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The Late Show - Dave and His "Cast of Characters"

A review of the The Late Show and the many personalities who populate Letterman's universe

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David Letterman has been a fixture in the late night talk show world since the early 1980s, first helming NBC's popular 12:30am show Late Night with David Letterman. He then moved to CBS to start his own 11:30pm program, The Late Show with David Letterman. Over 25 years after entering the late night scene, Letterman is still going strong. With his unique sense of humor - alternately goofy and sharp - Letterman has entertained late night audiences with his dry wit, stupid pet tricks, Top Ten lists, and much more. But Dave doesn't do it all on his own. He has an amazing group of "characters," mostly members of his own staff, who are also a big part of what makes the David Letterman show great.

Dave's "cast" includes his longtime bandleader Paul Shaffer and Paul's band, the CBS Orchestra, and announcer Alan Kalter. People who are usually firmly behind-the-scenes on your average television show are co-stars in Letterman's world, such as ubiquitous stage manager Biff Henderson, cue card guy Tony Mendez, Dave's assistant Stephanie Birkitt, and The Late Show with David Letterman executive producer Rob Burnett. Even local deli owner Rupert Jee and Dave's own mother make frequent appearances on the show! With David Letterman, you never know who will be the next "star" of the show.

David Letterman on The Late Show
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman
Biff Henderson on The Late Show with David Letterman
Alan Kalter on The Late Show with David Letterman
Tony Mendez on The Late Show
LETTERMAN'S Recurring "Characters" AND STAFF
Dave's Mom on The Late Show
Rupert Jee on David Letterman
Stephanie Birkitt on The Late Show with David Letterman
Rob Burnett on The Late Show with David Letterman
Calvert DeForest on David Letterman
David Letterman on The Late Show

David Letterman

The host known to fans as “Dave” has been a mainstay on the TV dial for nearly 30 years.  Critic Ken Tucker once said that Letterman is “probably the best talk-show host ever … He feels a real connection to people.”  It's his “regular guy” persona that has earned Letterman his many devoted fans, not to mention much critical claim. David Letterman was born in 1947 in Indiana and started his "showbiz" career as a weatherman, going on to work as a TV announcer, a radio show host, a stand-up comic, and a TV writer before making appearances on several variety and game shows. Letterman went on to frequent stints guest hosting on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, leading to an unsuccessful solo show on NBC. But NBC gave him another shot, and Late Night with David Letterman was born. After a decade of becoming a cult icon, Dave seemed like the natural successor to Johnny Carson when he left The Tonight Show, but the network ended up giving Jay Leno the show and Letterman got the plum spot on CBS instead. He's been delighting Late Show audiences every night at 11:30 ever since.
Paul Shaffer on The Late Show with David Letterman

Paul Shaffer

Late Show bandleader Paul Shaffer has been David Letterman's partner in comedy since Dave began Late Night with David Letterman in 1982. Paul serves as Letterman's trusty sidekick, bantering with Dave and providing funny little songs whenever needed. Although it is Paul Shaffer's association with David Letterman that most people know him from, Paul actually has an interesting history predating his band duties on Late Night. He served as musical director for Broadway shows, including the hit musical Godspell and comedienne Gilda Radner's Broadway show. Most notably, Paul Shaffer spent five years working on NBC's hit sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live during its famed early years in the 1970s. He played keyboards for the show's band, composed musical material, and even became a featured performer in 1980. His work on Late Night and The Late Show have allowed Paul to flex all of his creative muscles, doing comedy, writing music, and of course playing.
Biff Henderson on David Letterman Biff Henderson
Biff, who's real name is James Jackson Henderson, Jr., has been working with David Letterman since his first NBC show, the short-lived 1980 program The David Letterman Show. He serves as stage manager on Dave's show, a difficult job that essentially means that Biff keeps the show running smoothly. But even though his is a backstage job, Biff Henderson has become a beloved member of Letterman's on-camera "cast" as well, dressing up in costume for laughs, turning up in viewer mail segments, and driving "Biff Henderson's Golf Cart of Death". Biff has been at NBC since the 1970s, when he worked at the network in the sales department, before going on to television production. As a stage manager, Biff Henderson has worked at such impressive events as the World Series and space shuttle missions.
Alan Kalter on The Late Show with David Letterman Alan Kalter
Alan Kalter began serving as announcer for The Late Show with David Letterman in 1995 and has been with Dave ever since. His distinctive voice can be heard at the beginning of every episode of The Late Show, announcing the names of that night's guests. Kalter also participates in other Letterman segments such as The CBS Mailbag, where he calls out the letter numbers. A New York native, Alan Kalter has done voice work for many other local shows including The $25,000 Pyramid, To Tell the Truth, and The $100,000 Question (which, like The Late Show with David Letterman, also taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater). He has also done voiceovers for numerous radio and television commercials. Aside from his voice, Kalter's most noticeable feature is of course his fiery red hair.
Tony Mendez on The Late Show with David Letterman Tony Mendez
Cuban-born Tony Mendez hosts his own popular internet show called The Tony Mendez Show. He has become a favorite of David Letterman watchers with his hilarious appearances in comedy bits on The Late Show with David Letterman. He serves as Cue Card Boy on the show, though Tony is certainly no boy - he's actually around the same age as David Letterman, which may help account for their special rapport on the show.
Dave's Mom on The Late Show Dave's Mom
It's not every talk show host that employs his own mother, but David Letterman does. Known to loyal viewers simply as "Dave's Mom," Mama Letterman appears in special segments of The Late Show with David Letterman, especially bits where Dave calls her up to get reports from back home. Dave's Mom has also reported on location, most notably when she served as The Late Show correspondent for the Winter Olympics, located in Lillehammer.
Rupert Jee on The Late Show with David Letterman Rupert Jee
New York business owner Rupert Jee is perhaps the oldest and best friend of CBS' Late Show with David Letterman. Dave first met Rupert - and introduced him to the world - when The Late Show began in 1993 during a "Meet the Neighbors" segment in which Letterman began getting to know the people working around his studio, the Ed Sullivan Theater. Rupert Jee is the proprietor of the Hello Deli, located right by the studio. Low-key Rupert has been a regular on The Late Show since then, appearing in numerous comic bits on the show and becoming a fan favorite. To anyone who doubts that Rupert Jee is a real person and assumes it is just an actor playing a character, they need only drop by the Hello Deli at 213 West 53rd Street to see Rupert at work.
Stephanie Birkitt on The Late Show Stephanie Birkitt
Now serving as David Letterman's assistant, and as a frequent "character" on the show, Stephanie Birkitt has a long association with The Late Show, beginning with her working as an intern on the program in 1996. She went on to work as an associate producer on the show, but gradually began doing more work specifically for Dave. The two developed a great rapport, and Dave began giving Stephanie some on-air assignments. Her varied duties have included conducting some very unusual interviews, dressing up in costume, and reporting on-location at events such as the Olympics. But as rewarding as working as David Letterman's lackey is, New Hampshire-born Stephanie Birkitt's ambitions go beyond The Late Show - she is also attending law school.
Rob Burnett on David Letterman Rob Burnett
Yet another longtime Letterman associate, Late Show executive producer Rob Burnett has a long history with Dave. Burnett started as a mere intern on Late Night with David Letterman back in 1985, going on to become a writer for the show a few years later. By 1992, Burnett was the show's head writer, continuing the job after he made the move with Dave from NBC to CBS. In '96, Rob Burnett became The Late Show with David Letterman's executive producer, also becoming president and CEO of Dave's production company Worldwide Pants. Even with his considerable Dave-related duties, Burnett has also managed to oversee The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, develop the CBS smash hit Everybody Loves Raymond, and create the acclaimed series Ed.
Calvert DeForest on The Late Show Calvert DeForest
Although he sadly passed away in 2007, Calvert DeForest is one of the icons of the David Letterman era, along with Stupid Pet Tricks and the Top 10 List. Of course, Late Night with David Letterman fans knew DeForest by his character name, Larry "Bud" Melman. When Dave transferred to CBS, the character was deemed the intellectual property of NBC (despite the fact that Letterman himself had created the name), so DeForest appeared on the new program under his actual name. Larry "Bud" Melman / Calvert DeForest did all kinds of things on Letterman's show, from reporting on location at major events to appearing in silly skits on the show. He is remembered best for his odd appearance and his kind but wacky demeanor. Following Calvert DeForest's death, David Letterman was quoted as stating "Everyone always wondered if Calvert was an actor playing a character, but in reality he was just himself - a genuine, modest and nice man."