Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Late Show with David Letterman and the Best After School Gig I Ever Had

My first tour of duty in New York City began in 1999 as a young squiblet of a freshman at NYU. And it was a magical time. I was living on my own, I had a new boyfriend, I was going to Broadway shows and concerts on the regular and I was so, so happy.

And after the first semester, I was also so, so broke. Your girl needed an after-school job. Right quick.

I had done my share of suburban retail work back at home, and would have been happy to go back to that after class, but a quick look at the NYU career services site offered something a bit more enticing, if obtuse: “Audience Page.”

It did not say for what show, so I imagined it might be for a small-ish program, like a daytime talk show that was probably going to get canceled sooner rather than later. Otherwise, why be so mysterious? It wasn’t until I called to set up the interview when they told me what the gig was: audience page for the Late Show with David Letterman.

New York City. Concrete jungle of which dreams are made, you guys.

This is what is said on my paycheck. This is what I had to fill out on my taxes.

It was early 2000, and the show had been on an extended hiatus due to Letterman’s heart surgery. Which was unfortunate for the pages, many of whom were not getting paid and sought employment elsewhere. As for those who might have been a little ambivalent about taking advantage of this situation…well, welcome to the big city, kid.

I was less than ambivalent, is what I’m saying.

So for the next year and a half, with a generous summer break, I reported to the Ed Sullivan Theater four days a week at 3:30 pm to assist with audience wrangling for the daily program Monday through Wednesday, and two shows on Thursday. Fridays off. Shabbat shalom.

The best picture of me and the set in existence. Affordable digital cameras could not be invented soon enough.

PAGE PROTOCOL IS NOT A JOKE

I made $10 an hour which seemed extravagant to me, and it was for 1999…until you realize that I only worked 16 hours a week. But at 19, and the youngest person on the Late Show payroll, getting that sweet $150 Worldwide Pants check was good enough for me.

I wore a (loaned) Late Show-issued gray Eddie Bauer V-neck sweater, a white collar shirt, and a black necktie. I got some cheap elastic band black pants from the Greenwich Village K-mart that looked smart enough from a distance, but were thin enough to slip over layers of tights and jeans because we had to work outside and yes, it was cold as hell inside the theater.

There were about 20 other pages, and we oversaw a fairly ridiculously complicated operation for checking in audience members, lining them up, corralling them on the sidewalk, and loading them into the theater.

Those with tickets had to come at 4 pm, get a number written on their ticket, disappear COMPLETELY for 30 minutes (no milling about, clogging up the sidewalk) and then come BACK. The first 180 folks reported back at 4:30. They had to line up in numerical order by color coded ropes arranged in an impressively thought-out formation that allowed for them to assemble while still allowing for sidewalk traffic. They were given a spiel by some aspiring comedians -- whose names have been lost to the passage of time and thwarted showbiz ambitions -- who combined the rules of the theater with some lulz.  We would load them in just in time for the next 180 people to arrive. And do it again.
Ed Sullivan Theater lobby ready to receive an audience. There is an art to stanchion formation that cannot be underestimated.

HOUSE RULES (WHOSE HOUSE? DAVE’S HOUSE)

Not as shiny sparkly in the harsh light of day, now, is it?
Sometimes if we were short on time, the Comedy Kids would do their routine for the First 180, while someone like me would draw aside batches of the Second 180 as they got their tickets, and give them an abbreviated version of the house rules. When it was discovered that I could deliver these quickly, cheerfully, and at a volume that belied my tiny stature and overrode the box office din, I got to do this a lot. You had to be chipper even while administering some fairly draconian rules. This is where I learned the fine art of feigning enthusiasm.

It went a little something like this:

“HI EVERYONE AND WELCOME TO THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN! WE’VE GOT A GREAT SHOW TONIGHT AND WE’RE SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE. JUST SO YOU KNOW, THERE IS NO FOOD, DRINK, OR PHOTOGRAPHY OF ANY KIND ALLOWED INSIDE. CAMERAS MAY BE CONFISCATED (chipper!). ALSO, YOU WILL SEE SMALL MICROPHONES HANGING ABOVE YOUR HEAD. THESE ARE TO PICK UP THE SOUNDS OF THE AUDIENCE BUT THEY ARE VERY SENSITIVE. SO WE WANT YOU TO CLAP, LAUGH…BUT NO ‘WOOING’ AS IT MAY OVERLOAD THE SPEAKERS.”

Aside: this, as my audiohead friends will note, is bullshit. Someone -- maybe Dave, maybe not – just thought “wooing” was obnoxious and didn’t want it. They’re not wrong, but you try telling that to happy hour tourists looking to get silly with Dave. Maybe this rule was relaxed in the 15 years since I was there, but it sure as shit was gospel back then.

Oh, and: “IF YOU HAVE TO USE THE RESTROOM DURING THE SHOW PLEASE DO NOT GET UP UNTIL A COMMERCIAL BREAK. ALERT A PAGE WHO WILL FILL YOUR SEAT BUT BE ADVISED YOU MAY NOT GET YOUR SEAT BACK AND MAY HAVE TO WATCH FROM THE BALCONY.”

This was true. An empty seat is no bueno on TV, so we had a row of folks in the way back of the balcony on folding chairs. Usually these were the sad sacks who arrived late, or standby folks. If someone did get up to pee, one of these people would be dispatched to their seat QUICKLY and the unfortunate urinator would be banished upstairs.

The only time the empty seat scenario was thwarted was when someone straight-up pissed in the seat. Granted, they did not get that seat back, as they were summarily removed, but they did beat the system, in a sense. You have to respect that in a funny way.

Anyway, after telling them about the weird numbered lineup situation, we’d end with “SEE YOU BACK HERE AND HAVE A GREAT TIME (you snacking, picture-taking, wooing weirdos).”

I told you it was ridiculously complicated.

STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM AND WE STAYED THERE

I was one of the few pages with no showbiz aspirations, which is good, because unless you want to get in on the tech side of things, it wasn’t a glamorous gig. You didn’t get to meet the celebrity guests. You didn’t really get to meet Dave. You would occasionally see him in the basement corridor that connected the office building to the theater (and also housed the bathrooms, so we had to be alerted to his impending presence and shoo audience folks away before he played through), and he would say hi, but he didn’t exactly have time to kick it.

But you DID get to hang out with the crew, including Alan Kalter the announcer, (who bonded with me as a fellow ginger), Biff Henderson the stage manager (who was LOVELY and helped me with my homework sometimes), and all of the security folks who would throw out the people who were REALLY drunk or REALLY mean to you while using their best Tony Soprano voice, which was satisfying.
Biff Henderson: Stage Manager. Folk Hero.

There were some privileges enjoyed just by the pages. When it was really cold out, and if the Roseland Ballroom across the street didn’t have a show that night, we would line folks up in there and have the run of the place before they arrived. That was fun.

We also got to reward audience members we liked with a coveted “dot” on their ticket which put them in the front row (and, more than likely, on camera) so Dave could see them.  We might even get to pick the people to play “Know Your Current Events” or "Know Your Cuts of Meat." It was a stupid power, but it was ours.

We could also exact revenge on people who were rude to us by surreptitiously sending them to the balcony. We’d mark them by walking alongside them when they came in, and when we got to where our boss was standing at the foot of the staircase we’d say “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, STEVE!” and he’d say “THANK YOU, ROBYN. UP THIS WAY, FOLKS,” and away they’d go.

Though truth be told, you could see way better up there. I always liked being stationed up there for this reason…and because no one could see my solo dance parties during the musical acts. But the jerks didn’t know that. As far as they were concerned, they were being punished. And as far as we were concerned, they could go on thinking that. STUPID POWER BUT IT WAS OURS.

We got to go to the holiday party, which was usually at the theater. The important folks (Paul, Dave, et al) mainly kept to themselves, but whatever. There was lobster in EVERYTHING. And we got Worldwide Pants sweatshirts and tiny pre-printed cards in little envelopes that said:

MERRY CHRISTMAS
DAVID LETTERMAN

A Very Late Show Christmas
Creepin' on the colleagues creepin' on the fancy people
And we did get to see a BUTTLOAD of famous people. I got to see Madonna, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Warren Zevon, Willie Nelson, Lou Reed, Oasis, Nick Cave, Paul Simon, Bill Murray, Stevie Nicks, Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Roberts, Janet Jackson, Mitch Hedberg, Paul Newman, Sting, Al Green, Patti Smith, a pre-famous Zack Galifinakis (who confused the crap out of EVERYONE), Robin Williams, George Carlin... and on and on and on.

One night (incidentally, the episode where George W. Bush made his in-studio late night campaign debut), James Brown just sat in with the band and sang during commercial breaks. Which was weird for the TV audience but AWESOME for us since we got our own private James Brown concert. And they PAID me to be there.

And of all these people, the only person I begged the security folks to ever let me meet was…Moby. Like I said, I was very, very young and very, very silly.

THAT’S OUR SHOW, GOODNIGHT EVERYBODY

Eventually, the page program shifted to a seasonal, term-limited system, so when I came back to school in the fall of 2001, there was no room at the Ed Sullivan Theater for me anymore and so endeth my showbiz career.  I did go back as an audience member not too long after that, but it’s sort of like going back to see your old high school teachers thinking they’ll be SO GLAD to see you, but really, thanks for coming but we kinda have a job to do and you’re kind of getting in the way of that, but HAVE A GREAT TIME. I have not been to the Ed Sullivan Theater since.

It’s weird for a lot of us to think of a TV landscape without David Letterman, even if, like me, you haven’t watched regularly in a long, long time. Mr. L was a powerful part of my New York story, and I am especially sad to see the garish blue-and-gold marquee outside the theater change now. It was always thrilling to round the corner of 57th on to Broadway and see those lights and think “That’s where I’m going. That’s where I work!” even if I was just a marginally-glorified usher. I never wanted to stop feeling that way. And though my destiny may not have been within the entertainment-industrial complex and I now work in an office building in Midtown rather than a celebrated theater in Times Square, six years into my second tour of duty in New York City, I still do.


And Mr. Colbert, if you do nothing else as you inherit the stage, the audience and the pages of the Ed Sullivan Theater…let them “woo.” For God’s sake, let them “woo.”
Me on the far right in my Xmas sweatshirt from Mr. L, surrounded by my fellow pages and friends with whom I formed lifelong...nah, actually we never kept in touch and I forget most of their names. But look at how much we're pretending to like each other! SHOWBIZ.















Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Ferguson

I'm back home in Richboro for the holiday after being in Ferguson for three days. I don't want to debate the issue too much on Facebook because I've learned that never ends well. But as far as what I saw and experienced:

You have all seen the bad things. I have posted about the bad things on Facebook and Twitter as they were happening. And the bad things were very bad, and very scary. I felt the heat from the burning buildings on my face. I tasted tear gas three times. I heard a mother screaming for someone to help her wheezing son when a coffeehouse full of people doing nothing more extraordinary than what you'd see at any Starbucks was suddenly filled with tear gas. I have learned that gunshots and smoke bombs make disconcertingly similar sounds when they are fired 15 feet away from you. At you.

But Ferguson is not a war zone. For the most part, just a block away from any of the fires you saw on TV is a side street with houses with picket fences or big backyards where people were sitting in their living room watching the news. It is a city of 20,000 people, the overwhelming majority of whom just want to live in a community where everyone lives in peace and mutual respect.

I saw extreme acts of anger. And I saw extreme acts of baseless, reactive fear. But I also saw extreme acts of kindness, courage, and hopeful determination to commit to the long-term effort to make a better future. Because as the protests and the reactions across the country show, there is a fundamental problem that goes beyond Ferguson. Until we bridge the gap in trust between those who enforce the law and the people they are sworn to serve and protect, we cannot move forward. I realize that is not an original assertion. But that does not make it feel any less true. However, rather than being discouraged by what I saw in Ferguson, I believe that the will to make that change is stronger and more durable than any news cycle, and I am actually encouraged by my experience there that such change is possible.

Our team was in the coffeehouse that was gassed. The coffeehouse was a designated safe space for activists, protesters, or really anyone who wanted to come in at any time of the night and catch their breath both literally and figuratively from the tension in the world outside. The following evening, when we were not there, the coffeehouse was gassed again. And then the events in the clip below happened. We've seen the bad things. We have not seen enough of the good things. Because good things don't make for good TV. Or so we're led to believe. So here is a clip of one of the good things, that does, in fact, make for good viewing. Yes, the people in this clip are clearly on one side of the issue, but I was moved by their spirit of unity and optimism. Maybe you will be too. Maybe not. But I feel like it needs to be seen.

We can all do better. We can all be better. And I believe we will. Starting with swearing off Facebook-fighting about this and actually getting off our butts and doing something more positive than shouting each other down online.

Thanks for listening. Okay, here's the video for real this time:






Friday, August 8, 2014

This Is My Goodbye Email


After five years, I’m sad to say that today is my last day at the ACLU. It may sound trite to say, but my time here has been the most rewarding and challenging job of my life so far, and I am grateful to a lot of people. I am grateful for the patience shown to me as a newbie who ran headfirst into the brick wall of a learning curve that was the national security project and the human rights program until I got settled. That was nice. I am also grateful to the patience shown to me when we instituted the center structure and SURPRISE! now you work on LGBT, RFP, WRP, and religion! I am grateful to those projects for not chucking me out of the staff meetings while I mastered the various Center for Liberty dialects. That was nice, too. I’m glad we got there in the end.

I’m grateful to work with a brilliant team of passionate people who are not only speaking up for those who are oppressed but ACTUALLY GETTING THINGS DONE. I am so proud to have been a part of the Windsor case, the BRCA gene patenting case, the fight to ensure that servicewomen get the recognition and the reproductive health care they deserve, and to have stood up against those who would have prevented an Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan. And I will miss the Christmas mail. Boy howdy, will I miss the Christmas mail.

But I’m not going too far. I’ll just be uptown a bit serving as the deputy press secretary at Amnesty International USA, where I look forward to carrying on some of the good work we do here. I hope to stay in touch both through those endeavors and outside the office. After August 18, you can reach me at rshepherd@aiusa.org and at @AmnestyRobyn on Twitter. Be good to each other, keep fighting the good fight, and just accept the edits to the press release, already.

XO, R

Robyn Shepherd
Media Strategist
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004
■ (o) 212.519.7829 ■ (cell) 917.302.7189

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Put On Your Booties Cause Its Cold Outside" -- A Groundhog's Day Tale by Bob Shepherd

My brother wrote this a few years ago, and it has been a Facebook favorite. It deserves to be liberated on the Internet, for the benefit of the tens of additional people who may see this. Take it away, Bob:

I've had a few people bring up this story to me today so I figured I'd share it with the rest of the world. It is definitely better told in person but here it goes...

It is 1am on February 2, 2004. The New England Patriots had just defeated the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. Instead of turning in and getting ready for class the next day, I head outside into the balmy 12 degree Pittsburgh night and meet Josh and his trusty red Tacoma pickup truck affectionately referred to as "the red dragon." I hop in and am handed a cup of coffee as our night has just begun. Despite my previous experience with a plan laid out by Josh, I have agreed to ride to Punxsutawney, PA to witness Phil make his yearly prediction. I was told to expect an all night party, and that it was an event not to be missed. I was reluctant, but as usual Josh convinced to participate.

Now Josh is a very good friend of mine and I was honored to be a groomsman at his wedding...so please read the rest of this knowing that I have a lot or respect for him...however..I should also mention that previous good ideas by Josh include the following events: A sailing trip that resulted in me jumping into the lake to swim after an un-manned vessel, then a ticket issued for not having life jackets. Screaming insults at the Pitt football team's offensive line from his porch. Repelling out of his second story window. Driving onto the front lawn of a frat house in front of a cop then getting out, tying a rope from his truck around a snowman and driving off. Running down Forbes Ave with a pumpkin on his head telling everyone they knew it, and breaking into a certain prominent Pitt building under construction to steal blueprints. I have also witnessed Josh put a brilliant spin move on a cop while rushing the basketball court at a Pitt game...needless to say Josh was pretty good at college.

We hit I-70 and head north. It's not long before I happen to notice that the red dragon is approaching E which I point out to Josh. I have been in this situation several times before with Josh so I didn't worry too much when he assured me we'd be cool and he had a place in mind.

Skip ahead 45 minutes where jamming to Credence has helped pass the time and we approach the off ramp in Kittanning, PA to head east.

J: " ...Um dude"
::: sputter:::
B: "NO...don't tell me that"
J: "OK I won't"
:::Sputter:::: :::silence:::
J: "We're out of gas dude."
B: "SONOFA"
As we're coasting down the ramp with only our momentum carrying us, an 18 wheeler has attached itself to the bumper and a constant barrage of air horn fills the cab. He passes with a few choice words and we continue to coast down the ramp.

The truck comes to rest directly in front of an ominously dark gas station, we push it in and Josh fruitlessly tries his credit card.

Its 3am, literally 0 degrees, there is nothing in sight, and we have no AAA. Josh calls 911 and asks if someone can "bring us some gas."

It begins to sleet while the dispatcher tries to stop laughing and then tells us there's a gas station two miles up the hill to our left. We begin the trek and I share the same choice words the trucker had with Josh moments ago.

We get a can of gas and a ride from the sympathetic station attendant back to the truck...Josh asks me for gas money....I have more choice words.

This is getting pretty long so I'll skip to my assessment of Groundhog's Day in Punxsutawney.

It looks nothing like the Bill Murray movie. The actual event takes place in the woods nowhere near town at "Gobblers Knob." You are bussed in from town after the most invasive pat down of my life and arrive at what I can best describe as a wedding with no booze and no dancing, no food and it's freezing. There is a stage with a fake stump that houses the rat and they blast loud awful music at you all night...when finally at 7am, they rip the now deaf, disoriented Phil from his cage and hold him up so every flashbulb hits him directly in the eyes. He immediately pees all over the handler and most of the front row. Some dude in a top hat reads a scroll and tells you whether or not there was a shadow and everyone goes home. That's it. The end. I look at Josh and he confirms that the event is complete and its time to head back to the Burgh.

Long story short don't go to Punxsutawney...ever. I make sure to tell this story ever time Josh and I catch up usually to berate him...and to remind myself that college was way too much fun!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Snow Day Schedule"

Sometimes I make up raps on the subway. And by "sometimes," I mean just this once. Based on actual events.

6 am weather report as I lay in my bed
"Could be up to 12 inches" (but that's what she said).
Roll out with my long skivvies under my civvies
Totin' my Zac Posen because tonight's also busy
Walk a mile to the subway in janky snow boots
Because a little old snowstorm won't stop the news
Gotta file a lawsuit in the pursuit of justice
The DC office is closed? Fuck 'em. It's just us.
Gotta log my eight hours before I change out of my trousers
Traipse through the slush and the mess in a designer dress
Blizzard conditions by the time I get to the museum
Slip on heels, hide the boots, so the rich people don't see 'em
VIP soiree. Stuff my face with canapes.
And the accumulation won't keep us from our reservation
Sushi and wine; I've got a groupon to dine
Might as well order another drink 'cause baby, it's cold outside
Lookin' all fancy as we get in our taxi
So I can get home in time to watch a little Downton Abbey
And then call it a night. So your day off sounds adorbs,
but this what we call a "snow day" in New York.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Everyone Says Hi: 2013 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack


It was tough trying to come up with a theme for this year's mixtape. But I think I pinned it down in the end. This post contains sarcasm.

1. Massive Nights -- The Hold Steady
2. Like Lightning -- Lucero
3. Brooklyn Girls -- Shwa Losben
4. Every Band We Ever Loved -- Henry Clay People
5. Yonder -- The Love Leighs
6. Litte Mascara -- The Replacements
7. Better Off Without a Wife -- Tom Waits
8. Moment for Life -- Nicki Minaj
9. In These Shoes -- Kirsty McColl
10. Nothing to Prove -- Jill Sobule
11. Like a Friend -- Pulp
12. Missing You -- Bryan Dunn
13. Lower East Side -- Justin Townes Earle
14. A Way to You -- Lara Ewen and the Unstrung Orchestra
15. Muume wa Mtu -- The Dataz
16. Lullaby for Bad Girls -- Kelli Rae Powell
17. Always Love -- Nada Surf
18. She's Got Something -- Greg Holden
19. Are You Listening? -- A City on a Lake

Past mixes

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dear LA

Dear LA:

This is a little awkward, seeing as we barely know each other. Usually I only write to cities after a torrid relationship that draws blood on both sides. Sometimes metaphorically. Sometimes not. But I digress.

Anyway, I've been pretty down on you this year. I know the last time we actually saw each other was 2007 for an ultimately doomed quest to win on Jeopardy, but we left on good terms. I got a framed photo of me and Alex Trebek, and a tote bag! So you may be wondering what it was you did to merit so many passive-aggressive...OKAY, aggressive...hissy fits.

It all started when one acquaintance decided they wanted to move. That was fine. There was a goodbye party. And drinks. And then there was another. And then another. And then it wasn't just acquaintances, but close friends; best friends; ENTIRE SOCIAL GROUPS (I'm not exaggerating, see below):





And before I knew it, by the middle of 2013 you had deprived me of roughly two dozen people. And, to tell the truth, I felt bad. Really bad. All the usual depressing buzzwords: left behind, excluded, forgotten, wah wah wah, etc. It didn't help that because entire clumps of people moved en masse, through the magic of Instagram I was able to see my pals all having a great time like we used to...without me. I also knew that even though good friends mean it when they say they keep in touch, life happens. I knew I was really going to lose some folks. That's a bad feeling.

So I got a little agro. But I'm writing today to say, it's not your fault. It's not anyone's fault. And I'm...I'm, uh...I'm SORRY, OKAY? I'm sorry.

I think it's fair to say you and I might not be kindred spirits. I like seasons. Palm trees are lovely, but I can't ever call a place with no seasons home. I love mass transit. I don't tan. I love living in a city that doesn't revolve around one industry. Trust. I lived in DC for seven years. DC is you for nerds. I didn't thrive there, so I suspect you and I just wouldn't work out.

But you are pretty. You have great tacos. You know how to have a good time. And yes, I got jealous when one of my expatriates told me he saw the last scene of How I Met Your Mother being filmed while hanging out on his lunch break. I just had to content myself with the Banksy outside my apartment with the sweeping riverfront views mere steps from the greatest art museum in the worCRAP THERE I GO AGAIN.

Apologies, LA. That wasn't sporting. Back on topic.

But most importantly, you're now the home of a not-insignificant number of people who mean a lot to me, and who played really important parts in helping me build a new, wonderful life for myself in a new place not so very long ago. Now they've come to you. So if I promise to lay off, will you promise to take care of them? And be nice to them like New York was to me? And maybe, just maybe, we can have a proper peace summit in person.

Maybe in February. February sucks in New York. There. You can have February. We'll keep October. Happy?

And I shall continue to hate on the Lakers. I'm afraid that's non-negotiable. But you understand.

In reconciliation,

XO R