How My Letter Was Read on David Letterman

The Straight Man



It was early fall of 1992, I was 15 and a junior in high school. I was taking driver’s ed, and once a week during study hall I could get some extra driving training in with the instructor, Mr. Fisher. For some reason, the teacher didn’t want to go on these driving excursions with only one student. We needed a driving partner in order to get this extra time in. However, no other current driver’s ed students had a study hall or PE class when I was free. My chance to get these extra hours in during school time was in peril.

Being a huge fan of David Letterman and especially the Viewer Mail segment, I had the idea to write to Dave to see if he could come down to central Illinois and be my driving partner. Great solution, right?

I sent the letter off to Letterman and was told by my friends and family, “Dave will never read that on the show.”

Of course he wouldn’t. I figured he got thousands of letters — and that was assuming what he read was even real in the first place. I never expected him to read my letter. But it was fun to send it anyway.

A couple months went by and the driving situation resolved itself in time for me to get my license on my mid-November birthday. I was in drama when I was in high school, and our fall play was Friday, Nov. 6. We had done a version of the musical “Working” but stripped out all the music and done as more of a spoken form poetry. Each of us had to play several parts. It was exhausting.

I got home that night after the play and sat down to watch some television, looking forward to my usual routine of Viewer Mail. But I was beat. I just wanted to go to bed. So I stuck a tape in the VCR and set it to tape that night’s Letterman. 

Next day, I wake up. Not much was on the Saturday morning cartoon schedule of interest to me, so I rewind the tape from the night before to watch Letterman. I must reiterate to you at this point ... I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!

Really, it’s mostly a blur up until Dave got to “letter number two.” He comes out, does his monologue, heads over to his desk, makes some jokes with Paul and then starts Viewer Mail. The first letter resulted in him playing some footage of barn owls eating mice or something. Then he says, “Ah ... letter number five, no letter number two ... woooooo.”

Matt Burke

There’s my life before that sentence was uttered, and there’s my life after. Dave begins to say words that seemed very familiar to me. And the image on the screen was ... my letter? MY LETTER?! IS THAT MY LETTER?! IS DAVID LETTERMAN READING MY LETTER?!?!

Then he ends it by saying, “This comes to us from Carlin Trammel, Philo, Illinois.”

It was surreal.

He proceeds to then say, ‘You know Carlin, I get so many requests like this ...’ ” HE SAID MY NAME! HE SAID MY NAME TWICE!

Dave pulls out a cardboard cutout of himself, “Dave the Scared Passenger,” that is his replacement since he is unable to go around the country and help teenagers learn how to drive. There were lots of laughs and then he proceeds on to the next letter.

I was — and 21-plus years later I still am — dumbfounded. But it was shortly after the letter was read and my bit was over that I realized something even more amazing:

I HAVE THIS ON TAPE!!

Who’s going to believe this happened? How was I ever to see it again? Those are questions I never had to ask. Remember, this is well before the days of video on demand. If I had seen it live, I presume I would have contacted the local affiliate immediately and tried to get a copy somehow, but I didn’t have to. I had no warning this was going to happen. No heads up from anyone at Late Night or NBC. It was a series of events that just worked out perfectly. And it’s a memory I’ve been able to treasure ever since.

People ALWAYS ask me, “Did they send you the cardboard cutout?” No, Dave gave it to Tony Randall on the show. I don’t know what happened to it after that. I assume Tony Randall is buried with it. To which those same people usually reply, “Ah man, they should have sent it to you!”

I disagree. Of course I would gladly have accepted that cardboard cutout of “Dave the Scared Passenger,” but I don’t need it. Having the letter read was more than enough. To be a part of Late Night with David Letterman, no matter how small, to have heard Dave say my name on national television, and to have been a punk 15-year-old kid that had a chance to set Dave up for a joke ... asking for anything more would just be selfish.

Check out a clip from the orginal episode of David Letterman:

 

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