My Favorite Year 
One of my favorite movies (the aptly titled "My Favorite Year") was released in 1982, the same year that I not only started my career broadcast career but also made my network television debut on the Late Show With David Letterman. It was arguably my favorite year (at least until 1984 when I met my wife!)
I had just started my career in broadcasting when "My Favorite Year" was released in 1982. I was living at home in Brooklyn and working for WNBC Radio (66 on you AM file) in the legendary 30 Rock Building...then known as the RCA building and the headquarters for the NBC broadcast network. I was fortunate to have landed such a great job while still in my senior year at Brooklyn College. Ironically, I almost didn't graduate because I had to cancel all my classes in order to take the job. I need up taking night classes while working to get the credits in needed for my BA in communications.
I would take the "B" train from elevated 18th Avenue stop in Bath Beach, Brooklyn straight to the Rockefeller Center stop on 6th Ave and 50th in the city. Yes, those of us rubes from Brooklyn called Manhattan "the city" even though our "quaint" little borough had a population of over two million people making it the third most populous "city" in the country! I was well aware of the historical significance of the building when I walked through the security gates to take the elevator to the second floor. I knew that the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson had it's origin's on the 6th floor in Studio 6A. On lunch breaks I would often sit in the empty Studio 3A with my brown bag lunch where Tom Snyder had interviewed John Lennon five years earlier on his nightly Tomorrow Show. And probably one of the most exciting landmarks in 30 Rock (for my generation at least) was Studio 8H where Saturday Night Live was broadcasting live since 1975.
I was lucky and I knew it. So you can imagine my surprise when I was sitting in the Loews Oriental Theater on 86th street in Brooklyn, and "My Favorite Year" opened with footage of it's lead character Benji Stone emerging from the same subway stop as I did, on 50th and 6th, entering 30 Rock and walking towards the same elevator bank that I took every morning. And as if that wasn't enough, this was his narration during the montage [written Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo] ;
"30 Rock," we called it. Here I was, two years after being asked to leave Brooklyn College and already I was earning more money per week than the entire fourth floor of my mother's apartment house on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn."
I was the Italian Benj Stone! My office was on the second floor, just steps away from the studio where WNBC's flagship AM station was broadcast from. Imus In The Morning was the big morning radio show and a controversial DJ by the name of Howard Stern had just been hired to host the afternoon drive time show. The studio was the first thing you faced when you got off the elevators and there was a big glass window that let you see everything that was going on. I was fascinated watching Howard do his show surrounded by the colorful cast of characters who would stop by. Another person who was also fascinated by all the activity was David Letterman.
Letterman's legendary NBC morning show had been canceled in 1980 but NBC knew they had something special in him and signed him to a holding deal until they could place him at 1230am when Tom Snyder's contract was up in 1982. Letterman had a temporary office down the hall from mine on the 2nd floor so it was quite common to cross paths in the halls on a daily basis. I was a fan of his from his Tonight Show and Don Kirshner Rock Concert appearances. So it wasn't unusual that we'd often find ourselves watching Howard hold court in studio. Little did I know that both of these seminal broadcast figures would have a significant and positive impact on my career in the coming years.
When NBC announced that Letterman's Late Night show would officially be replacing Snyder's Tomorrow show February of 1982 there, was genuine excitement at 30 Rock. While there was no shortage of production in the building, all of Saturday Night's Live's activity happened on Saturdays. Letterman was going to be taping his show every night at 530p in Studio 6B (right across from the studio where Carson taping the Tonight Show in the 60s.). I made it a point to stop by most days once the show started taping and watched the taping from the monitor's in the hall. It was bustling with activity as guests came in and out and even Letterman himself would venerate out during a taping with a camera crew some of his signature segments like "Elevator Races". This was the dawn of the Betamax recorder and I was an early adapter using it to record Letterman every night.
In September of '82, signs were posted all over 30 Rock that Late Night was looking for local talent as part of a 90 Minute special. This was something Tom Snyder had done in previous years with a key difference...Snyder was sincere in finding people who worked for NBC that had some kind of talent. I knew from the posters that Late Night had put up that they had different ideas. The Late Night posters were the same as Tom Snyder's (even using his name) and crossing it out with Letterman's name written over it. Letterman had already shown a genius for spotlighting non celebs (like Larry Bud Mellman) so it I knew this show had the potential to be a lot of fun.
With no skillset to speak of, this was clearly not something for me to even consider so I was quite surprised when I received a phone call from the producers inviting me to an open audition. I was flattered and said yes without a clue as to what I would audition with and to how this even happened. I soon found out that my co-workers had submitted my name as a joke. I had been doing this silly voice in the office which they all thought was funny. Now there's a huge difference between "office funny" and "national tv" funny and I clearly fell into the former category.
I gave the audition a great deal of thought and took a page right from the Letterman playbook. I turned my silly voice (which was a weird ability to sound like two voices were talking) into a song and decided to play it straight with my tongue clearly in cheek, hoping they would get that I knew it was nothing more than a novelty. I wrote some lame intro jokes to set up the bit and added a sock puppet (again...lame...I know it because that was the point).
The audition was held at an outside location and there were quite a few staffers waiting to perform in front of the Late Night writers and producers (I don't remember Letterman being there). I surprisingly made the cut and was called back to audios for Letterman and a smaller group two weeks later in Letterman's office. Walking into the room, the first thing I said was that I was nervous and Letterman quickly responded ("so are we"). Laughs all round and I told him I remembered him from the 2nd floor and he politely said he remembered me. I did my thing and it seemed to go over real well. I got a call a few days later with the good news that I made the cut and that In was going to be on the show to perform my "act" on October 18th. This was insane. I was too excited to be scared and it was still a few weeks away.
One weeks before the taping I received a call from the producers telling me that Dave wanted to pre-tape a remote with me on my job as part of my appearance. I got the clearance from my boss and a few days later a full crew showed up including; Dave, his EP and head writer Merrill Markoe, his director Hal Gurnee and a young intern by the name of Chris Elliot. I wasn't quite sure what their angle was going to be because we all played it straight. They shot some b-roll footage of me working and Dave (off camera) asked me some qustions. I was surprised by how much he knew about my job (radio traffic coordinator). It turns out he had his start in radio and knew how everything worked behind the scenes. I figured they edit what they shot and add some funny voice overs which they in fact did.
On the day of the taping I received another call from the producers telling me hat Dave was also going to interview me at the desk. I remember telling them that I thought that might be a stretch. It's not like I had a movie coming out or funny show biz stories. I reminded them that I lived in the basement apartment of my parents home and barely had an act let alone funny banter at the desk. They told me not to to worry, that Dave liked me and that it would be fun. They asked me what props I needed and I told them I was bringing a guitar but that I needed and old fashioned mic on a stand for a visual joke (which ended up being the highlight of my act.) Check out the promo above.
It was surreal going the sixth floor, this time not as a spectator but as an actual participant on the show. Everything was a blur. I remember hearing Dave set up my segment up by playing the remote piece they had taped in my office. From what I could hear backstage it payed real well with one big laugh at a true story I had told which had a great ending. Dave told the audience to stay tuned and that I would be coming out after the break! Stay tuned... stay for what? For me? Vinnie Favale...Frank and Mary's son from Brooklyn who lives in the basement apartment off his parent's home? I'm sure people were changing channels all over America during that break. Here's the video of part one...
Letterman Introduces Vinnie's Remote Segment
Ok..are you still there? Did you stay tuned! Dave introduced me after the break and I came out to polite applause. There was some nervous laughter from the audience as I started to set up my act. This was because I made things unnecessarily complicated by the fact that I was wearing my sock puppet and had to take of my shoe to get it out it and put it on my hand all on while talking and wearing an acoustic guitar around my next. This was clearly a train wreck in the making. I "tested the mic" by giving quick sample of my quirky voice and could feel them slowly rooting for me. I went into my song (a plural version of "From Me To You") and there were some titters..people clearly had no idea what to make of me. But the one thing that I knew that was money in the bank was the visual joke I was going to make in my homage to The Beatles. And when I got to that part of the song when the Lennion and McCartney share the mike to go "wooh", the audience finally "got it" and I finished to a huge round of applause. The visual joke was so solid that it was featured in the promo for the show that aired all day.
Late Night Appearance Photo Gallery
I still wasn't done as I had do a "panel" segment with Dave. Again, not planning things properly, I akwardly had to navigate my way to the guest chair carrying the guitar, with one foot bare, holding my shoe and my sock puppet. There's a funny moment as Dave is contemplating whether to shake my out reached hand. I told him it was the clean one, we shook hands and I sat down. We proceeded to have an amazing exchange. Without either of us planning it out in advance, we easily fell into the roll of a guest who took his silly act very seriously and a host who respected that. You can see for yourself in the video below. It was an amazing experience that was shockingly surpassed 16 years later when I was interviewed by Dave for the CBS Late Night job.
Stay tuned for that story!
Vinnie's performance and interview with Dave
Bonus video; Vinnie Meets The Beatles!