Andy Hendrickson: An inside look at the Late Show with David Letterman Process
Andy Hendrickson was kind enough to answer all my questions about the inner workings of a Late Show gig. Andy was also generous in allowing us to post a practice set of the exact material he’d perform on Letterman. If you want to know how to kill on Letterman, this is a great place to start. Enjoy!
RC(RooftopComedy):Congratulations on a phenomenal Late Show debut! This is a moment comics dream about and only a select few will ever realize. I’d like to explore the Late Show experience from the beginning to how it’s currently impacting your career, so let’s get started!
RC: How were you contacted and how did Letterman hear of or see you?
There are 3 bookers that work together to find comics and prep them for the show. I met them through a comedian friend of mine here in NYC and sent them a link of about 10 minutes of my best TV material.
RC: How much lead time were you given before the appearance? What kind of instructions did they give you regarding time/material. Was there an approval process for the jokes?
It was a long process for me but it’s different for everyone. It took almost a year of whittling my set down from 10min to about 7min for a live showcase. Then based on that live showcase we cut it down to about 4-4.5 minutes and then I did another live audition. Then we tweaked a couple things and moved the order around. I kept sending them links to revised versions of the set. I had one line that I added that got approved the day before. They’re looking for about 4 minutes in the club. It translates to about 5 minutes in front of the Letterman audience with applause breaks and solid laughs. They are great at what they do. They picked out some really good jokes that fit the style of the show…and I figured out how to put them together. Then we made adjustments.
Eventually, I was given a ballpark as to when it might happen but I got official notice on a Monday and recorded a week later on a Tuesday.
RC: I’m going to have both clips of the performance in the article. Is there anything you want to say about either clip?
Well, the clip from The Comic Strip was on a Sunday night in front of a mostly European tourist crowd. I recorded Letterman on a Tuesday. At that point I had the set down word for word. They were kind of rough crowd and weren’t quite warmed up yet. I just pretended I was in front of a huge crowd that was laughing hard and practiced going slow. Sometimes that’s tough to do when they’re not quite on board with what you’re doing. You know you should stick to the script but your instincts tell you to speed up, change the jokes or maybe talk to the crowd. I just forced myself to rehearse as if I was on Letterman.
RC: Have you appeared on any other late night or television program before?
No, this was my network TV debut.
RC: How did you feel leading up to the performance, during and after?
I felt really good about the whole thing. I had been prepping and rehearsing this same set for a few months so I knew it backwards and forwards. The week before the taping I ran around NYC and did my set about 15 times.The experience was a little surreal when I was standing on the side of the stage ready to go out. I could see Letterman at his desk and it really hit me that this was going to happen. I just told myself to have fun. I knew I had enough experience and if anything weird came up my instincts would take over and the set would go great. Those Letterman crowds are the best. Afterward, I felt great. I felt relieved and excited. I knew it went well. I had a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. I told myself that all the hard work pays off.
RC: What kind of in studio practice did you get? Were you given coaching?
No studio practice. You get to walk out on the stage and stand on your mark. You get a feel for the space and the room… its smaller than you would think. It’s very intimate in there. Like doing a small theater. The crowd is really close and very receptive. As soon as I got my first joke out I really loosened up and just performed like I would for a great theater crowd.
No coaching really. I’ve been studying Letterman comedy sets for a few years. I have friends that have done the show. I knew that it’s best to go really slow and let the jokes breathe a little. I also knew to expect applause breaks and laughs in places where you don’t normally get them. I wasn’t sure what to do with my hands because there’s no mic. I tried to practice that as well but I figured it would come naturally just like having a conversation at a party. I always try to make it feel like I’m just having a conversation with the crowd.
RC: Have you always been a fan of the Late Show with David Letterman?
I’ve always been a big fan of the show. Since college. It has been a goal of mine to perform on the show since I got into comedy. It still feels a little surreal.
RC: Why do you think the Late Show has more gravitas than other late night programming?
I think its because the Late Show has a solid tradition of smart comedy. The show has it’s own style that has been consistent for years and years. People respect that. People respect David Letterman as a comedy icon.
RC: Was this an opportunity you visualized in your mind far before it happened?
Absolutely. Before I had my opportunity to do the show, I went backstage with a friend who did the show and I’ve sat in the audience. I stood on the stage in the spot where you perform. I visualized myself being there, performing and killing…. more than I care to admit.
RC: At what point did it seem like Letterman was a possibility?
As soon as we started selecting specific jokes I felt I was on the right track.
RC: Have you already felt an impact on your career? Have any immediate opportunities surfaced from the appearance? Are you hoping for anything specifically?
I’ve had a few things pop up here and there. I can’t be too specific but, yes, it’s already impacted my career in a great way.
RC: Any advice you’d give a comic about to debut their stand-up on TV?
Just have fun. You’ve already put in the hard work and you deserve this moment. Make sure you enjoy it and that’ll come across to the audience.
Thanks Andy! If you want to keep tabs on where Andy will be performing visit his website, www.andyhendrickson.com
Follow him on twitter @andyhendrickson
And checkout his latest album, Underachiever