I was in front of the television the night that Late Night With David Letterman premiered. I had been a big fan of Dave since catching a stand-up performance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Heck, I even watched his morning talk show. So you can well imagine the intensity of my expectations for entry into the more wide-open and suitable arena of late night talk shows. Over the years I had forgotten all about Larry Bud Melman’s opening bit-the takeoff of the opening from Frankenstein. That’s one of the few Melman bits I had forgotten.
Calvert DeForest, the man who appeared on Late Night With David Letterman as Larry Bud Melman, died recently as you probably know. You may well wonder why DeForest wasn’t known as Larry Bud Melman on Letterman’s CBS show. Well, the truth is that NBC is run by a bunch of weasels with all the loyalty of a horny high school kid who was just come on to by his best friend’s girl. The suits at NBC would rape their grandmothers if they thought it would bring back Must See TV on Thursday. NBC of course will go down in history as the network that preferred the comedic stylings of a man whose claim to comedic immortality rests upon giving the world “Dancing Itos” over the man who made the network truckloads of money with such inventive comedy bits as elevator racing, throwing fruit off the top of a building, and Stupid Pet Tricks. Yes, NBC legendarily screwed David Letterman by handing over the coveted Tonight Show host job to Jay “I Make the Suits At NBC Look Like Jesus Christ” Leno. And then they had the nerve to claim that the character of Larry Bud Melman was their intellectual property. (Let’s make it a law that the word “intellectual” can never be used in conjunction with NBC unless it involves Keith Olbermann.) What did NBC do with their precious character of Larry Bud Melman following Letterman’s exodus to CBS? Nada. Nothing. The network stole a beloved character from millions and, in typical NBC fashion, gave nothing in return. Jay Leno couldn’t have found a more deserving company to pay him for his nightly experiment in a comedy show that provides no laughs.
Meanwhile, even a name change could do nothing to undermine the Letterman audience’s embrace of Calvert DeForest. The name really wasn’t important, although Melman seemed to suit him better than DeForest. It was his appearance under either name that provided so many of the memorable moments from Dave’s shows. No one who saw it will ever forget his legendary appearance handing out hot towels to passengers arriving at the Port Authority but depot. He was still Bud Melman then and hadn’t quite grasped the technical intricacies involved in managing a hand-held microphone. The really funny part of this bit isn’t so much Calvert, but watching David Letterman collapse in hysterics as he watches Larry Bud Melman move the microphone over for a response before he’s finished the question, creating legendary comedy from the simple act of the fading volume of one man’s voice.
The greatest of DeForest’s appearances on Letterman’s shows were always the result of a team effort. Calvert DeForest & David Letterman were latter day throwbacks to such classic comedy teams as Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis. As hilarious as DeForest/Melman was, what really made his appearances comic gold was watching Letterman absolutely lose it. Another memorable instance was the time that Larry Bud dressed up as Santa Claus and was supposed to read a Christmas story to some kids on stage. Several rumors surround this classic moment of Larry Bud Melman humor, but the truth seems to be that the writers honestly thought he would be reading the story off cue cards rather than straight from the book. As it turned out there were no cue cards and the book handed to Melman was written in either French or Spanish. The result was that he couldn’t read it and the whole bit collapsed into a comedy of errors that left David Letterman in stitches.
In addition to his regular gig on Dave’s shows, Calvert DeForest occasionally popped up other places. For instance, he once appeared on Pee Wee’s Playhouse as Rusty-O and even showed up in a Nine Inch Nails video. But he’ll always be Larry Bud Melman to me and all the lawyers at the disposal at NBC’s overlords at GE can’t stop me from stealing their property for use in my memories.