Trey Wingo is one of the main faces of ESPN’s year-round NFL coverage as host of NFL Live, NFL Primetime and the NFL Draft. He originally joined the company in 1997 as an anchor for ESPNEWS, but long before that he started his television career working behind the scenes on “Late Night with David Letterman.” As the legendary talk show host says farewell this Wednesday, Wingo shares fond memories of Letterman and of working as a page.
My first job in television? I was a page at NBC at [the famed] 30 Rock [building] in New York City. Yes, insert “Kenneth” jokes here. And amid the dreariness of working in the NBC Store, giving guided tours of the building or sitting in a booth and answering bizarre questions from wandering tourists, was the joy of working on “Late Night with David Letterman.” Back in the 1980s, kids, Letterman was on NBC and came on after another man you’ve probably never heard of – Johnny Carson, host of “The Tonight Show” from Los Angeles.
One of my first weeks there I got a sweet gig: I worked the elevator for the Letterman show. The essence of this job was simple: Take the audience up from the lobby to the sixth floor and filter them into the studio for the show while giving them the rules. That’s right, I was the rule keeper. It was my job to tell them you can’t smoke (people could actually smoke indoors in certain places in the dark ages of the ’80s), you can’t eat or drink, you can’t leave your seat for any reason and if you did, we’d find someone to replace you.
To me, this seemed like a perfect time to hone my comedic skills: CAPTIVE AUDIENCE! I made up a little riff, lovingly ripped off from an old Monty Python sketch which essentially ended with Rule 6. The premise was, there was no rule six. So I timed out the reading of the rules just as the elevator doors opened, and I said one last thing dramatically: “Folks, remember most importantly rule 6 – there is no rule six. Have a great time!” Usually, exactly zero people laughed.
Once the audience was seated you got to stay in the studio. It was awesome. Paul Schaffer and The World’s Most Dangerous Band started playing and you could just feel the energy in the room, it was palpable. Then the warm up comedian Bill Wendell would come out and get the audience in the right frame of mind. But let’s be honest, the elevator guy had already done that. And then Dave came out and off we’d go. Sitting in that studio, listening to the band, watching Dave do his thing, continually puffing on a cigar between commercial breaks in the taping, I knew I wanted to be on TV. (So, blame Dave for your suffering.) No one worked the room like Letterman. It was so cool to see him work his craft.
The other sweet gig on the show was working security. Essentially as a page you stood on the floor in Studio 6A by the side door. It was your job to just stand there, as if a blue blazer and polyester khaki slacks were going to deter someone from pretty much doing anything they wanted once they got inside. Several times when you had that gig some of the skits they did on the show happened right in front of you. As you’re standing there and this happens, two thoughts go through your mind: A) Just stand here don’t do anything stupid or you’ll lose your job, and B) Quick, be brilliant! You’re on national TV; make a memory and then be escorted out by REAL SECURITY. Thought A always won, though Plan B was always what I secretly wanted to do.
The biggest thing I took away from working either the elevator or security for Letterman was just how NICE Dave was to everyone. He always said hi to you, asked how you were, whether you were a page or a staff writer. He genuinely cared. I’ve had tons of great jobs in television, but working the Letterman show may have been the coolest, most fun job I’ve ever had. (Side note: working the “Saturday Night Live” cast party wasn’t all that bad either.)
Everyone has their guy. For me, it was and will always be Dave. I grew up watching him, couldn’t believe I got the chance to work with him, kind of. I’ll miss him when he signs off. To me, he was at his best those years at NBC as a counter-culture figure. But the best news? Dave helped me out more than he could possibly know. One night after doing elevator work I took this young lady out on the town. As was the case often back in those days, we wandered into a favorite watering hole of mine called the Tumble In on the Upper East Side. This was a woman I was trying to impress. And as soon as we walked in the door a rather well lubricated gentleman stared at me with eyes wide open and yelled: “I know you, you’re the. . . ELEVATOR GUY FROM LETTERMAN!”. Mission accomplished. Because not too long after that? She said yes. So thanks Dave, for everything.
— trey wingo (@wingoz) May 19, 2015