Have you ever wondered where David Letterman found Larry “Bud” Melman? Of course you have. Find out the answer in this exclusive excerpt from Brian Abrams’ newly-released Amazon Kindle Single AND NOW…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman,” 1982-1993.
At a time when cable TV was nonexistent and Saturday Night Live’s talent and ratings simultaneously took a nosedive, David Letterman’s 12:30 a.m. talk show transformed comedy forever with its ironic obsessions and enabled a generation of writers to flourish. AND NOW…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman,” 1982-1993is comprised of dozens of original interviews with those who worked and guested during Letterman’s NBC stint— beginning with an odd precursor in a problematic 10 a.m. slot, moving to the launch of the iconic Late Night with then-head writer (and then-girlfriend) Merrill Markoe, and ending with his final days at 30 Rock before heading west for CBS’s Ed Sullivan Theater…seven blocks away.
BARRY SAND Executive producer, The David Letterman Show (1980), SCTV (1980-81), Late Night with David Letterman (1982-87): We wanted to get guests that nobody ever thought of — not heavy billboard people. It was the strange guy, the guy who inflated his lawn chair that took off and flew over an airport. Those were the memorable characters.
ANDY BRECKMAN Writer, Late Night (1982-83), Saturday Night Live (1983-87); creator, Monk (2002-09): Stephen Winer and his partner, Karl, had a great influence on the show. They found Calvert DeForest [a k a Larry “Bud” Melman].
SANDRA FURTON Talent coordinator, Late Night (1982-89): Larry “Bud” Melman was an anomaly. He was a really genuinely great guy, who became like a mascot to the show. He was a very sweet person. I guess his naturalness in flubbing things up made it work.
KARL TIEDEMANN Writer, Late Night (1982-83) Consistently poor acting combined with an offbeat look. It didn’t occur to me years later, but do you know the name Maurice Gosfield? He was very much a Melman/DeForest type, and he became a kind of — before the term was used — cult figure. And he apparently had difficulty memorizing lines and getting out dialogue. That rang a bell with me.
STEPHEN WINER Writer, Late Night (1982-83): When Karl was at NYU, he was making a short film, “Life of the Party,” like an old Hal Roach two-reel comedy. When we were doing this thing, Calvert DeForest came at an open audition. There was nothing for him in the movie except background, but there was something about him that made us believe we could use this guy forever. We later made a film called “King of the ‘Z’s,” a parody documentary about the world’s cheapest movie studio of the ’40s and ’50s. The entire time we were writing it, Calvert’s face was always in my mind.
KARL TIEDEMANN: My then-partner and I always had a taste for the offbeat. We loved, as many people do, the whole Mystery Science Theater 3000 thing — just healthy badness. Mediocrity is very common. Really consistent incompetence, that’s a lot more rare. DeForest was worse than mediocrity, but he was a pleasant and amenable fellow.
STEPHEN WINER: When we had the job interview with Dave and Merrill, they were very complimentary of the film. During the course of that meeting, Merrill said, “We’re looking for somebody like that little guy in your movie for the show.” And I said, “That’s the guy you’re looking for. Trust me.” Calvert was in the very first episode. He cold-opened the show as Frankenstein, which was Merrill’s idea. It just took off. And I remember saying to Dave, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Calvert became a big star after this?” And Dave said, “Heh, heh. Sure.”
BARRY SAND: Some of the greatest shows that we ever had were with Larry “Bud” Melman, who always made mistakes. That was part of the fun. “What could go wrong?” And hopefully it would go wrong. You were always rooting for a good wrong thing to happen. Audiences love that. The non-predictability of the show, the imperfection of the show, was part of its charm.
This is an excerpt from Brian Abrams’ Amazon Kindle Single AND NOW…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman,” 1982-1993.
Below, Larry “The Big Man” Melman in a typically insane 1980s Letterman appearance:
Thank you Jeff Newelt of New York City!