My Brush With Greatness

by Michael Yessis on May 20, 2015

I once sat three feet from David Letterman for six hours and didn’t know it.

It happened in the mid-1980s. My dad worked for TWA, and as part of his benefits I could snag a free spot on any TWA flight with an open seat. Sometimes, if seats were available, I could pay a small amount for a business class ticket. That’s what I did for a LAX-JFK red eye on the way to visit my grandma. I can’t recall what I did to pass the time on that flight. (In the mid-1980s it probably included a few listens to my takeoff and landing song, “Waitress in the Sky.”) I do remember calling my dad sometime after we landed. He had seen the flight manifest. He knew I was a huge Letterman fan.

“Did you see him?” my dad asked.


“David Letterman. He sat right behind you.”

It’s one of my greatest lost opportunities.

I’m not sure what I would have said to my television hero. A man who ranked the numbers between one and ten. A man who wore a Velcro suit. A man who hosted his show on an airborne TWA jet.

Who knows if he would even have spoken to me on that flight. Maybe I would have told him I was a big fan and he would have eviscerated me for waking him up on a red eye. It would have made this a much better story.

But nothing happened except I kept on watching his show. I bought the Late Night T-shirt. Pre-YouTube, I visited the Museum of Television to watch Late Night episodes with Andy Kaufman and early REM appearances. I got tickets to see him and musical guest REM in person at the Ed Sullivan Theater.

Letterman set the bar for what I find funny and made me laugh so freaking hard.

Thanks, Dave. I’ll miss seeing you on my screen.

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