David Letterman and his amazing 'little story'

“Do you feel like a little story?” David Letterman asked the studio audience last night. He was sitting at his desk. He’d already done his monologue, which included a joking aside about “takin’ a ride on the Appalachian trail.”

And then for ten minutes, he told the story that had broken only a couple of hours before: that he’d been the object of an extortion attempt, and that “I have had sex with women who work on the show.” But before he said that he put it in the context of an odd, often humorously phrased anecdote, almost a folksy shaggy-dog story.

He told us about the “little package in the back of my car” that he found, which contained a threat from a man who wrote that he knew “some terrible, terrible things” about Letterman. The audience laughed heartily. He said “the guy said [he was] going to write a screenplay about me,” and that Dave’s first thought was, “that’s a little hinky” — “hinky” being a favorite bit of Letterman-language for odd things. The demand was for two million dollars.

He said it was a “terrifying moment,” “quite scary,” and that “I felt menaced.” He said he decided to take the threat to the authorities and “I had to tell them all the creepy things I had done.” Again, he got laughs from this.

“Now of course we get to, what was all the creepy stuff?… The creepy stuff was, I have had sex with women who work on the show.” There was silence mingled with gasps — for the first time, no laughs then. “My answer to that was, yes, I have.” He got applause and laughter from this, but it seemed a bit more nervous. “Would [this news] prove embarrassing?” he asked rhetorically. “Yes it would — especially for the women.” And the audience laughed quite loudly.

Here’s the thing about that reaction: If you’ve ever been in a studio audience before, you know you’re almost hypnotized into giddy good humor. You’ve been standing on a line for hours, you’ve had a warm-up guy come out and joke and tell you what to expect (Letterman usually comes out and does his own warm-up bit, to the best of my knowledge). And we no longer live in a culture where, upon hearing something disturbing, people feel comfortable saying (not shouting), “For shame!” or quietly walking out. In any case, I’m sure everyone was just pretty stunned, and that some of the laughter was of the nervous sort.

In a sense, Letterman had a captive audience with which to frame his admission. But that said, this was an extraordinary piece of television. He took what could be a damaging scandal, a tale of blackmail and workplace relationships, and turned it into a story that was at least in part about what he termed his “towering, Midwestern mass of guilt.”

Letterman even managed to get in a few more mild jokes about it. “I know what you’re sayin': ‘Oh, Dave had sex!'” — a reference to his age (62). And though he said he would not have more to say about it, when he came back from a commercial, he said he’d taken questions from the audience during the break and “a guy said, ‘I’d like to see that movie.'” More laughs. On with the show.

This is going to play out in ways that you or I or Letterman cannot predict. There are going to be a lot of talks about consensual versus coerced sexual relationships, about Letterman’s history of making jokes about straying politicians. We’ll hear debates and conjectures about his long-term relationship and marriage since March to Regina Lasko, the mother of his son, Harry. Letterman will be mocked and he’ll be defended.

As it stands right now, though, what Letterman did last night was a striking, unique, and — for all the laughter it provoked — dramatic example of how a celebrity deals with both a threat and a scandal.

I’m sure you have your own opinions on how Letterman handled it, below.

More on David Letterman:
From the archives: Our Q&A with Stephanie Birkitt, former Letterman assistant
David Letterman reveals extortion attempt

Comments (581 total) Add your comment
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  • Chappel

    Other comics can forget about the comedy drought that began when George W. left the White House. Now they have Dave (you work for me? take off your clothes) Letterman.

    • KEH

      Sounds like Palin was right about him when he made a sick joke about her daugther (either teenager). Men who have patterns of using thier power to gain sexual favors have issues around women and power over them.

      • Aw

        You keep swinging but still… no hits. Try again!

      • Samantha

        Men who have patterns of using their power to gain sexual favors, and the way he didnt show any respct for Sarah Palin and now this!Proves he’s a creepy old man! Time for David to leave CBS! PLEASE!

      • Dahlia

        Who says he was getting sexual favors? And he apologized to Sarah “Quitter” Palin, so wait for the facts before you all judge. To tell the story to a live audience on a broadcast, well, that’s brave and perhaps he did these things before he was married. You can’t honestly think that his wife didn’t know about this? Just wait for the facts to unfold and anyone who brings up Sarah Palin should spontaneously combust. I am so tired in how quickly our society writes people off because they hear a portion of a story and we are so quick to judge. Let it unfold, and thank you Ken Tucker for a well told and balanced account of last night’s episode.

      • gd

        well…I certainly don’t have any respect for Sarah Palin. That doesn’t mean I’m an adulterer, or a creepy old man.

      • joe

        letterman is simply a moronic idiotic fool! I’ve know this for years, and now the whole country knows it! Hopefully, this will lead to his downfall, so we no longer have to see or listen to this miserable pathetic stupid man!

      • Allison

        All of these “christian value” motivated people so eager and delighted to judge and condemn. Forget, the obvious fact that you have no context for any of the relationships or knowledge of where he and his wife stand together, you are eager and happy to condem. So Christlike.

      • Alex P keaton

        Here is an idea – Im sick of both Letterman AND Palin – both media whores who should stay out of spotlight

      • rowan

        I like how you jump to the conclusion that Dave somehow used his position to coerce women into sleeping with him. Who says they weren’t attracted to him? He’s brilliant, charming, self-deprecating and very very funny – All things that many women find attractive. Until women come out and say they felt they HAD to sleep with him or their careers were in jeopardy, don’t assume abuse of power.

        AS for Palin – how does sleeping with consenting adult women translate into Palin’s snide insinuation that he leans toward underage girls? It doesn’t.

      • Men Just Don’t Get This

        In my opinion, the coercion is inherent in the position. Dave Letterman owns, produces and stars in his show. He is the show. You work on the show. He wants you. How long and fruitful a career do you think you are going to have if you dodge or refuse him? “A million women would kill for this job” doesn’t just fit the situation in “The Devil Wears Prada.”
        Rowan, I am sure many women are genuinely attracted to David Letterman. But if he’s your boss and he comes on to you (not you to him), coercion is inherent in the act. It’s not an assumption of abuse of power; it IS abuse of power. By the same token, I don’t think it should be assumed that attraction implies consent.
        My subject line refers to the fact that still in this day and age, most men have no idea what it feels like to be sexually objectified in the workplace. For the record, it’s creepy and demeaning.

      • Ryan

        Men Just Don’t Get This, you are assuming as well that Letterman came onto the women and not the other way around. I have not watched the video or the show, so I don’t know if that has been addressed or not. If it has not been addressed either way then you are jumping to conclusions that may not be accurate.

        Also even if he came onto them they did not HAVE to say yes. he may have just asked someone out to dinner and things went elsewhere.

        I am not saying he is innocent of coercion, but I am saying he is not 100% guilty either. Until more details are available there is no reason to assume either way.

      • Julie E.

        Sarah Palin has given us all many, many reasons not to respect her. Not respecting her does not, in and of itself, mean you are immoral.

      • AnnSanDiego

        Seriously? You are bringing up Palin? Letterman and Palin have both moved on so should you and everyone else who feels the need to bring up a bad joke about Palin’s daughter that probably wasn’t even writen by Letterman.

      • Andrea

        Have you thought that perhaps the women came on to him??? This isn’t the age of quiet and prude women anymore… if a woman wants a man she’ll go up and ask for it! Maybe there are alot of assertive women that work for his show??
        I think he handled this situation about being THREATENED, very well, better than the politicians who deny deny deny, until they then have to admit that yeah I slept with her/him. By bringing it out to the light on his own terms, one would logically think that he’d spoken to his new wife about his past, and the issues at hand. Who knows, maybe they had an Open Relationship prior to marriage, and she was cool with it! Whatever the situation was/is, it’s none of our damned business! So go back to your gossiping about neighbours, and keep your judgemental comments to yourself! Don’t Judge, lest ye be Judged!

    • Leo

      Hmmm…well, I just thought it was a shame that it had to come out at all, which is always my response when I hear about these matters. I always feel for the spouse or partner of the cheater. In this case, Regina, who probably already knew about the indiscretions but would feel humiliated and pained that now everyone else knows about Dave cheating on her several times, as well. I kind of wish he’d been more serious about it and publicly apologized or expressed shame about hurting his wife and his son who might hear about this at school.

    • Emma

      Oh who cares? He’s not my priest, just an entertainer. If he’d killed someone, I might be perturbed. If one of the women were suing I might consider not watching. But just the fact that he slept with his employees (who have not accused him of harassment) does not change my view of him in any way. Frankly, I plan to continue watching with the same love for him as before.

      • JP

        I will also continue to watch. A boss and an employee having sex is NOT always coercion or harassment. Sometimes it’s just adults enjoying themselves.
        On the other hand, Dave is a victim of a crime and I’m sorry to see yet another nut going after him.

      • AnnSanDiego

        I second your opinion.

  • Leonard

    This is the last straw. I’ve watched with sadness as Letterman has descended from the top of his game, to a bitter old man, and now a pathetic shell of his former self.

    It’s a shame and a poor commentary on our society that infidelity is even considered a topic of humor, whether it’s politicians, celebrities, or the guy down the hall at work. Just as I’ve never been comfortable with comedians joking about the latest big name to get caught cheating, I won’t be comfortable with the reaction that Dave gets.

    Sad. I pray for Dave and his family that they can get past this.

    • Frank Bean

      True fans will not be shocked or bothered by this. People have always loved Dave because of the human element. Humans make mistakes. The people who chose him over Leno night after night will continue to tune in and appreciate the very same quirky satire that we have enjoyed for season after season.

      • Beth Taylor

        David Letterman is human and continues to make mistakes? No he got caught even it was by another slimy old man like himself. He used his show to present it first and how humiliating for his family or son to one day witness that piece of footage. I thought he was kidding at first and frankly I say women do consent in the workplace and if they did consent then they are as sick as he is. I don’t watch David and always thought he was a creep on TV. Who cares what these overpayed entertainers do but what a sad continual sequence of having to hear about this in every aspect of our media.

    • tony

      how do you know that this didn’t happen before they were married?

      • msmag

        Yes it does not in no way mention when it happened it could of been years ago.

      • LiLa

        They’ve only been married since March but they’ve been a couple for about 20 years. Their son is 6. I didn’t get the sense that these affairs happened long ago.

      • Sharnita

        He said that it was women who work for the show. The current show has been on for a shorter time period than he has been in a relationship with his wife.

      • Laraclucru

        Exactly… not to mention the fact that Regina Lasko used to work on the show, as did Merrill Marko, one of his ex-girlfriends. Once again, not all of the details are known and everyone’s rushing in with their own judgement. For all we know, he and Lasko may have had an open relationship until they married this past spring.

    • Rudy Frimmel

      Leonard. . . Are you running for Pope or something? You act like our whole society is collapsing because someone in show business had sex with a co worker. Can you really be that naive? And with regard to your assertion that Letterman is no longer funny – who else could have handled the explanation of this the way he did? They audience was 100% on his side and he even got laughs throughout this “confession.”

      • Matt

        He got laughter–but I’d describe it as more nervous laughter, if you listed. The guy is a hack–I’ve never understoof how he’s lasted.

      • Matt

        And make that listened, ha.

      • Shelly

        Not a coworker. An underling. There’s a difference.

      • Bea

        Rudy–Mention prayers or morals and all of sudden your running for
        pope. It’s not being naive, its disgust. You sir, are naive – how else do you think Letterman would
        have handled it? It’s his m.o. I stopped watching Letterman over a year ago. He rubbed me as being
        “sneeky”. Not far off was I. Mr.
        Pompous takes shots at whomever
        he pleases. His political agenda
        hidden but so obvious. His audience? How many of them would be laughing if “all of these creepy things” were being done by their spouses? It’s so much funnier when it’s happening to someone else.


      • Roma

        Go Shelly! He had sex with not one but several (his admission was to sex with “women” and not “woman”) subordinates. There is implied abuse in a sexual relationship between an employer and an employee, which is why so many companies don’t allow such relationships. And to boot, this is a man who made fun of politians and celebrities for their own moral and sexual foibles. Another one standing there in front of us, just like the Emperor, without a stitch of clothing.

      • Leonard

        Exactly how did I “act like our whole society is collapsing” over this? I think it’s sad that people laugh about this. Just like all the people that Dave (and Jay, and Conan, and Jon, etc.) have made fun of for infidelity over the years, IT’S NOT FUNNY. Note that I said I’m praying for him and his family. I wouldn’t wish this pain on anybdoy.

      • Susan

        First of all, anyone who works on the show is an underling. It’s Dave’s show. I have heard rumors about Dave and women on the show since he was on NBC. But think about this: No woman, in all these years, has sued, complained or even discussed the relationship. Surely there are some of these women who no longer work for him who might sue or speak to the tabloids if they felt ill-treated. The fact that no one has, ever, tells me that he treated these women well. There’s no crime in sleeping with an underling. I met my husband when I was a word processor at his law firm. And don’t jump to conclusions about when this occurred – if it was pre-marriage then all the hoopla is about sex in the workplace, which occurs all the time. If it was after his relationship with Regina began, that’s between them. We don’t know what their agreement is. Dave is a classy guy and he’s handled this in a classy manner. And he’s still on top of his game. I had never heard about the rule that if you’re a comedian who comments on others’ pecadilloes, your own behavior must be beyond reproach.

      • Mary

        Well said, Susan.

    • Syd

      Once a cheater always a cheater! Once a creap always a creap! Once a sexist always a sexist! Go home David you DIRTY old man!

      • gd

        umm…it’s creep, not creap. perhaps you should return to school. Or did you never go?

      • John Drake

        Once a misspeller always a misspeller! Go read your dictionary you ILLETERATE finger pointer!

      • Syd

        You’re an idiot.
        Plus, I have been commenting under the name Syd for some time. Stop giving me a bad name.

      • Andrea

        Darling, you’re giving yourself a bad name…don’t go blaming it on others!

    • Dahlia

      Hi Leonard, have you ever been to France? Get over it, the puritanical principles of the past are keeping our country in the dark ages.

      • Felicia

        Sorry but there are reasons that it is frowned upon to have affairs with people who work with you. He’s put himself out there to be hit by an amazing amount of lawsuits now that he’s admitted that there were “women” not a woman.

      • Felicia

        Oh, and France is that country that has sheltered that piece of crap, Roman Polanski for 30 years, right? You’re right, they are forward thinking.

      • sheila crone

        To Dahlia: You think the USA has principles? Look again! We’ve been in the dark ages for some time.

    • Sara

      Letterman is sexy and hilarious. If I was working for him, I’d feel lucky! He didn’t commit a crime, whatever, it was in the workplace before he got married… and I loved the way he handled it.

  • Alex Covic

    Letterman revealed his unethical behavior as a media-stunt on his own show, filled with laughter and applause (!!?). Abusing his position, behaving unprofessionally, one more time.

    Are women – esp. behind the cameras – in the media business, in 2009, still treated like it’s 1959?

    CBS has to fire him. The next 6 weeks TV/papers will be full of him. The next 6 months everybody will look for a book deal. His unprofessional behavior – including last night – should ban him from TV forever.

    (Alex Covic – Twitter: @buckybit)

  • Gary

    I hope the slime from this guy didn’t wipe off on Obama when they shook hands during his show.

    • mladyhart

      Puleese – Obama has his own slime factor- Letterman was doing what every other consenting adult has been doing since the begining of time.

      • Sharnita

        I know plenty of consenting adults who have never had sex with employees who depended on their good will and continued employment.

      • carmel

        OMG!I am always amazed how people can somehow make a connection to our president. ya’ll seem to forget, he not only won the electoral vote , but also the popular vote..by a very large margin. Republicans need to get over it. By the way , extortion is illegal, consenual is NOT!!!

    • AG

      O’s hand were plenty slimy already in other ways..Being in the company of terrorist sympathizers, USA Bashing Preachers, and radical leftists makes having sex with a co-worker like a sweet bouquet of roses..

      • Kevin

        Keep on sniffing that ether…maybe eventually unicorns and pixies will enter into your worldview as well.

      • Nerwen Aldarion

        Amen, I think Obama is more slimy than Letterman…not by much though

      • JEFraley

        If there is one thing social conservatives know about, it’s slime.

      • Minutiae

        And liberals know how to deify a President who hasn’t done one stinkin’ thing yet except bail out big business.

      • kate

        oh no you di”nt.

        what does our president have to do w/this?

        get back in your trailer, idiot!!!

    • Eric

      Other way around.. Letterman was honest AND put a slimeball in jail… Is lying to America a crime? who is the real slime? the one you all put in office!

  • Paula Angelique Hafner

    My question is how many woman and waht were their positions and did any of them enjoy it?

    • Tim

      They worked directly beneath him.

      • Elissa

        Ba dum dum!

      • Jack


    • Rob

      had positions on his staff

    • AG

      Yes..The positions..Very interesting..Both in the office and on the floor…

  • Lee

    He may be flawed, but I still like him.

    • Josh

      I’ve never met a flawless person.

      • Narf

        I’ve never met a flawless person either, but I’ve met plenty of hipocrits. The vast majority of them don’t spew hate speech on late night tv to thunderous applause while displaying moral arrogance and superiority.

  • Collin

    Letterman is awesome. What he does with his penis is of zero concern to me.
    I like the fact that he tackled this head on, had the creep arrested and didn’t let the media get hold of the story and distort it into something it isn’t.
    And “Leonard” — Try not to break a leg when you get off that very very high horse. Save your prayers.

    • mc

      If it’s of zero concern, why does he share it? To save his unfunny ass.

      • Michelle

        Collin said it was of zero interest to HIMSELF. Obviously, it’s of concern to Letterman.

      • not mc

        Why did he share it? TMZ, Us Weekly, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Smoking Gun, etc., etc. It would have been found out sooner or later. Lots of people have had relationships with co-workers, but since he’s a celebrity, this will be blown way out of proportion. He had to beat them to the punch.

    • Nathan

      He only “tackled it head on” AFTER he knew he had to go public. It would still be a secret today if it weren’t for the guy trying to extort money from him And who cares if it happened before or after he was married. He’s been with the same woman over 20 years. If it happened a year before marriage do you think she’d be ok with it then? Letterman is the ultimate hypocrite.

      • not mc

        How do you know what their relationship is like? Maybe she knew. Maybe they have an “open” marriage. Seems to me that someone willing to stay with someone else for 20 years without getting married is pretty comfortable with the fact that their bond is strong. Maybe she’s OK with him straying, maybe he’s OK with her straying too. It’s not uncommon in this day and age.

      • D

        He seems liberal enough to have an open relationship.

      • Gwen

        Good points and I’ll go one step further — it obviously wasn’t a secret to the women who were involved. An uninvolved third party attempting to bring this story forward — and ultimately the “perpetrator” himself breaking the story — is certainly less damaging than if it had been someone who felt victimized by the situation. Hopefully there are no victims here. But I’m sure time will tell and we’ll get far more information than we care to hear about.

  • Belinda

    Wow, Mr. Letterman couldn’t keep his pants up. Should we really be surprised by such sleazy behavior from a filthy 60-something year old pervert who thinks is funny to make “jokes” about teenage girls having “behind the bleachers” sex with 30-something year old men?

    • Rock Golf

      No, we should only be surprised to hear about it from hypocritical self-righteous Republicans who preach “family first” then pay hookers to spank them in diapers or take wide stances or “walk the Appalachian trail”.

      Or maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at that at all.

      • dbanimate

        made me lol :)

    • Bill

      Belinda, oh virtuous one, save your over-the-top judgments for yourself.

  • mike

    I am 56 and like to hit the sack early, so late night is not my thing. I have always thought Dave to be a fruitcake. This is a strange story given the pedigree of the “blackmailer”. It’s out and over really, for Letterman.He’s correct it’s more embarrassing for the women.

  • Jenna

    I think Letterman handled this the best way possible. We still don’t know when these relationships took place or under what context. I am a huge Letterman fan and I hope that the dust settles around this situation in as quickly and decently a manner as possible.

  • Bill J

    David Letterman is one creepy individual. He uses his position as ‘boss’, to have sex with his subordinates and then makes light of it on national TV, for laughs. What a CREEP! What’s next, will he molest his own child and then make a joke about it?

    • Q

      Where has anyone alleged that he coerced anyone into bed? He’s charming and he’s rich – do you doubt for a minute that women throw themselves at him every day?

      • mc

        The powerful and rich part *is* the coercement.

      • AC

        No, rich and powerful is the ATTRACTION, or the INCENTIVE, not the coercion. It doesn’t sound like any of the WOMEN involved were directly out to harm Letterman. If they felt harrassed or coerced, they could have come out ahead of all this, as clearly there was proof of the relationships.

      • Q

        OK, mc, so no rich and powerful man ever scores legitimately?

        And voila, the employee in question turns out to be Dave’s young assistant, who has since gone off to pursue her career, and who is now going to be dragged into a huge s*storm because her exboyfriend is a jealous, money-grubbing jerk who found her diary. There’s a creep in this story, but it isn’t Dave. W

    • Kelly

      You’re an idiot. Because a man has sex with women does not make him a child molester. You’re the creep.

    • jim

      He only got married in March of this year –to a former employee. It was not secret that he had a relationship with Merrill Markoe, also a former employee. In fact, he didn’t get married, because he has problems with the institution –he only did it because his son was entering school. Even after getting married, he was publicly honest and funny about his mixed emotions about getting married. The reason he makes fun of the politicians caught having affairs is because of the silly cover-ups and because of their talk of values. He never held up his marriage as anything other than a way to not embarrass his son.

      • PG

        Yet that is precisely what his actions have become, an embarrassment to his son and family. Was it worth it?

      • asap

        It really looks like what they have is a marriage of convenience.

    • D

      Appalling comment. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    • ssssue

      After your disgusting comment, you have NO room to call anyone “creepy.”

  • Martin

    Unfortunate that there weren’t more gasps of disapproval, but that is the state of morality in our country. In a way, though, I nod approval to the method by which this bomb was diffused. That old saying that honesty is the best policy still rings true. It’s better to admit and repent before one’s been found out, but afterwards will do as well. I hope he finds such peace in this confession that he does it more often, and to the One who can forgive him and make him a new man. Jesus came to save the lost. The first step is realizing you’re lost.

    • KFed

      I think the audience were stunned. I’m not sure all of them realised it was true, given the seemingly inappropriate laughter.

      • KFed

        Oh, I hadn’t read as far as the Jesus stuff. My bad.

    • not mc

      Sexual affairs have been going on since the dawn of time. This is nothing new. The only thing new is that people are being more honest about it these days, which is refreshing.

    • James

      Why don’t you Jesus freaks go to some religious website and post your rantings and leave this ENTERTAINMENT website to those of us who are here for that reason alone. If I wanted to be preached to I’d go to church, not the EW.com. Plus, open your eyes – he’s a grown man having relations with grown women which makes it NONE OF OUR BUSINESS. Unfortunately we live in the f’d up country where people’s priorities are so screwd up it’s boarderline INSANE. I know this might be hard to believe, but there are FAR MORE IMPORTANT THINGS HAPPENING IN THIS WORLD THAN DAVID LETTERMAN HAVING CONSENSUAL SEX WITH ADULT WOMEN. Get real people.

  • Vickie T.

    It is a sad thing to hear about. But I think the only two people entitled to judge are Dave’s wife and the other (involved) woman.

    • Q

      I agree. He’s a stand up comic, never held himself out as some sort of moral compass for society.

      • Narf

        Q, are you for real?? Thats all he did. 99% of his “comedy” is nothing more than mocking people who don’t share his views. When Obama came out I thought he was gonna drop to his knees and go for dear leaders fly…

      • Felicia

        Except he often did slam on others for their infidelity, didn’t he? Kind of makes him a hypocrite. I do appreciate that he was straightforward about it.

      • jen

        big hypocrite. i could care less what he does, and there’s no way i’m about to make him my moral compass. but i can’t help but smile alittle bit, because karma’s gonna hit this old, nasty bitter man hard.

  • gale

    hey dave , spend 10 minutes apologizing to Sara

  • Steve

    Sounds like he was dying to show off that he’d managed to score. I’d guess the extortion part was made up so we all ‘had’ to know!

    • SilentRage

      I’m sure you haven’t reached the age(or at least the mindset) of maturity if you really think his goal through all of that was to let people know he got laid

      • mc

        No, he has a point. Dave never grew up…he admitted he thought guys must have viewed him as “cool” for never having married for so long. He’s a loser.

      • Coyote

        He was kidding, jacka$$!

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