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Penthouse TV: San Diego: 1985

Around the turn of the 21st century a friend and I had the grand idea of starting our own public access show.

At that point in history, cable TV was the Iron Throne of power in the digital kingdom. In my local fiefdom, Bay Area CA (representin the 415!), there were such hella outré gems as the Viking Wrestling Bonnaroo, the Lesbian Nerds Fantasy Book Club Pajama Party, and the Pirate Indie Music Cavalcade (the views expressed in this sentence are the sole responsibility of the authors imagination and in no way reflect with any semblance of historical accuracy the real programming on public access of the time in question – but come on man, I swear the pajama party… that was a thing).

So a public access show for two Gen X, schlubawamba slackers with too much free time seemed like a no-brainer, kind of like a flamethrower in a zombie cocktail party. We shot the footage for our pilot episode guerrilla-style: with too much perspiration and not enough preparation. The M.O. for our caper was to marshal the troops (our friends) with 24 hour notice and then go out into San Francisco and just starting shooting: grab some remote stuff from Golden Gate Park and the blocks of the Inner Richmond District, do the desk stuff after hours from our job (the views expressed in this sentence are the sole responsibility of the authors imagination and in no way reflect with any misdemeanor activities involving shoe races in high heels between myself and my friend at our work place after midnight – but come on man, I could totally kill it in a nice set of pumps).

In a frantic whirlwind of activity we willy vanilli got anything and everything that crossed our mind onto video. Later we would try to Cuisinart it together in the editing.

The desk stuff was the easiest and the best: I’d spent most of my college years staying up until the early morning hours watching the late night talk shows. The one that was my jam was, of course, Late Night with David Letterman.

My infatuation with Late Night (later it became The Late Show) began in high school. The show aired at 12:30 A.M. and for a teenager like me who had to be up at 6:30 A.M., it was much too late for me to watch. However, I was able to catch it on Fridays when I would go spend the weekend with my dad and my grandparents. Part of the routine of hanging out with my dad was tuning into Late Night together on Fridays: the NBC years were scrappy and ironic — it was the kind of program your parents weren’t supposed to get. The show didn’t feature glamorous A-list celebrities; it had Andy Kauffman or Harvey Pekar. It didn’t have remote spots from far flung locales; it had watermelons being tossed from rooftops.

The part of the show that I had the most interest in was the interviews at the desk. I was an introverted, socially awkward, radioactive teenage nerd. I was one super power short of being an X-Man and that super power was social skills. I tried to find my solution in comedy.

The old saw among comedians is they became funny to avoid getting beaten up. I am living proof that this is a goddamn lie. I tried to be funny and all it got me were two black eyes instead of one. To my surprise and astonishment my humor seemed to make the beatings worse instead of better.

“You take back what you said about my mother.”

You take back what you said about my mother.”

“Stop repeating what I say.”

Stop repeating what I say.”

SMASH.

I studied how Letterman interacted with his guests. When he was gracious with his guests, and when he teased them. When I got into college and could burn the midnight oil, I watched Letterman every night. I eventually learned about his antecedents: Jack Parr, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett – the one I always like the most was David.

My friend (Brian Gathy) and I never got our public access show off the ground. We were unable to navigate our way out of development hell. In the end it was probably for the best – it left me with more time to work on my writing. However, I did eventually manage to develop some social skills and for that, in part, I have Dave to thank.

So now he is passing into the not so gentle night. No more top 10. No more stupid pet tricks. No more Paul. No more cue cards tossed into the back drop.

For the good you’ve done for me Dave: in being part of my bonding with my father, for helping me develop social skills, for just making me laugh when I needed to laugh… thank you.

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