Announcer and voice actor Alan Kalter, or “Big Red,” as he’s better known to fans, died on October 4 at 78. Kalter’s stentorian tones could be heard on television for decades, booming across commercials, PSAs, game shows, the USA Network in the 1980s, and, from September 1995 to 2015, as the voice of Late Show With David Letterman. In a statement following Kalter’s death, Letterman summed up his presence on the show perfectly: “Whatever else, we always had the best announcer in television. Wonderful voice and eagerness to play a goofy character of himself. Did I mention he could sing? Yes he could. He enthusiastically did it all.”
Letterman’s writers quickly discovered that Kalter could inject a level of seriousness into their silliness, and before long he became the go-to guy for impromptu musical numbers, explosive rage, and insane non sequiturs. Today we remember Kalter by looking back at some of his best and funniest moments from his time on Late Show.
Alan Kalter’s First Late Show Opening
This clip from 1995 opens with a moment from a 1983 episode of Letterman’s NBC show, more than a decade before Kalter would join the program, in which the host describes the worst introduction he’d ever received as a stand-up. This is followed by Kalter’s very first night on the Late Show, on September 4, 1995. In addition to having the most 1995 lineup possible of Jeff Foxworthy, Kevin Spacey, and musical guest Collective Soul, Kalter’s first intro also features a callback to this 12-year-old anecdote from Letterman.
Alan Kalter’s Celebrity Interviews: Sarah Jessica Parker
Perhaps the most-loved Kalter segment was his show-within-a-show, “Celebrity Interviews.” This segment would always be scheduled between the first and second Late Show guests, and inevitably, due to some poor luck, Kalter’s guests would always be double-booked on Letterman’s show as well, meaning Kalter’s “exclusive” was ruined. The result is always the same, but if you’re a fan of the Parker interview from 2005, don’t miss Alan’s Jerry Seinfeld and Harrison Ford interviews as well.
The Kaltershank Redemption
Endings are always difficult. But when you put this amount of work and production value into your Shawshank Redemption parody, with Kalter digging his way out of his voiceover booth to finally be free of Letterman, you’re allowed a little leeway to deviate from the source material. This 2006 sketch was so beloved that it was re-performed in 2015.
In addition to breaking into song and flying into a rage, one frequent go-to in an Kalter segment was having him meet stuntman Brian Donahue, who is credited on IMDb for his appearances as “Brian the Alan Kalter Assaulter,” “Alan Kalter Assaulter,” and “The Guy That Beats Up Alan.” In this sketch from 2006, Kalter meets his fate through a romance from afar.
What Are We Playing for Tonight, Alan?
Kalter proved again and again that he could sell any of the insane material the writers provided him, but around the 48-second mark of this clip from 2007, he makes an unscripted mistake, is corrected, then corrects himself with an unflappable confidence that only a true professional could muster. (Stick around for a classic game of Will It Float?, or play at home with the Will It Float? Home Version!)
Where Does It All Go?
If there were a throughline among the “characters” played by the various staffers on Late Show, the most overarching theme may be “this character hates David Letterman.” In this roundup you’ll see several examples of Kalter storming off the show, but this moment from 2013 truly encapsulates the man’s range and power as he’s caught unaware.
Which Hand Has the Coin?
Typically, halfway through each Late Show, in the middle of a commercial break, there would be a quick 30-second return to the Ed Sullivan Theater to keep audiences tuned in. Kalter would generally use this time to announce upcoming guests or give instructions for requesting tickets, but sometimes he would just get to do or say something stupid, as in the clip above from 2014 or this startling confession.
Alan Kalter’s Son
As Letterman’s television career progressed, he spent less time around the office and would frequently skip rehearsals. This meant that when a moment of comedy tickled him, the viewers at home would get to watch him experience it for the first time. Such is the case with the surprise reunion of Kalter and his “son,” a moment that Letterman enjoyed so much that it briefly became an ongoing saga on the show.
A Beautiful Mind
In a short, punchy exchange, Kalter gets to do a bit of acting, interrupt the “Top Ten” list, insult Letterman, and get a huge laugh with just 11 words. It’s the kind of material that not just anyone could sell, but Kalter makes frustration-based insanity look so easy.
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet
In the wake of Kalter’s death, How I Met Your Mother co-creator and former Late Show writer Craig Thomas wrote on Twitter that “Alan had … absolute deadpan commitment to the bit, a religious devotion to the notion that nothing was out of the ordinary when insane shit was happening … that’s a gift.” Combine that with Kalter’s fantastic singing voice, and you’ve got some comedy gold. In this clip, Kalter bursts into song to celebrate Late Show’s 5,000th episode. And not even the fact that it’s not the 5,000th episode is going to stop him.