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

Oct 3, 2009


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


  1. Do we not remember Michael Richards’ ill-fated apology on Letterman a while back? Done all the while comedian/co-star Jerry Seinfeld is sitting in the guest chair and the audience guffawing at the awkwardness of it all.

  2. I didn’t see David Letterman’s comments “live” on his show, but I did see the clips played on the local news. I agree it seemed to be very awkward and something at which NOT to be laughed and something for which NOT to be applauded. The whole situation is creepy at best, considering the blackmailer is a fellow CBS employee, let alone being from CBS News. Also, it’s creepy that an employer is having sex with his female staff, especially since that employer makes a living telling jokes about others having such indiscretions. CBS needs to conduct its own internal investigation into this entire story if it has not done so already. What happened to people having SELF-CONTROL in their lives? Whether we hear about sexual conquests, murders, stealing, road rage, etc., where is the SELF-CONTROL to stop one from committing such acts. I think it’s a sad commentary on our society and civilization.

  3. For Letterman to joke about his disgusting sex offenses with women employed by him and who wanted to keep their jobs – is sinful and disgraceful. His wife should get the message that he has in no way repented and she and her child should leave this sexual predator, who is able to joke about his offenses and find a real life elsewhere. He disgusts me.

  4. If Letterman were at say, a normal company, he’d be out the door so fast his head would swim. Well, one would hope. The trouble is that CBS can’t fire him for what he did because he’s an industry. However, I’m sure once this news came out, the lawyers and accountants at CBS were quaking at the potential of sexual harrassment lawsuits, people possibly saying “Hey, he promoted her over me and was sleeping with her.”
    The whole situation is distasteful and I feel very sorry for Letterman’s wife, who now may wonder – did he sleep with any staffer while he was dating/sleeping with her? Or while married to her?
    The trouble with his apologies is, are they sincere? Or is he just doing damage control?

  5. Shame on Dave, for the entire situation. His so called apology to his wife was literally a joke…..playing it for laughs was pathetic. I used to admire his talent…now he is just another pathetic older man who thinks with his penis. This is the sort of man his son is supposed to look up to? He has no class,Dave is a #1 looser.

  6. I never saw this live, but I’ve heard all about this. And if you ask me, i couldn’t care less.

  7. Well aren’t you the self-righteous one! I wonder how your personal life stacks up. As long as it’s everyone’s right to know. And how would you handle this? I think Letterman’s been a class act the whole way. You and these people posting here need to get your own lives and quit being such Puritanical, self-righteous, holier-than-thou sticks in the mud. Get a life. Get over yourselves.

  8. Aaron you need to get laid dude you sound gay !

  9. rewrite this mess:
    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.#

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