The way I bonded with my father throughout my teens was through television. We were both avid TV watchers, and one of our favorite shows by far was Late Night with David Letterman. In the 1980’s, Letterman was still subversive.
I was a big enough of a fan that I would regularly attend live tapings of the show at the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center — sometimes 2 or three times a month. It was only 3 short blocks from my high school, and they taped at 5:30pm, so I could just walk over there after 8th period, ask people standing in the audience line if they had any extra tickets, and go in and enjoy the show. It was always a riot, and I got to watch some classic performances in person by comic heroes of the day such as Andy Kaufman and Pee-Wee Herman.
One of the funniest shows they did all year were the Christmas specials, where they would bring in “Dave’s family” for a wholesome evening of songs and Pat-Boone style revelry (Pat Boone was actually on the show too). The family included teenage son Hank Letterman, who basically stole the show every time he opened his mouth. Have a look:
Hank was one of the funniest characters I’d ever seen on one of the funniest shows I’d ever seen.
Which brings me back to the “ad in the Village Voice”. After some back-and-forth leaving of and listening to answering machine messages, I found myself on the phone with a friendly guy named Gregg Lapkin. He told me that he and his friend Tim, whom he’d known since High School, had recently dropped out of the Parson’s School of Design to focus full time on starting a band. They’d been writing songs together, with him writing the music and Tim writing the lyrics.
Through a prior ad, they had already found a drummer and a bass player, but the bass player didn’t work out. He had quit after one rehearsal. The guy called himself “Zebra” – he wore spandex and told Tim & Gregg that their “situation waszn’t rockin’ it enuff” for him.
Finding bandmates through the Voice was always a delicate situation.
The conversation flowed right off the bat with me and Gregg. Cold-calling people off these ads, you never knew what to expect — I’d done it many times before and the person on the other end of that phone line often turned out to be some type of cluster-fucked mix of delusion and psycopathy. That, or they were just assholes. It was nice to have a normal conversation with a nice person for a change.
Gregg and I spent some time getting to know each other a bit beyond just discussing music, and at one point he mentioned that he was also involved in some acting.
“You know the David Letterman show? I play this character Hank Letterman on the Christmas specials.”
I froze up. No way.
“Yeah, I also do commercials and have a manager that sends me on auditions for other stuff sometimes . . . “
The guy was so completely nonchalant about it, but to me it felt like I was speaking with Robin Williams or something. The rest of our conversation notwithstanding, there was no way at this point that I was NOT going to go down there and audition for these guys.