In 1983 James Urbaniak was 19 years old and attending community college and living in Marlboro, New Jersey, in Monmouth County. Like a lot of smart younger males at that time, he absolutely worshiped David Letterman, whose Late Night talk show had debuted the previous year. In February of that year he secured a ticket to attend a taping of the show; he was really excited about it.
During the monologue Letterman attempted to tell a joke he had tried and failed to tell in the previous night’s monologue, and ended up flubbing it a second time. When Letterman commented that he had screwed it up two nights in a row, the future Dr. Venture cried out, “Can I try it?”—and Letterman, making a snap decision he’d be far less likely to make on his CBS show, The Late Show, agreed. “Jim” Urbaniak bounded down from the audience, and the rest is history—really, really inconsequential history.
Here’s a cute animated video from Vulture/UCB Comedy in which Urbaniak tells the story:
I fully endorse all of Urbaniak’s musings about the chintziness of the Late Night aesthetic and the much less unbuttoned comedy found on Letterman’s CBS show. According to Splitsider, the guests that night were “Andy Kaufman and wrestler Freddie Blassie; Alba Ballard and her costumed birds; and Marv Albert and his sports bloopers.” That might be a little bit of an in-joke; that’s pretty much a concocted ideal memory of what every show was like.
As it happens, I also attended a taping of Late Night with David Letterman, and I was also 19 when I did so. The year was 1989, and the guests were Bob Hope, Melanie Mayron and Robyn Hitchcock. I restrained myself from attempting to hijack monologue duties, however.
This is probably as good a place as any to inform you about his new podcast Getting On with James Urbaniak.
Here’s the actual clip of Urbaniak telling the monologue joke on Late Night in 1983:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
David Letterman checking out Cher’s bum (1987)