The Comedy Store in Hollywood hasn't changed much over the years. The last time I was there I noticed it still looks a lot like it did in the 1970s. A cocktail lounge with faded head shots bolted to the wall featuring comedians in aviator glasses with wide lapels. The Comedy Store, in its previous life, was Ciro's Nightclub in the 1940s.
In those days, mobster Mickey Cohen had people murdered in the basement. Now people die on stage for a cover charge and a two drink minimum.
Roger, my college roommate and I hung out at the Comedy Store on Sunday nights in the late 70s. The admission was only five bucks and two drinks. If you ordered apple juice you could escape for under $20, including parking.
The lineup in the main room at that time was a comedic version of Murder's Row. Robin Williams was starting to attract attention. Jay Leno and his very big sideburns would show up in a work shirt and jeans talking about using a hot plate in his dorm at Emerson. It was not unusual for Richard Pryor and Rodney Dangerfield to drop in and work some new material. A pre-Ernest Jim Varney read homespun letters from his mom. Great comics like Elayne Boosler and Charlie Hill delivered solid sets on a regular basis.
And then there was this guy named Dave.
The audience was at a fever pitch one night and up to the mic strolls this young guy from Indiana. I turned to Roger the Roommate and said, "I've seen this guy before and he's really good."
But not that night.
After feasting on hours of high-octane comedy, Letterman's set was a little too low-key for the audience. Dave soon packed his tent and began riffing with the crowd and taking birdcall requests.
Roger the Roommate turned me and said, "He's not very funny."
I've always felt a kinship to Dave. Our lives paralleled.
We were both Hoosiers.
I had a string of crappy jobs. So did Dave.
We both had a tendency to speak our mind. Dave's honesty got him a talk show. My honesty got me unemployed.
During the end of his "Late Show" run, many compared Letterman's hosting tenure to watching a fine athlete. He started out as an insecure novice. But with hard work he became a heavy hitter and as he grew older, he slowed a bit and mellowed. But could still come through in a clutch.
I always felt that Dave was one of us. Another meatball on the gravy train of life. He was one of the family. A favorite uncle who insulted all the right people. I felt I knew him.
When several of my friends made appearances on the Letterman show I always wanted to tell them to tell Dave thatDan says "hi."
The last time I saw him on stage it was the Comedy Store anniversary show at the Universal Amphitheater.
He did not bomb that night. In fact, he brought the crowd to their feet almost immediately by eviscerating Pauly Shore who introduced him.
"Good to see that there's no nepotism at the Comedy Store," said Dave with a laugh.
I will miss David Letterman. I know he would love to hear the story about bombing at the Comedy Store and the birdcalls. If anybody reading this story knows Dave, tell him about it. And while you're at it:
Tell him Dan says "hi."
Dan Farren is a writer living in California.