Paul Shaffer Interview

A story that was even funnier followed! This time, it featured Mel Gibson.

“We were doing a bit with him called ‘May We Turn Your Pants Into Shorts?’ We were doing just that. We had all of our staff coming and cutting pants off and turning them into shorts,” Shaffer remembers. “Mel Gibson, said ‘sure, go ahead.’ and Dave Letterman and I were down with scissors working on each pant leg. I cut him! I knicked him with the scissors! I drew blood! He wasn’t happy with it at all. I ran into him at a restaurant a year later and he called me the slasher!”

All good things must come to an end. David Letterman’s run as a late-night staple was no exception and Shaffer went off the air along with his host. Shaffer remembers getting the news from David:

“He just pulled me aside and tells me, ‘I just gave them a year notice.’ and I said, ‘Wow, everything’s different now.’ Because I’d been doing the show for 33 years. It was my whole life. I managed to get married and have a wonderful family at the same time. I don’t know how I did it because every day I was at the show,” Shaffer recalled. “Nevertheless, the show came to an end and, yeah, it took about, and Dave says the same thing, a year to readjust. It was physical, too. My whole metabolism changed. I could sleep-in all of a sudden. I could never sleep past 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. Always wired; ready for the next show. After a year, things calmed down and I looked back and wondered how I even did it for the last couple of years. Maybe we did it a little too long? Dave is asking the same thing.”

Given the fact that Shaffer asks himself if the show went on a little too long, he was asked if he misses the show or enjoys his free time and getting to explore other projects.

“All of the above,” he said. “It’s really nice to be able to do all of these other things, but yes, of course, how could one not miss it? Working with Dave every night is something that I certainly miss. He was so quick, you know? Still, the quickest, funniest guy, who has ever done it.”

Now that he is no longer part of the action, Paul was asked about his take on the current state of late-night TV. Letterman and Leno are out. Fallon and Colbert are in. The monologues aren’t what they used to be and hosts aim for viral videos and social media hits over luring in late-night audiences.

“I watch a little bit. Certainly, political seems what people want late at night now. These shows are just reacting to it. Saturday Night Live, not a talk show, but certainly one where the producer just said on the Emmy’s, politics is what kept them going; that and special moments,” Shaffer said. “I think if we were still doing it, we would be doing the same thing. The main different thing is that it’s for a different audience now. It’s for an audience that is as young as we were when we started doing it and launching it. So, you know, things move on; simple as that”

One burning question this interviewer had to ask is about the reports that Shaffer never returned a phone call from Jerry Seinfeld offering him the role of George Costanza on ‘Seinfeld.’ Fact? Fiction?

“Well, it is fact, except that the offer was to be Jerry’s sidekick. I think they were just developing the show, you know? I don’t know exactly. All I know is that I was asked to be his sidekick and, I just kind of assumed, over the years… I asked myself… I wonder if I would have been in the role of George? Nonetheless, that call did come through and it was early in the Letterman show. I was getting a lot of correspondence that I couldn’t even deal with because I had no help at the time. Letters and calls were piling up and I couldn’t respond to them all,” Paul admitted. “I thought to myself, “What kind of show could Jerry Seinfeld possibly have?” Of course, it’s only the most beloved show in the history of television. You know, what can one say?”

While Shaffer’s career has been nothing short of phenomenal, one has to be curious if he has any regrets not taking a starring role in arguably one of the most successful television series of all time.

“I would have missed playing the piano. I wouldn’t have wanted to leave Letterman. Absolutely no regrets. Letterman was the perfect gig for me,” Paul said adamantly. “I got to play every night with a great band and also talk to him and improvise with him. It was really quite a blessing; the whole thing.

Asked to reflect on his career thus far, Shaffer was challenged to mention specific highlights from his long list of accomplishments.

“I think back on the ‘Concert for New York,’ which took place after the 9/11 attacks. This one took place in Madison Square Garden, in the middle of another terror threat on New York, and people were amazed that all of these big stars, including many British Stars, were coming in to play in support of New York trying to rebuild itself; in support primarily for the first responders; the firemen and the cops, and it was a helluva evening, and to have been associated with that certainly sticks out,” Shaffer recalls. “And then, getting to go overseas with Dave Letterman to Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, the first year we had declared war over there. Dave was very low key about it. He wasn’t going to tape a segment for the show or anything. It was just in support of the troops to be over there. We went to Iraq the next two years. That’s got to be right up there, as far as amazing goes. It was an honor. An amazing honor.”

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