The Past Lives Of David Letterman

david letterman on mork mindy The Past Lives Of David Letterman

It’s no secret that I’m a big David Letterman fan.  I find his show FAR more interesting than Jay Leno‘s.  Most people know Dave did standup in LA and was also a weatherman in Indianapolis.  But, what you may NOT remember are all the TV shows/movies he’s appeared on OUTSIDE of  “Late Night” or “The Late Show.”

(Courtesy of Mike

Peeping Times (1978)

This was a summer made-for-television presentation where Letterman portrays a reporter named Dan Cochran. It’s interesting to note that though this one is staged, what Letterman is doing here looks eerily similar what he would become known for on Late Night a few years later with his man-on-the-street reporting.

Mary (1978)

After The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended, Moore tried her hand at a variety show titled Mary. One of the writers that she hired was Michael Keaton; another was David Letterman. In this clip with Letterman and Moore, Dave winds up with a grapefruit smashed into his face. Mary only lasted three episodes. In 1985, Moore would try her hand at another show titled Mary, this time a traditional sitcom. It only lasted 13 episodes.

Mork & Mindy (1979)

Really, the Holy Grail of Letterman’s acting performances. In later years, his appearances were either ironic or he was playing himself — in this clip, a fairly unknown Letterman it truly trying his best to be an actor. In a first season episode of Mork & Mindy, Letterman guested as a very rude semi-self-help guru who — as it turned out — was trying to scam Mork and Mindy. Mork exacted revenge by stealing Letterman’s Rolls Royce. Naturally.

Open All Night (1981)

Letterman, who had just signed a deal for his new late night show, Late Night, gives a fairly meta performance here as an unnamed character who laments making an appearance on a sitcom after signing a huge late night deal. This episode aired on Dec. 25, 1981. Late Night premiered on February 1, 1982. The series, about a 24-hour convenience store, only lasted 12 episodes. One of the credited writers, Merrill Markoe, a future Late Night writer, dated Letterman from 1978 until 1988 — which probably explains his appearance.

The Building (1993)

Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, released this Bonnie Hunt vehicle called The Building. To help get it attention, Letterman made a hooded guest appearance as a “The Thief,” a man who holds up an adult video store. Letterman’s face is never once seen during his appearance.

Cabin Boy (1994)

Cabin Boy is the definition of cult favorite (I can, for better or worse, actually claim to have seen this movie in a theater), and, obviously as a favor to star Chris Elliott, Letterman makes a cameo as a character named “Old Salt.” Also of note, Letterman is credited under the name “Earl Hofert.” (Letterman had a brief cameo as an animated roadie in Beavis and Butthead Do America and was also credited as Earl Hofert.)

The Larry Sanders Show (1995)

In “Larry’s Big Idea,” Larry instructs his writing staff to stick with writing sketches and avoid the backstage pieces and street interviews like Letterman does. Letterman, who is seen watching the Sanders’ sketch idea, calls it “crap.” In another episode, Sanders, when lamenting about what host the show following his, asks Letterman if he has yet to pick a 12:30 p.m. host. Letterman tells Larry that he picked Tom Snyder. As it turns out, soon after that episode, in real life, that’s actually who Letterman did pick. (Scroll to 3:25.)

Seinfeld (1996)

In an episode titled “The Abstinence,” George and Elaine both go without sex for a considerable amount of time, turning George into a genius and Elaine into an idiot. George, having been booked to do a science experiment before Jerry’s opening act at their old elementary school, succumbs to his desires and loses his mental ability to do his experiment. This leaves Jerry with a lot of extra time, and he bombs. Letterman, having heard the news of Jerry’s failure, calls to bump him from the Late Show.  If YOU can find this clip, please send it to me!  It’s about the ONLY Seinfeld clip that’s NOT available on YouTube!

Spin City (1997)

Here, Letterman makes a brief appearance as himself wishing the mayor of New York a happy birthday. Even though Letterman is on his own set, he just seems so off when saying a scripted line — even one that wouldn’t be too out of place on his actual show.

Man on the Moon (1999)

This scene is terrible and, honestly, throws any realism out of the movie. Letterman recreates his role as himself in the Andy Kaufman-Jerry Lawler faux-kerfuffle for the film. The problem is that Letterman looks a lot different in 1999 than he did in the early 1980s (he no longer wears contact lenses so he’s wearing glasses in his scene), and they filmed the new scene on Letterman’s Late Show set, not a set that resembles anything close to what Late Night looked like. The clip from the Jim Carrey film isn’t online, unfortunately, but here’s the original incident.


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