David Letterman’s friends and colleagues turn out for his Mark Twain Prize

David Letterman: The Mark Twain Prize
The former late-night host is saluted in the new special “David Letterman: The Mark Twain Prize” Monday, November 20, on PBS.

For at least one attendee, watching David Letterman accept a major career honor recently also meant deeply meaningful reunions.

Multiple Emmy Award winner Barbara Gaines was an associate producer on Letterman’s morning and late-night shows at NBC, then became executive producer of CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman.” She and such other associates of the talk-show icon such as bandleader Paul Shaffer, announcer Alan Kalter and stage manager Biff Henderson regathered last month at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as Letterman became the 20th recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. PBS televises the ceremony Monday, Nov. 20 (check local listings).

On the trek to Washington from New York, Gaines went with several other alumni of “Late Show,” which ended in 2015. “That was fun,” she says, “because I hadn’t seen them in a while. It was very special.”

Gaines also spent substantial time in Letterman’s company again during the weekend of the event: “I did what I do best, which is just hanging around staring at him while he works. I sat in the room in his hotel and watched him write, basically, and it was fun to be in the presence of my friend. And I went with him to the rehearsal. I wasn’t working during any of these things, I was really just there.”

Bill Murray and Steve Martin – both previous Twain Prize honorees – as well as Martin Short, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Kimmel, Norm Macdonald, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Chris Elliott, music’s Eddie Vedder and (via video) former First Lady Michelle Obama are among others who feted Letterman … who, of course, got his say at the evening’s end.

“It was jam-packed,” Gaines confirms, “and I thought Dave was fantastic. And Norm Macdonald, he’s so clever and different and funny. I just thought he was fabulous. You have to do your toast or roast of Dave, and I don’t think it’s necessarily an easy task for a performer to decide what they want to do. (Macdonald) came out and his premise was, ‘Please consider voting for Dave for the award.’ It was hilarious.”

Letterman now has a Netflix deal for a series in which he’ll conduct in-depth interviews. While Gaines isn’t involved in that, she’s eager to see it, based on how well she knows the man who kept her in his employ over two networks, three shows and 35 years.

“That sounds perfect for him,” she reflects, “just to concentrate on one person. He was never a six-minute type of person with a guest; he never liked that. There was never enough time for him to talk to someone, so this seems ideal. An hour isn’t even enough.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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