February 19, 2007 3:37 PM
Could it be that at long last, late-night king David Letterman is getting fed up with the zany inanities, forced cackled laughter and imbecilic interruptions of his long-time bandleader Paul Shaffer?
Shaffer made an annoyingly disruptive dope of himself on the first night of Letterman's recent mock-event "Ventriloquist Week II" -- rattling on and on about some obscure ventriloquist he used to see on "The Ed Sullivan Show" -- and Letterman did little to hide his extreme disinterest, and displeasure, on the air. Shaffer couldn't take a hint and kept babbling. Letterman's crack staff produced an archival photo of the old ventriloquist in an effort to shut Shaffer up.
Then on subsequent nights (this was last week), there seemed to be less intrusive intervention by Shaffer and definitely fewer cutaways and reaction shots of him ordered up by the director in the booth (or the basement, apparently where the control room is located in the Ed Sullivan Theater where "Late Show" is taped). One longs to think that Letterman read the riot act to Shaffer after the night of his chronic logorrhea -- or that Dave had someone else read it to him, which is more Letterman's style.
He delegates pummeling and firing and unpleasantries like that.
Shaffer's job is surely secure, however. Letterman is legendarily loyal to long-time allies, and his partnership with Shaffer goes way back 25 years to Letterman's first show at NBC. Also, it would be hugely awkward to try to introduce a new bandleader at this late stage of the game. Dave needs a foil, and that director needs someone to cut to.
On some nights, to be fair, the two get clicking and complement each other beautifully. More and more, however, Shaffer's attempted cracks and quips curdle, and those dreadful shrieking "songs" he devises to introduce various segments are as helpful as sandbags falling from the rafters. He's a show-stopper, but in the wrong way.
If only Shaffer would take a cue from Max Weinberg, band leader on NBC's ever-fresh "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Weinberg, whose band is the best in all of late-night TV, speaks when spoken to and then usually from a script. He and O'Brien are a perfect team.
Shaffer does have an awe-inspiring catalog of classic and obscure tunes in his creepy bald head (is he trying to look like Peter Lorre in "Mad Love"?), and comes up with clever tunes to play guests on. But that faux-hipster lounge lizard routine is weary, tired, pooped.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to my genius godson, age 12, for his helpful observations in preparing this cranky but well-intended bloggerino. If anyone wants to print up "Squelch Shaffer" t-shirts and bumper stickers, meanwhile, I'm in for one of each.....