Recurring Comedy Bits
The following is a partial list of recurring comedy bits that now appear on the show on a sporadic basis, as well as other notable bits from the show's past:
- Alan Kalter's "Are You F*cking Kidding Me?" segment, which questions the sanity behind major news stories (for example, after the Michael Jackson verdict, Kalter's response: "Are You F*cking Kidding Me?!!")
- Alan Kalter's "Oh No You Didn't!" in which Kalter mentions a recent news story (such as a 5-week working vacation George W. Bush had once announced) and then says "Oh No You Di-int!", which is immediately followed by a mention of a celebrity who has recently done something which Alan finds sexy, and a "Oh, yes you did."
- Alex Trebek Came Back Too Soon. Starting with a premise such as that Alex Trebek is losing it, or just suffered a heart attack and came back to work too soon, an edited piece of Jeopardy! is shown where the question does not match the answer and Alex says "correct", such as "The J in J.D. stands for this kind of doctor", the contestant says "What are jujubes?", and Alex says "correct."
- "Ape Or Artist?" A game in which an abstract painting is shown to Letterman and Shaffer, who then discuss whether it was an ape or an artist who painted it. After the first couple of instances, Letterman based his guesses more on psychology than the painting itself (saying things along the lines of "They want me to think it's an artist this time, so I'm going with ape"). After a while, the game became "Ape or Artist or Elephant?"
- "Ask ..." Dave says that a celebrity, such as Hillary Clinton or Paris Hilton, will appear to answer questions the audience has submitted in advance. However, it is always Gerard Mulligan. There is usually one question about the celebrity being egotistical, which Mulligan does not initially answer, and then says to Dave, "Oh, sorry. I thought that one was for you."
- "Bruce Willis's Mystery Word." Bruce Willis says a random word from a pre-recorded video.
- "Can A ... Hail A Cab?" Usually someone in an animal (Can a Guy in a Turkey Suit ...") or superhero ("Can Spider-Man...") suit stands on Broadway and hails a cab, seeing if a taxi driver will stop and give the person a ride. This has also been tried by a person wearing a surgical mask portraying the traveler with drug resistant tuberculosis.
- ... Cards. Before Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, Dave displays a series of mock greeting cards, with messages such as "I'm sorry I called you a dirty whore on Maury."
- CBS News Special Report. The news bulletin slide appears, but there is no bulletin.
- Chris and Gerry. Dave introduces former writers Chris Elliot and Gerry Mulligan, who are there to promote their latest television program, which end up being parodies of existing shows (e.g., "Skink the Bounty Hunter"). Often they explain that the development of their new shows are due to the failure of their previous efforts. After the interview, a short clip of the contrived show is played. The interview segments usually involve the two wearing the outlandish costumes they don in the clip. Another recent version consists of clips from "John Adams on HBO", where Elliot plays President Adams, and Mulligan plays a portrait artist or some other part. In one of these, Adams and companion did a Mac vs. PC commercial.
- Chris and Gerry also appear in "Late Show Tips for Green Living with Chris and Gerry." In addition to the recorded spots, showing the unexpected effects of carpooling or turning out the lights, they were together on stage in a sketch in which Gerry implied that Chris would taste organic and conventional produce, but instead tasted organically fertilized and chemically treated soil.
- Cool or Not Cool. Debuting in June 2008, this is a sketch designed to juxtapose Presidential candidate Barack Obama with President George W. Bush. First, a clip of Obama engaging in an activity is shown, followed by an on screen graphic reading "COOL" and the sound of a bell. That is immediately followed by a clip of Bush engaging unsuccessfully in a similar activity, and then a graphic reading "NOT COOL" with the sound of a buzzer.
- Crystal Clear Party Ice - In 2000, Kalter presented a running gag in which he promoted this fake sponsor of the show. The lengthy pitch was recited daily with little variation: "It's not a party without party ice, and isn't party ice unless it's crystal clear! Have you ever been to a party where the ice was cloudy? How did that make you feel? Like a loser! Crystal Clear Party Ice is really, really clear! And, it comes in a bag! Hey, the weekend is right around the corner, so why not pick up a couple of bags of party ice? You'll be glad you did!" As the bit wore on, Letterman would respond to Kalter's pitch, such as pointing out that the "weekend" was still several days away. Eventually a "Semi-Clear" variation was added to the bit.
- "Get To Know Delaware." In recognition of Joe Biden being selected as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, this series promoted tourist attractions such as Independence Hall and the Franklin Institute in Pennsylvania, which is next to Delaware, or, in another installment, the announcer described the Battle of New Castle, and then admitted that he made it up because he knows nothing about Delaware.
- Hose cam. On a hot day, a hose shoots water on pedestrians near the Ed Sullivan Theater. Inside, Dave uses a toggle switch to turn the water on and off, and a microphone (similar to one used with a taxicab radio) to make comments to the people on the street.
- "Immigration Success Stories." A segment running since immigration reform was brought to the United States Congress in 2006. The segment profiles various well-known immigrants, before switching to archival footage of actor and Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger shown doing suggestive things with females.
- Jeter's place. Derek Jeter's mansion, which, according to the staff, is horrendous, is shown repetitively when Letterman calls for a picture to be seen. The staff says the viewers can call or email them if they want to get rid of Jeter's mansion, but the audience loves it (the repetition and the nature of the "error").
- Joe Grossman: Sometimes based on the premise that it is difficult to write jokes about President Barack Obama, Late Show Writer Joe Grossman appears on stage to read his proposed material (usually substituting Obama's name for references to George Bush or Al Gore) from a note pad.
- Joe McCain Call. Following the incident when Joe McCain ended a 911 call with an expletive, Dave receives a call from McCain, usually saying something irrelevant followed by "Bleep you." The setup by Barbara Gaines is essentially the same as for a Lt. Len Easton call. While a guest, Regis Philbin was told to answer a call on Dave's cell phone, which was from "McCain." Similar calls have also been received from "Christian Bale" after his tirade.
- "Johnny Twain Tonight." Johnny Dark dressed as Mark Twain sits in a rocking chair and recites Rodney Dangerfield jokes. Dark has also appeared in a similar segment called "Johnny Lincoln Tonight", with the only modification being Dark dressed as Abraham Lincoln.
- Lance Armstrong. An overweight man pretending to be a prominent athlete of the day, usually Lance Armstrong, but also (among other examples) a recently victorious NASCAR driver, golfer, or jockey, but always dressed in Armstrong's yellow Discovery Team jersey. He is introduced with, "Ladies and gentleman, name of athlete" while riding a bicycle through the aisles of the theatre and exiting through a door in the back. This segment is always accompanied by the CBS Orchestra playing the Ike and Tina Turner version of Proud Mary. On the August 21, 2006 show, the segment was mixed up even further, with an introduction of golfer Tiger Woods, and a caption of cyclist Floyd Landis. (This sketch had its roots in a 1994 sketch, when Johnny Carson was introduced to the crowd and Calvert DeForest came out instead. After DeForest left, Letterman summoned to "Johnny" that he had the wrong Top Ten List, and the real Johnny Carson came out, with the list in his hand.)
- "Let's Talk About the Candidates." A faux audience participation bit where Letterman initially chats with actual audience members about the 2008 presidential campaign. After Letterman comments on a recent candidate's departure from the race, a plant in the audience, always played by the same show staffer, reacts with disbelief and outrage. He then storms out of the theater and pummels pages along the way. In one segment, the plant reacts in this manner to the news that John Edwards was ending his campaign. Afterwards, the first audience member, himself a staffer, reacts in the same violent manner upon learning that Rudy Giuliani was also dropping out, and beats the same pages as he leaves. Letterman often closes the segment by lamenting that they no longer have any time due to the outbursts. This series of sketches culminated with "Let's Talk About the Election" on November 5, 2008, where the mock assault occurred after the plant complained that he was duped by a flier that Democrats vote on Wednesday.
- For the United States presidential election, 2012, "Get to know the candidates" in which faux facts about the Republican Party presidential candidates, 2012 are shown; (and, the even more obscure "Get to know the guy behind the Get to know the Candidates" in which a video editor declares personal despair after giving "10 hours a day" to the effort of watching the Republican candidate tapes.)
- Live Crash Footage. Letterman will point to his ear, as if taking instructions from the director, and announce that he is being told that they have "live" footage of various celebrities and public figures driving to a particular destination, and ultimately crashing (actually stock news footage of actual, spectacular crashes). Subjects have included Patrick J. Kennedy, Billy Joel, Nicole Richie, and NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (on a motorcycle). Letterman will then assure the audiences that he is being told that the celebrity is "all right."
- Lt. Len Easton. Barbara Gaines asks Letterman to pick up his phone, on which he gets a radio call from a fictitious Lt. Len Easton (voiced by Jeff Altman) of the California Highway Patrol driving on a California freeway on police business, requesting backup. The majority of these calls begin by sounding seemingly normal but will end with an absurd, humorous statement or request. In recent sketches, Letterman says that he is not the only one who is getting Easton's calls, and then shows a clip from a popular call-in show showing its host, such as Larry King, Suze Orman, or Mike and the Mad Dog, receiving a call with the audio of Easton being overdubbed, and occasionally a caption such as "Len from California" superimposed.
- Lyle the Intern. A supposed Late Show intern (played by actor Jimmi Simpson) who appears out of nowhere to interrupt a befuddled Letterman for a casual chat. He is portrayed as a smooth, laid-back slacker-type who often uses hipster slang and fancies himself a ladies man. In his first appearance, he encouraged Letterman to act as his "wingman" at a bar after the show. On his February 17, 2009 appearance, several stations on the eastern time zone shut off their analog signals at 11:59pm in accordance with the original Digital Television transition date, including WDEF-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee and WWNY in Watertown, New York. As a result of this, the last words that ever aired on these stations were Lyle saying "I know where you live beeeotch!" and giving a peace sign with a raspberry before the signal cuts out for good.
- Mac vs. PC. A parody of Apple's Get a Mac series of commercials, with former writers Chris Elliott and Gerard Mulligan portraying the roles of Mac and PC, respectively. The bits often end with Mulligan inflicting bodily harm on Elliott.
- The Man on Fire. A stuntman wildly runs across the stage back and forth while screaming with his clothes on fire before being extinguished backstage. A variation of this was performed in which the man was not on fire but acted as if he were.
- "Millionaire or Kenny?" A man is shown while Dave and Paul debate whether the man is a millionaire or a man named Kenny.
- News Bulletin. Suddenly, an old ABC Radio News theme is played, Dave confusedly looks through his papers, and then tells Barbara Gaines that he thought he had to read a bulletin.
- Portrait of Biff Henderson. Various artists create a portrait, using ketchup, Legos, post-it notes, and other "art media."
- "Psychic Sandwich." In the Hello Deli, Deborah Lynn - a self-described "intuitive" - attempts to guess the sandwich being made by Jee, which are all named after various Late Show staffers. Lynn, who is blindfolded, had never successfully named a sandwich. In 2005, a variation of the game involving chocolates was played, in which Lynn picked up a piece at random before guessing its content. On her second try, Lynn successfully guessed "nougat." On another episode later that year, a variation was played involving Jee's Slurpee-like drinks, and Lynn correctly guessed "cherry" on her first try. In these segments, Lynn is often asked by Letterman to explain the difference between a psychic and intuitive. On a recent episode, Lynn was asked to guess the price of a gallon of gas that Rupert provided her in a gasoline can. She guessed $4.40, however the gas was actually $4.30. Dave made note of the fact that Lynn admitted she had heard something on the news that morning about gas prices in New York by saying she had integrity in disclosing that information up front.
- Putting Away the Late Show Bear. A man in a bear suit is pushed and locked into a closet. The last time this sketch was played, a young intern lost control of the bear and it went on a rampage before finally calling for a taxi.
- Quarterback Challenge. Letterman challenges an NFL quarterback on the show to throw as many footballs at some target, such as into the open back window of a moving cab, as possible. A version of this challenge gave rise to the annual throwing of the football at the ornament at the top of the Christmas tree, when Vinny Testaverde could not hit the target, but Jay Thomas did. In recent years, the ornament has been replaced by a meatball.
- "Telemundo Highlight of the Night." Usually a short clip from a Telemundo show, such as Laura en América, showing something similar to a Jerry Springer Show fight, but, of course, in Spanish. A similar concept is "Spanish Television is Better."
- This Day In The Clinton Marriage: While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is out of the country on a diplomatic mission, this clip purportedly shows what Bill Clinton is doing, implying partying and possibly marital infidelity.
- "Trump or Monkey?" Played in the Hello Deli, the game involves a contestant being presented by Jee with two photos of monkeys, and a photo of celebrity businessman Donald Trump. Only the tops of the heads are visible, with the rest covered by a card. The contestant then attempts to guess which of the photos is Trump's. Around the release of the film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005, a variation of the game called "Trump or Wookiee?" was played.
- "What the Hell is it?" In the style of "Is this Anything" and "Will it Float", this game had Letterman guess the name of a mystery object. The game was played only a handful of times. A running gag was that when Alan Kalter would announce the object's name to the audience, Letterman would unintentionally hear it clearly, thus leading to greater and greater amounts of soundproofing each time the game was played.
- "What's the Deal with Old Guys and Giant Glasses?" Letterman simply presents a series of photographs of celebrity men (and occasionally, women). The photos are often dated with the subjects sporting large, old-fashioned style glasses.
- "Who Asked for It?" A staple of late-night television, audience members approach a microphone and ask a question, resulting in a prearranged sketch in response (such as a person asking if Regis Philbin will run into the theater, and a staffer does instead).
- "Women in Prison." Dave offers to conduct a remote interview of Martha Stewart or Paris Hilton in jail, but the show then runs stock footage of women in prison having a food fight or rioting.
- Writers' Guild Strike. Some other routine (usually a fake promotional announcement) is interrupted by Head Writer Bill Scheft, who announces that the Writers Guild is currently in negotiations for a new contract, and at this time we have chosen not to reveal the punchline to this hilarious joke until the big media companies show they're ready to play fair with the writers. The routine continued after Worldwide Pants settled with the WGA and the Late Show returned, to show solidarity with the other writers still on strike, and Scheft has interrupted other routines, such as one dealing with Hillary Clinton's pantsuit, to protest having to write those jokes after she should have left the race.
- Biff Henderson's "Fun with a Bullhorn"
- Biff Henderson's "Fun with a Stopwatch"
- Biff Henderson's "Wanna Hang Out?"
- "Celebrity X-Ray Challenge"
- "Dave's Record Collection"
- Dick Assman, who made several appearances in 1995
- "Dr. Phil's Words of Wisdom." Out-of-context clips from the Dr. Phil Show. This bit was similar to the "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" sketch.
- "Dumb Ads"
- "George W. Bush Joke That's Not Really a Joke"
- Harold Larkin's "Sidewalk Idol"
- "Late Show Checklist"
- "Late Show Pay Phone Trifecta"
- "Late Show Unfair Edit", later "Late Show Fun with Editing", later "Late Show Editing Fun"
- "May We See Your Photos Please?"/"May We See Your Digital Photos Please?"
- Pat Farmer's "Gaffe-Busters"
- Pat Farmer's "Long Story Short"
- Pat Farmer's "Anything Can Be a Musical Instrument"
- Paul Shaffer's James Brown cape routine (with various celebrities, including James Brown himself on one occasion, caping Shaffer)
- "Pedestrian Theme Songs" - A sketch in which various clips of pedestrians walking around New York City were accompanied by a humorous short song clip performed by The CBS Orchestra.
- "Week in Review" (used to be a regular Friday feature, using a variation of the "Laugh-In Looks at the News" theme).
- "Who Said It?"
- "Dave interviews coach Mike Singletary"
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