Letterman has ended his 30+ year run as a late night talk show host I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my time as page for The Late Show.  I figured now that his show is off the air it would be the best time to air all the dirty little secrets I learned while working there during 2004-2005. 

Let me begin by saying that 90% of my experience on the show was a positive one.  I will spend most of this article talking about the negative experiences because that makes for more interesting reading.  If I talked only about the awesomeness it would make for an even more boring read than what you’re about to invest in.  That just wouldn’t be fair to the 5 people who are reading this of their own free will. 

For starters, this was the authentic Late Show page uniform. 

How I Got The Job
During my tenure I had a few tricks to tell the true Letterman fans from the fake ones.  It was based on their reaction to my answer of “How did you end up working here?”  I’d always reply “Nepotism.”  The true Letterman fans would laugh.  The others would stare at me blankly wishing it was 2008 and they had a fancy phone that could translate that SAT word for them. 

I was a 20-year-old communications major at St. Johns University and wrapping up my 3rd year.  I knew I wanted to work in TV/Film but hadn’t interned because I am a staunch believer that you shouldn’t have to pay a school or business organization for the privilege of working for them.  As luck would have it my aunt used to work for CBS and helped a distant 2nd or 3rd cousin of mine, we’ll call him Bob, get a job there.  Bob took that job and cultivated it into a nice career for himself running the page program at The Late Show.  My aunt was kind enough to give him a call for me and within a day I was faxing my resume over to Bob and scheduled an interview for later that week. 

I interviewed directly with my distant relative, it was also the first time I ever met him.  It was like any other job interview except it was possible to trace my lineage back to the same junction point as the stranger on the other side of the desk.  I must have been decreed “not a complete retard” because I was kicked up the chain to be interviewed by the head of the Audience Department, David Kay.  I would later find out that no other page had to interview with David Kay to get the position.  This was probably due to the fact that my potential direct supervisor was a relative and to keep things as fair as possible he should add a buffer to the interview process.  David Kay asked me some basic interview stuff and I did my best to come off as polite, punctual, and a hard worker.  A few days later I received a call telling me I got the job and I should arrive in June for a one-day orientation. 

Orientation consisted of me and three other people.  Bear with me, or bare with me (I really don’t feel like googling right now) here because if you hadn’t noticed by now I’m changing some names so I don’t get angry emails and “defaced” on Facebook.  There was Donna, Stephanie, and Danny.   Donna was from Austin Texas and staying with her aunt in Connecticut while she took advantage of this opportunity.  She was facing a three-hour daily train commute back and fourth from CT to Manhattan just to work on this show.  Donna got the job through a boss she had while working at a catering company.  She had the cutest accent, long blonde hair and a nice smile.  I debated if I should leave my girlfriend of the time for a potential upgrade.  Stephanie was from New Jersey and had just come off an internship at MTV.  Her connections their assisted her in getting the job at The Late Show.  She was also hot…Danny was a graduate from Columbia University and knew a producer or something that helped him land the job. 

My three new coworkers all had something in common that I did not.  They were all college graduates.  They were trying to land their first fulltime job while I was just trying to scrape together some TV experience and beer money.

Not these guys.

During our orientation we had to read, aloud, excerpts from the employee handbook and figure out how to pronounce the word stanchion.  Donna kept butchering it, but in her defense she was the first person who had to read.  We then watched a 20-minute video about sexual harassment.  I desperately wanted to laugh at the overacting and wacky scenarios that were exhibited in the video.  My three colleagues sat their stoned faced watching the video with complete seriousness.  I thought it had something to do with being a college graduate or “official adult” and I didn’t want to come off as some undergraduate jackass so I held back the laughter.  The video ended, in the eyes of CBS and Worldwide Pants Inc., we were officially trained on how to not sexually harass coworkers.  We’re given our brand new Late Show polo shirt and recycled Late Show Page Jacket and instructed to return the following week to start working. 

Pretty girls and stanchions make for great crowd control. 

My First Official Day
This picture is here to play on your sympathy.
The first day at any job is the toughest.  You don’t really know anyone, you might have an idea of the culture from the interview process but no direct experience at that organization, you want to make a good impression and hopefully leave knowing the job and maybe a new friend or two.  That’s a lot of pressure for one day. 

The four of us arrive for work on time.    We get a quick tour of where the lockers are for changing into our Late Show garb and taken to the main lobby where the real work is about to begin.  Bob assigns all the new employees a buddy who will be training them that day. 

My three fellow trainees each have their buddy showing them around, explaining the ins and outs of the show, making small talk with them.  My buddy, we’ll call her Betty arrives late and spends 30 minutes hiding in the box office eating.  Now in her defense I have no clue how her day, week, month, or life was going up to that point.  She may not have eaten all day and this was her only chance to scarf down something quick.  From my perspective I am alone surrounded by a bunch of strangers who I can’t talk to because they are all busy working.  So I am left to quietly wait and hope no one notices that I am not helping setup because I have no clue what I am doing.  Luckily, no one noticed.   It just perplexed me that Betty never took a moment find me and say hello or explain she needed a few moments because her day was crazy drama and she was going to starve to death if she didn’t eat her salad.   She was pointed out to me early on but I wasn’t about to rush over to some work stranger who was eating a meal and harass her with a million questions about whatever it is human beings talk about because that would be fucking rude. 

I did learn a lesson from that awkward first 30 minutes and when I got more comfortable in the position, I made it a point to talk with the new people if I saw no one was talking to them during their first few weeks.  I didn’t want them to feel as ignored as I did during the opening moments in a new job. 

Once lobby the doors opened at 12:30pm she found me and went through all the motions someone would with any new kid in class.  She was training me on the audience dotting system.  The dotting system is when pages would scout out people in the line and chat them up.  Typically they would make small talk and explain the lineup process.  This was all a trick to gauge how cool the person is.  If they were personable and high energy they were given a card and told to hand that to the person at the desk when they check in as proof the Page chatted with them.  The card really was an indication this person should sit close to the front of the stage because Letterman will get good vibes off them.  Yes, that’s right, cool people were sat in the front, closer to Letterman (the price you pay for a free show).  The Letterman Audience was manipulated into seats that might garner the best cheers and applause possible.  The dots received a special sticker on their ticket and were instructed to come back at a specific time.  Assholes were also weeded out.  They had a number 2 written on their sticker and tossed in the balcony.  Sadly not everyone in the balcony was a 2 though.  The VIPs were also given balcony seating.  This meant the assholes and potential relatives of Dave, guests, or the producers were on the second floor with the assholes. 

This seating structure lead to a misunderstanding between Betty and I one day when I was assisting her in seating the balcony on my third day there.  I was given a super fast rundown of the seating structure.  The entire first row of the balcony was for VIPs then the second row was for VIPs only in the center and the third row was VIPs up to the 4th or 5th seat and then every other Wednesday VIPs could sit next to each other, finally on the full moon VIPs had to be sat boy, girl, girl, boy.  This was told to me on day 1 in a mumbled super fast explanation and never re-explained by Betty despite my asking her during some downtime.  She really liked to focus on her salads.  So by day 3 she was yelling out numbers to me and I was letting X amount of people she requested go to her.  Betty would sit them in a specific seat that allowed the VIPs optimal viewing and the 2s shitty viewing.  You have about 20-40 people flooding through that balcony door when the seating process takes place.  Some get a bit overzealous and rush by you.  This happened to me on day 3.  I had to make a decision to let Betty deal with the couple that got passed me or stop the 30 people behind them from following like sheep and cause “sit anywhere you want chaos.”  I wasn’t about to become the guy that caused the producer’s child’s ballet teacher to have a shitty viewing experience and thus made the decision to halt the 30 people while Betty repositioned the two stragglers.  Betty immediately corrected me on the faux pas.  She didn’t yell at me or saying anything rude but you could tell she was pissed.  I felt like a color blind 5-year-old who was getting chastised for using the green crayon instead of the red one.  I left that evening thinking I was the worst employee there. 

The following week I was transferred to train with a guy named Matt.  I was thinking Betty talked some smack about me to Bob and he decided to train me on a different task.  Matt was a pretty nice dude, we got to talking a bit, it turned out he used to work as a page over at NBC and interned at Late Night with Conan O’Brien.  He landed the Late Show job through a connection he made while at NBC.  I am a huge Conan fan so I shook him down for whatever Conan stories I could get.  He seemed a bit on the cynical side of life but I like a cynical perspective.   

I became a pro and making sure people on line did not block the sidewalk.  I would chat them up about where they were from and answer questions about the ticket process, Letterman, the show, etc.  Audience members would typically ask me if I ever met Dave.  Early on I would answer honestly, explaining how I don’t have interaction with him in my position.  That answer always seemed to make them sad so eventually I would just lie and tell them yes and that he floats around the office and is really friendly.  That made them feel happy and helped me understand why parents lie to their children about mythical creatures who bring them gifts and money (e.g. Urkelbot, honest politicians, Vince McMahon). 

The truth is we rarely saw Dave.  During the warm up for the show he would run down the hallway and wave at whatever page was at the bottom of the stairs.  We could place a cardboard cutout of Margaret Mary Ray at the bottom of that stairs and he would have waived.  He probably would have run by faster but he still would have waived. 

We saw Evil Dave a lot, doing lots of evil things.
I only had two legitimate interactions with David Letterman and both times it involved his security team being behind schedule.  During the show a page was assigned to the bottom platform to make sure no audience members wandered anywhere they were not supposed to be while going to the bathroom.  When the show ends Bill, the head of security, would come down the stairs and relieve the page standing there.  A page could not leave until someone from security gave the OK. 

I was on the platform that day and Bill was delayed, my guess is he was busy busting people who were putting gum under the seat [NOTE TO SELF: MAKE SURE TO FIND A BETTER JOKE BEFORE POSTING THIS ON THE WEBSITE] or practicing his African Ant Eater dance for the big fall formal.  Either way, he was delayed and the page’s post show meeting was adjourned.  As the pages made their way down the stairs to take the elevator to their lockers Letterman and his personal assistant walk by.  I did try to tell them security and Letterman had not walked by yet.  But it was too late.  What followed next was about 20 pages stopping dead in their tracks on the lower lobby steps while Letterman walked by and looked at me and then up at them.  You could not tell if Letterman was upset because he always looked upset.  The few times I caught a glimpse of the guy while the show wasn’t filming he looked physically tired and/or pissed off.  No one ever said anything to me about it so I am going to assume no one got in trouble for that timing issue.  The pages seemed a bit shaken by the encounter, mostly because we rarely saw Letterman with the exception of when the show was taping.  The senior level pages told everyone to hold back from taking the elevator for about 5 minutes so as to not bother Letterman.  I always wondered if it was a hard rule that we needed to avoid Letterman at all times or something that developed from managers that took their role too seriously or idiots who had no clue that people are human beings who understand sometimes they end up on the same elevator.   

The next interaction was when Letterman accidentally said hello to me. It was after the show wrapped for the night and Bill was running late.  When Dave walks by he is expecting the head of security and quietly mutters "Hey how's it goin.'" I replied "Hello." He gave me a "who the hell are you" look and kept walking.  I’ll always remember the look of confusion on his face.  It said to me that he’s a complete introvert, which is the complete opposite of a guy who runs out on stage and entertains a room full of people for a living.  

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