David Letterman and 23 of His Former Writers on the Greatest Jokes That Never Made It on Air

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"I had the idea that we should contact the Chia Pet company and talk them into making a 'Dave Chia,'" Photo: Gluekit
The Lost Laughs of Letterman
The departing host and his former writers share the greatest jokes he never told.
Illustration by Gluekit

My first day at Late Night With David Letterman, head writer Steve O’Donnell ended the morning meeting by calling out, “We could use some manhoos!”

I had no idea what he was talking about. So I grabbed another writer, who explained, “You know at the top of the show when the announcer says, ‘And now, a man who …’”

Ah. Of course. It was one of the things I admired about the show: With the opening wisecrack about New York and subsequent manhoo, Late Night offered viewers two jokes before the actual program even started. That sort of effort took a lot of comedic horsepower. In 33 years, more than 90 writers churned out countless monologue jokes, remotes, and desk pieces. Some stayed for decades. Others, like me, passed through briefly. But we all had one thing in common: the desire to get Dave’s approval. It wasn’t easy.

“I really wanted the people writing this show to be so much funnier and so much smarter than I was,” said Letterman a few weeks before the end of his run. “I think that’s exactly the way you’ve got to run a show like this.”

For every comedy bit produced, there were roughly a hundred pitches that didn’t make it. So I asked fellow Late Night and Late Show vets to recall their most memorable rejections. Then I ran some of those by Dave, who was happy to reminisce about former writers.

 “I can’t thank these men and women enough,” he said, “because I was doing their show more than they were doing mine.”

GERARD MULLIGAN (1980–2004)

One rejected joke that I really wish had made it to air: “So, the Congress is debating whether to spend billions on a so-called stealth bomber that would be invisible to Soviet radar. Why don’t we just say we built it?” But I look back on some other rejections with relief: Halloween costume: “That thing on Aaron Neville’s forehead.” Typing that, I wince now, as I should have winced then.

Some things were written to be rejected. Occasionally I would hand in an opening remark so vulgar it would have sent NBC’s Margaret Dumont–like standards-and-practices lady out of Studio 6A on a stretcher. I was safe in the knowledge that Dave would never do the joke on air. (“The American Medical Association issued this warning today: Be wary of a doctor who tries to take your temperature with his dick.”) Imagine my surprise when, during that night’s taping, Dave began, “This warning today from the American Medical Association …” but then concluded, “with his finger.”

ANDY BRECKMAN (1982–1983; creator–executive producer, Monk)

I remember trying to convince Dave and (head writer) Merrill Markoe to do an entire show where Dave and his guests are hooked up to lie detectors. I remember being very excited about this. We’d be making talk-show history! Merrill had to talk me down and explain how potentially embarrassing it could be for everybody.

To be fair, it was a long time ago and this could be what therapists call a "false memory." I've had them before. For example, I also distinctly remember leading the Seal Team that killed bin Laden.

Letterman: Well, I don’t remember this idea. It sounds fantastic. And I’ll tell you, I know where he got the idea. There used to be a show called Lie Detector and there was a polygraph machine and this guy was an expert … his name was Ed Gelb. He would put the guy in the chair and grill him. And I think this would be tremendous. I would love to see somebody do this. So in this case I think Merrill was taking a bullet for me. Because if anyone had anything to hide, of course, it would’ve been me.

GEORGE MEYER (1982–1984; The Simpsons)

One idea I wish Dave had rejected was when we invited audience members to create fishing lures out of pipe cleaners, sequins, etc. The plan was to test them out on live trout and see which one got the most “action.”

Shortly before we taped the show, the trout perished. (Apparently they need cold, aerated water.) I didn’t know what to do, so the prop lady and I got some of those pointy things you stick memos on and jammed the poor fish on them in a preposterous simulation of life. Later, the contestants tried to entice these expired creatures in a macabre piece of absurdist art.

How I longed for the soothing arms of Sweet Lady H!

Letterman: I think George was responsible for maybe the single most brilliant idea on the show ever. It was a contest between a humidifier and a dehumidifier. And at the start of the show they would be switched on simultaneously, and at the end of the show we would see which of the machines had done its designed task more productively. As I recall, the problem was that the noise made by these machines just ruined the audio for the rest of the show.

TOM GAMMILL and MAX PROSS (1982–1983; Seinfeld, The Simpsons)

When we moved into our office at 30 Rock, whoever decorated the place left behind this three-foot-long box that had 12 cardboard books inside. Each book had a different color carpet sample.

The first thing we wrote for Dave was a desk piece where he’s excitedly talking about The Encyclopedia of Carpet Samples and how it changed his life. It started with some beat about Dave going door-to-door as a Carpet Salesman Encyclopedia salesman before getting the Late Night job. We then cut to different scenes where other people are using the books — a kid is doing his homework and referring to one, a woman is “reading” one to a blind person, etc. It ended with a children’s choir where each kid was holding a book and singing “Ave Maria.”

The piece never moved forward because it had too many “cast members,” for one thing. Also, there was a discussion that singing “Ave Maria” while holding a carpet-sample book might be considered offensive.

Letterman: Here’s what I would’ve done. I would’ve taken the book of carpet samples and just done a segment at the desk. I would’ve done eight minutes showing people carpet samples. The other stuff to me probably would’ve been the ornamentation that would’ve made it kind of a classic piece, but to me the fun of it would’ve just been boring people silly: Here we have a medium-shag burnt orange … Here we have the avocado. I would have done that — I would do that. If you can get me that carpet-sample book, I’ll do that Monday.

STEVE O’DONNELL (1983–1992; head writer, Jimmy Kimmel Live!)

For our big tenth-anniversary show, we arranged to take the proceedings from tiny Studio 6A across the street to the sprawling and magnificent Radio City Music Hall. I suggested reproducing our simple desk and chair set on the Radio City stage — but ten times larger. Dave would have to climb several ladders just to reach his host spot. Like a wee mouse at a regular desk. Dave observed, “That’s funny for about five seconds. Then we’re stuck with it.” Of course, he was right.

The other biggish thing I pitched — so damn often that the other writers in this article are already rolling their eyes over it — was a theme show.  (Notoriously tough sells to Letterman.) Tape an entire show on an offshore freighter just outside the five-mile legal limit. We'd break all kinds of silly, minor laws. Let a 17-year-old sip beer. Charge the interns a buck apiece to watch a Blockbuster video of Braveheart. Have Chris Elliott dress as a mailman, thus impersonating a federal employee — and so forth. I gave up wasting breath on it, but was gratified to see the premise used eventually on The Simpsons. Also in an adapted form by Sarah Silverman — where the unregulated internet stood in for lawless international waters. That one I wrote myself. It's what we call "a trunk piece."

DAVID YAZBEK (1984; Composer and Lyricist, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

The Big Red Wig: The idea was that for at least a month the network would billboard The Big Red Wig on Late Night as though it were the most important event in TV history. Then, on the first day of the Very Special Week, a squad of heavily armed security guards would escort onto the stage a locked lucite display case containing a large cheap clown's wig. The wig and guards would remain onstage for the entire week and a special live close-up of the wig would always be inset at the bottom of the screen to emphasize its importance.

At the end of the week, an audience member would be selected, and following an elaborate and expensive ceremony involving the U.S. Marine Band, the Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera, the Alvin Ailey Dance Ensemble, and professor Irwin Corey, the case would be opened and the wig placed on the viewer's head.

That's it. That's the bit.

My partner at the show, Ted Greenberg, and I pitched it to Steve O'Donnell, the head writer who pitched it to Letterman maybe eight times over a period of several months. He told me he stopped trying one day after a pitch meeting where he began a sentence "... and now, about the Big Red —" and Dave just said "Save your breath."

It broke my heart and I became a composer.

Letterman: We did a version of this with the world's largest vase for a week. On the final night the vase "spoke" to Americans and world leaders urging peace for mankind. Same joke!

JEFF MARTIN (1982–1990; The Simpsons)

 I remember we had a “World's Longest Hot Wheels Track” card on the board for a while. The idea was to buy dozens of vintage Hot Wheels sets and construct a track that began in the studio and went all the way down the sixth-floor hallway, eventually looping back several minutes later through the guest entrance. Wherever the car’s momentum flagged, we would install a “Super Charger,” a cutting-edge Mattel innovation from 1969 (the year of the Moon Landing). Matt Wickline and I eagerly volunteered to come in over the weekend and construct it, but this was one Richie Rich fantasy we never got to indulge. Too bad, still sounds pretty cool.

JOE TOPLYN  (1983–1990, 1995–2001, head writer, 1995–1996; author, Comedy Writing for Late Night TV)

I wrote and produced this fake commercial for the Late Show that was cut after rehearsal. A folksy announcer says in voice-over, “It’s morning on Broadway, and what better way to start the day than with a big, heapin’ bowlful of Dave’s Own Hearty High-Fiber Late Show Granola.” Shots taped around the studio depict what the announcer describes: “It’s full-to-burstin’ with the wholesome goodness of studio-fresh floor sweepings ... Then we add hearty, bite-size nuggets of chewing gum scraped from under the theater seats ... and drizzle it with lip-smackin’ drops of 100 percent natural juice from a trombone valve.” The fake commercial ends with a shot of Dave happily eating the cereal as several crew members look on approvingly.

A different piece I wrote with a saxophone spit joke got laughs when it aired so I thought this piece would play well, too. So why was it cut? The problem seemed to be the exaggeratedly folksy way the announcer read the voice-over. I thought it was hilarious but it was apparently too over-the-top for Dave.

Okay, then why didn’t we just rerecord the voice-over? I now suspect that the real problem was that I had Dave doing something in the piece that wasn’t consistent with his on-camera persona. Maybe Dave just didn’t want to play a clueless boob who eats garbage.

RANDY COHEN (1984-1990; “The Ethicist” column for The New York Times Magazine)

Around 1986, Dave approved my transcribing an old episode of the show, then using this as a script to remake that episode with other actors playing him, Paul, and the guests. The new cast wouldn’t be wacky, just different. I’d already done something similar, having new actors overdub all the voices in a rerun. It came out wonderfully, and this was the logical next step. Richard Roundtree — Shaft! — was to play Dave. (Or was it Paul? I can’t quite remember.) We taped several segments, and I was giddy with delight and deranged vanity. We continued to record more of this each day. Then, toward the end of the week, after rehearsal, I was in the elevator with Dave heading back up to the office. He asked how I thought the piece was going. I said great. He said, “I think we have to shut it down.” I thought he was kidding. By the time we got to the 14th floor, it was clear that he was not. I had to go back downstairs and fire Richard Roundtree. “It isn’t you; it’s Dave.” We’ve all said that during a bad breakup, and it’s never credible.  Not a pleasant afternoon. I’m still not sure why Dave changed his mind. I remain convinced (deluded?) that it would have been a terrific episode. I also remain insanely grateful that he gave me a chance to do the original overdub show and more. It was a great place to work.

NELL SCOVELL (1990; creator–executive producer, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch)

As a fan, I loved the remotes, so when I arrived at the show, I really wanted to come up with one. I cranked out ideas: Dave racks up enough frequent-flyer miles that he gets to pilot a plane … Dave’s cousin from the Ozarks, Jed Letterman, is sent to live with him and they tour the city … None were approved, and eventually another writer clued me in that Dave wasn’t too keen on venturing outside the studio.

So I tried to think of something Dave could do at his desk and came up with WDOG — a radio station for dogs stuck at home. All Dave had to do was speak into a mic, repeating, “Good dog … good dog … good dog.” Then we’d cut to show the dogs, listening to the radio, rapt, for hours. There were news updates and a “K-9 Komedy Korner” where Dave played the sound of a key in a door and the dogs reacted by barking and jumping. It seemed like it might fly, but I never heard back. It’s been 25 years. I guess I should take that as a “no.”  

Letterman: The part of this that I would do in a second is talking to dogs. I would explain that my own dogs are at home. There is no dog sitter. The television is on and I’m talking to the dogs … and then we line up the sound effects: the key in the door, the electric can opener opening the dog food, and other dog-related behavior-producing sounds we could come up with. Yeah, I’ll be happy to do that. We’re not doing “Jed” from the Ozarks. I’m sorry. We’re just not doing that.

SPIKE FERESTEN (1990–95; Seinfeld, Car Matchmaker)

 I once pitched an “interrupt bit” called “What Do You Think of This?” It was simple and to the point. In the middle of the Top Ten, fellow writer and slovenly comedian Louis C.K. walks out to home base, lifts his T-shirt to reveal his engorged fat stomach, then asks Dave, “What do you think of this?” Louis and I thought it was genius. Dave did not. He also didn’t feel the need to clarify his rejection except for a giant X on the page. 

Letterman: I don’t think there’s a jury in the world that would convict me for X-ing that item. But having given this some thought, I will tell you this: If Louis is gonna be on the show between now and the end, I will absolutely ask him, and we’ll do the whole thing just as it was intended years ago.

JOE FUREY (1991–1992; NewsRadio)

When I was a writer, anything to do with monkeys, canned ham, and Dave's hair were all the rage. During this "romantic period," as I call it for no particular reason, I had the idea that we should contact the Chia Pet company and talk them into making a "Dave Chia," which was a mold of Dave's head that when watered would grow plant hair that resembled Dave's. I figured this was a "can't miss proposition." Apparently it was "can miss," because after it went unused, I even tried to work it in again as a viewer mail joke and it still didn't take. Years later, I felt a small triumph when I discovered, on a shelf at my drugstore, that Chia actually created a Duck Dynasty Chia with a growing beard. That fabulous bit of comedy could have been Dave's.

JILL A. DAVIS (1991–1997; author, Girls’ Poker Night)

Dave was actually quite uppity about choosing jokes. For example, he was adamant that jokes must be funny. Mildly amusing material was not okay. Neither were wigs. I learned this when I wrote a viewer mail response that answered the question: “How did you and Paul meet?" It involved a flashback to their meeting at Woodstock. We were set to shoot it at rehearsal, and Dave showed up ready to shoot. He took one look at the fringed vest and long wig and said, “I’m not doing this."

Another pitch was “All Week Long William F. Buckley Rates the Mustard.” The idea was that Mr. Buckley would come in through the blue doors in the NBC studio, hold up a jar of mustard, and eat a teaspoonful. With great importance, he’d ponder the flavor and describe the mustard’s most pronounced qualities, then say something like, “That’s mama’s milk!” or “For intravenous use only!”

After the idea was shot down, I likely resubmitted it suggesting we replace Buckley with Manute Bol.

Letterman: Good lord. [Laughs.] Okay, I made a mistake there. Either way, that should’ve been on. Who knows what kind of day I was having, but, by God, that … in a heartbeat.

TOM RUPRECHT (1998–2010, writer; The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore)

In the 1960s, there was a psychological study [the Milgram Experiment] in which test subjects were told to give strangers electrical shocks. I wanted to do a Late Show version of the study. Our announcer, Alan Kalter, would spend the show hooked up to electrical wires. Dave would be in control of the dial that delivers the shock. The deal is whenever a joke bombs, Alan gets zapped.

Dave was vaguely intrigued by the idea, but CBS legal had a fit. They claimed there was a slight chance the shock could send Alan into a seizure whereby he’d possibly swallow his own tongue. I told CBS that I was willing to take that risk, but alas, Dave said no.

For another show, I wanted to have a behavioral psychologist standing on the side of the stage all night long observing Dave. Periodically, we’d check in and he’d give us his impressions of Dave’s psyche. I think that may have set a record for the fastest an idea was ever rejected in Late Show history.

Finally, I had an idea in which our stage manager, Biff Henderson, was blindfolded. A wax figure from Madame Tussaud’s was wheeled out and Biff would attempt to guess who the celebrity wax figure was using only his sense of touch and smell. This one made it on the air, but as Biff blindly groped a wax Larry King, Dave began wildly protesting. He screamed that it was the stupidest thing he’d seen in all his years in television. So yeah, that was an idea that actually got rejected on air.

ERIC KAPLAN (1996–1998; The Big Bang Theory; author, Does Santa Exist?: A Philosophical Investigation )

I remember pitching billions of jokes that disappeared as thoroughly as if they had been written in laundry detergent on a shirt that was then washed. One I do remember was called “Everything Is Funnier When People Get Hurt,” which was shot but deemed unairable because its premise was, as it turned out, untrue. During the filming of it, I recited “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and then had a saxophone blown into my ear, which really hurt. As I was reciting it, Dave said, “I want out!” and left.

Letterman: I stand by that. There’s nothing more I can say here.

GABE ABELSON (1997–2001; Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher)

It was 1999; Dave and I were in his dressing room, going over the monologue, when he said the words I dreaded hearing: "We don't have a closer." There was one particular joke I thought would work, which came directly from that day’s news: "Robert Downey was just sentenced to three years in prison. And you thought he walked like Chaplin before ..."

Yeah, it's harsh, but keep in mind it was during the aftermath of Clinton's sex scandal, so almost every night we closed with a blow-job joke.  The closer had to be the strongest joke in the mono, and a dirty (yet clean enough for network) sex joke always got the biggest laugh. 

I pushed the joke a couple of times, which I would do if I felt strongly. Sometimes Dave would do it, having liked it after a second look. Still, Dave wasn’t warming to this joke. He kept saying, "We're in a box." So, I had the fax team send another round, I wrote a bunch, and the Boys (Mulholland and Barrie) sent more, too. Dave still didn't see a closer. So finally, I went back to the Chaplin line and asked Dave, "Why won't you do this joke? “ And that’s when he explained to me, "You're talking about a guy getting f*#ed in the ass!!"

I couldn’t argue with that. 

TIM LONG (1995–1998, head writer, 1997–1998; The Simpsons)

In 1996, I pitched a high-concept, multipart piece called “Dave Gets Into a Celebrity Feud With Hugh Downs.” The idea was that Dave would mention that he was furious with Downs, the avuncular host of ABC’s 20/20, for reasons that he couldn’t mention on air. Later, Dave would begin showing elaborate video pieces excoriating Downs for a variety of alleged misdeeds, with further allusions to some run-in that occurred between Letterman and Downs at a local broadcasters’ banquet in the late 1970s.

Letterman actually okayed the idea, but of course it never appeared on the show. In retrospect, my pitch contained several radioactive phrases like “It plays out over 10 or 12 consecutive days but doesn’t get funny until about day six”; “The audience should never be sure if it’s a joke or not”; “I’m really not clear on how all the details work.”

I think when Dave approved the idea he was saying, “I like the way you’re thinking, but maybe next time come up with a clear idea that takes five minutes or less to execute, that the audience can fully understand and enjoy, and that doesn’t slander a beloved broadcaster who’s never been anything less than kind to me.”

Letterman: I think his last concern [about slandering Downs] was paramount in making sure that it didn’t get produced. But I love the idea. And I love the idea that the audience doesn’t know for quite a while whether it’s a joke or not. I think Hugh Downs … that would seem maybe cruel. But I remember we used to do this thing with Phil Donahue when he was moving his show from Chicago to New York, and every day we’d have a giant calendar and there’d be some fact about Phil Donahue. And we were trying to be snarky because we really didn’t give a rat’s ass whether he was in Dayton or Chicago. But it turned out it was a huge promotion for Phil Donahue, so the thing backfired on us.

RODNEY ROTHMAN (1995–2000, head writer, 1998–2000; 22 Jump Street)

One thing that springs to mind is a little different because it was people other than Dave that had issues with it: We were doing this piece called New for Fall, where we listed features the show was adding that season. I wrote this bit where a guy on fire went running through the theater in the middle of the bit. Paul Shaffer asked if that was also something that was new for fall, and Dave said, "No, I think that was just one of the stagehands."

After that, Dave mentioned to me that he liked the energy that bit brought to the theater and requested we keep doing it. So we did for about a week, until the network came to us and told us we couldn't because it was too expensive — having a guy on fire requires thousands of dollars in expenditures, stunt guys, the fire department, etc.

We sat on it for a while and then Dave mentioned he missed the guy on fire. So we decided to have the same guy run around the theater and simply pretend he was on fire, so we didn't have to pay the extra costs. We did that for a few days, but ultimately decided a guy pretending he was on fire was not as entertaining as a guy actually on fire.

So Dave went on the air and told this story, and announced that we were looking for sponsors for our guy on fire who would pay the 4K or whatever it cost. They should contact us. Every morning I came to work and found hundreds of applications from small businesses across America who wanted to sponsor the guy on fire and get their name out there. We did that for a week.

Eventually CBS came and shut the whole thing down because they did not like us setting extraordinarily low ad rates within our own program while companies like Gillette were paying a lot more.

STEPHEN SHERRILL (1995–1996; The New Yorker)

It’s not really a rejected bit, but it’s one that never made air. Rodney Rothman, Bob Borden, and I were in New Hampshire for the 1996 Republican primary. One idea was to dump a bunch of Gatorade on a supporter of the winner. So we find a supporter outside Buchanan headquarters, where a celebration is going on. He agrees — we’ll do it when he’s leaving the party, and we’ll buy him a new suit. A few hours later he comes out, having had a few drinks. He says, great, let’s do it. So Bob dumps the Gatorade on him. For about 30 seconds, the guy is silent. Then he begins steaming — literally — because it’s really cold outside. It’s unclear how this was different than what he’d envisioned, but he’s getting very angry. So Rodney reminds him that we’ll buy him a new suit, and the guy shouts, “You Jews — it’s always money!” Then our camera man looks up and the guy calls him a “guinea.” Now he’s starting to attract the attention of nervous campaign staffers. As they hustle him away, he yells back at us that Whitey Bulger is a friend of his and he’s going to have Whitey take care of us. None of us know who Whitey Bulger is, but we AltaVista him later.

Back in New York, we show the footage to Dave. It’s funny, Dave says, but too weird. The footage goes to the lawyers instead.  

DONICK CARY  (1992–1996; Parks and Recreation)

It was a mild act-five desk piece called something like "How the Heat Wave Effects Them.” It was just stills of celebrities with chyron printed out saying what would happen to them in the heat wave. I was the new writers' assistant, and it was the first piece I remember getting jokes into. I think I had three or four of the jokes that went to air. I was so excited — I had actually written jokes that would be on TV, and not any TV chyron — Letterman!

My memory is that Dave read the first one and it got a mild laugh. Then he redescribed the premise, which was a little convoluted and you could tell it annoyed him. Then he read the second one, which was mine: A picture of Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk popped up onscreen and Dave looked down at the blue three-by-five cards and read the next joke: "Less work for big green guys." The audience was ... silent! Dave said something like, "Well, that's enough of this" and tore the rest of the cards in half and threw them through the window. I was on the air!

MATT HARRIGAN (1996–1997; writer–executive producer, Adult Swim)

 In 1996, I was assembling an exhaustive montage of all the times Dave insulted President Clinton in his monologue. I had to wade through a lot of tape to isolate the countless mentions of “Bubba,” “Tubby,” and “Puffy,” but it seemed like all these goofy insults strung together in a repetitive flurry might be funny. When the piece finally came together, I rushed it upstairs to show Dave. Somebody pressed play on the VCR and Dave’s eyes lit up — but only because a golden retriever had appeared from nowhere and suddenly the two of them were having a ball, wrestling around on the floor, while I stood there half-smiling and deeply concerned for the future of my important comedy piece. When the dog finally moved on, Dave popped out the tape and delivered his verdict with a smile: “Nice try.”

CARTER BAYS (1997–2002, co-creator–executive producer, How I Met Your Mother)

I always wanted to do a piece called “Don Rickles Goes to the Zoo,” which would have just been Don Rickles walking around the zoo hurling insults at animals. It felt like it had all the essential elements of an early-era Late Show remote: shouting, an unhinged old guy, deadpan reaction shots, animals, and, best of all, deadpan reaction shots of animals. I have no idea why it never got made. For all I know, the head writers never even pitched it to Dave. In which case, Dave, if you’re reading this, you still have a couple of weeks to go out on a high note.

Letterman: I would’ve done this as a runner where we go to the zoo and see one or two animals, then later in the show, maybe one or two more, then two days later. I don’t remember seeing the idea. This would have been tremendous.

JENA FRIEDMAN (2011–2012; The Daily Show field producer)

I remember it well — it was in 2011, right when it was announced that women in Saudi Arabia could run in elections. My sketch was just a sample campaign ad that featured two female candidates vying against each other with the joke being that you can't tell them apart because they're both wearing burqas. The sketch almost made it on the show but was replaced at the last minute by found footage of a guy getting hit in the nuts by a fly ball at a baseball game.

DAVID LETTERMAN (1982–2015)

There was one thing that I sort of was keen on and I don’t remember what happened to it. I wanted a zip line in the theater from the third balcony all the way down to the stage, and I just thought — more for my own fun — I wanted to start the show on a zip line going 100 miles an hour. And that never went anywhere.

But thinking about ideas that I did approve … It was back at the old show — a Gammill-and-Pross idea — and it was Dale, the psychotic NBC page. You would think that now the title would be enough to kill it because, as we’ve learned over the years, you shouldn’t probably be making fun of people with mental disorders. So here’s what it was: Dale, the psychotic page, came into the studio and played miniature golf. Now, what this required was, during the day, they had to build nine actual miniature-golf holes in the studio, which meant nothing else could happen. There was no rehearsal, no anything, and there was no ending to the piece. But because of the time and expense devoted to building nine miniature-golf holes, we were committed to do Dale, the psychotic page. And so it was Tom Gammill in a page’s uniform who starred in the piece. He came through the blue doors and started playing miniature golf. And as he played each hole, his mental encumbrance became more and more hyperbolic and curious and perhaps … dangerous. And that’s all it was. And we kept saying, “Well, how’s this gonna end? Why isn’t there an ending?” And we watched him the better part of nine holes.

The problem was, as the jackass host, sadly, I got to do everything I wanted.       

*This is an extended version of an article that appears in the May 4, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.