Open Mic

Barnhart on Letterman: This is Creepy-—Telling a Story About Having Sex With Your Employees to People Who LAUGH and APPLAUD

Aaron Barnhart Posted October 3, 2009 at 7:00 PM

Tags: blackmail, employees, extortion, Letterman, sex


I don't know where to begin with David Letterman's bizarro, play-it-for-laughs on-air admission that he had sex with staff members.

On the one hand, good for him for telling a fairly unvarnished account of being blackmailed by a Connecticut man for $2 million and admitting to the "creepy things," as Dave kept putting it, the blackmailer was threatening to take public.

On the other hand: Couldn't somebody have gone out between the first and second act and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Letterman is about to talk about something very difficult and though you might be tempted to laugh, please don't."

Instead, Letterman (whether by accident or design) wound up playing the story for laughs, and even drew applause with his admission that he'd had affairs with employees. Here are the highlights...

After a monologue that included more than one Roman Polanski joke -- which I found odd given my knowledge of what was coming -- act two began with Dave, who was clearly enjoying his audience, saying "I'm glad you folks are here tonight and in such a good mood ..... Do you feel like a story?" (Crowd: Yeahh!!)

So he starts talking about finding the package in the back of his car at 6 a.m. and the note, which read, "I know that you do some terrible, terrible things." Laughter. "A guy is going to write a screenplay about me ... unless I give him some money. ... That's a little hinky!" More laughter.

You can tell Letterman is trying to ratchet up the gravity. He uses the word "terrifying" to describe his response to this extortion letter. Later on he says, "This whole thing has been quite scary." But for every one of those statements there's one like this: "If you know anything about me, I am just a towering mass of Lutheran midwestern guilt." Of course, the crowd laughs. It sounds funny.

The first tipoff to the audience should have been Dave's statement, "This guy knows creepy stuff about me" --not "this guy thinks he knows creepy stuff about me."

And then finally, after telling the audience that the suspect, now ID's as Robert Halderman, had been arrested, applause, finally Dave reveals the allegation in the screenplay: that "I have had sex with women who worked for me on the show." And....?

My response to that is, yes, I have," said Letterman. At this admission, the audience laughs and then rolls into applause.

If this was the reaction of most of Dave's audience at home, then he's home free.

If it wasn't, he's got a lot of damage control to do.

I'm sure over time, the blackmailer will merge in my memory with the would-be babynapper and the schizophrenic stalker as evidence that David Letterman is some kind of magnet for seriously disturbed people–—the "King of Comedy" as well as of late night.

But right now, this night stands out as singularly icky in the annals of David Letterman. And I don't think that feeling's going to fade anytime soon.

For one thing, as employees of Worldwide Pants (!), the females who had sex with Dave work or worked for Dave. So there's potentially a power issue involved, as anyone who's been in an unfortunate liaison with their boss already knows.#

To see a clip of Letterman telling this story on his show, click here