Editors note: We are thrilled to welcome internationally known political satirist, activist, comedian and author Barry Crimmins as a contributor to our pages. In addition to all his other talents, Barry helped create the Boston comedy scene, introducing some giant talents to the world. Crimmins remarkable story is now the subject of an award winning bio-documentary directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, “Call Me Lucky.”
After I did the HBO Young Comedians Special (in my final year of eligibility), the LA Times interviewed me for its Sunday “pink section”. The interviewer asked me why I hadn’t done Carson or Letterman. I truthfully answered that Carson’s people liked me but thought my politics (I’m a political satirist) were a bit much– Johnny can take cracks at the president because people know and trust him but a relatively unknown comic? A little dicey.
I was gracious and actually thought “Fair enough.”
And then I said (this and all quotes approximated), “But Letterman’s people told me flat-out, no politics. And that was more disappointing.”
Either Monday or Tuesday night following the story (in any case it was the next new Late Night after the article), Letterman came out and did an entirely political monologue. I was relatively certain he had read the story in the LA Times.
When my mail came the next day, all doubt was removed. I received the ultimate viewer mail, from Dave himself. In it he stated unequivocally that “We have no such policy concerning politics, ‘flat-out’ or otherwise.” It felt as if the stationary itself held me beneath contempt.
Wow! All I’d done was express a vague generational disappointment that Dave’s show had such a policy — a policy that I believed was in place because his rep Robert Morton, who had always generously praised my act, told me it was. I believed him and all but gave up on the show.
I didn’t respond to Dave but told a few people about it. Within a few weeks they booked my friends Bill Hicks and Jimmy Tingle for their first appearances on the program. At this point I was glad I’d said something. Perhaps Dave had no idea political acts weren’t being considered for shots on his program. In fact I came to believe this to be the case.
A few weeks later I was in LA and doing a set at the Melrose Improv. After I came off Jay Leno asked me to sit down with him. He’d heard about my Letterman problem and offered to smooth things out between me and Dave. I politely deferred, effectively keeping myself off major late-night shows for the next several decades. My self-destructiveness is nothing if not efficient. Jay must have rightly decided I was an oaf, biting off my nose to spite my face. Dave was done with me when he signed that note he sent.
Many times over the years I’ve regretted the way I responded, as well as the way I was originally misunderstood for telling the truth. A few Leno and/or Letterman shots would have made a big difference for what I euphemistically refer to as “my career”. But mostly I wanted to apologize to Dave, who demonstrated the open-mindedness to put Bill and Jimmy and others on his show and Jay, who offered to intercede on my behalf when there wasn’t a damned thing in it for him.
I think it only appropriate that now, when it’s too late for me to derive any late-night benefit from it, I offer sincere apologies to both David Letterman and Jay Leno.
Follow Barry Crimmins on twitter @crimmins