They have always had a special relationship, ever since Bill Murray was the first guest on Late Night with David Letterman (his NBC show). The year was 1982 and the two men were both at the beginning of what would become distinguished careers, this interview took place long before they were called masters of irreverence and subversion. Back then they were better known as celebrators of what’s odd and stupid. Y’know? Two good Midwestern boys.
David Letterman was born April 12, 1947 in Indianapolis, Indiana to a florist and church secretary. Good people that raised him in the decent heartland of America. He grew up in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, famous for its Indy 500 race. He planned to attend the University of Indiana, but his grades weren’t good enough so he attended Ball State. It was there he began his broadcast career as a radio DJ. He was fired for allegedly treating classical music with “irreverence.” This word, more than any other will become a tag others will label him with. A theme of his persona emerged. Letterman graduated and went to work at an AM radio station. After that he was a part-time anchor and weatherman for a local television channel. His “on-air irreverence” became his trademark. Eventually Dave wanted to test the winds of fate. He headed out to L.A. with dreams of becoming a comedian/comedy writer.
Performing stand-up, he was spotted by Jimmy Walker (of Good Times fame). Letterman made appearances on various t.v. shows and eventually caught the eye of Johnny Carson. The Master of Late Night TV had Letterman on his show as a guest and as a guest host numerous times. There’s no doubt that Johnny Carson was a major influence in Letterman’s life. In 1980, Letterman was given a morning show on NBC. And despite the fact he won two Emmys the show was cancelled. Like many twenty-somethings Letterman’s early career was a litany of challenges and setbacks. Then, as with most with opportunities, one finally came along that put him in a place (late night) where he could perform for his people (his generation instead of stay-at-home moms of morning tv) and Letterman was a slow sensation. An awkward sensation and a with each show his audience grew.
On February 1, 1982, he filmed the first episode of the late night show that would make David Letterman a name brand in American comedy.
The first guest on his new show, Late Night with David Letterman, was equally irreverent Midwestern funnyman, Bill Murray.
On September 21, 1950 Lucille and Edward Murray II welcomed a son into the world, they named him William. The son of a lumber salesman and mail room clerk, Bill Murray grew up in Willamette, Illinois. A suburb of Chicago, the town was about as Midwestern as they come. As a teen he was a golf caddy (to help pay his tuition to a Jesuit high school). He was the lead singer of his band Dutch Masters. After high school, he went to Regis University in Denver, but dropped out and returned to Illinois. A year and some months later, on his birthday in 1970, he was busted with 10 pounds of pot in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Presuming that he intended to sell the 10 lbs. and they weren’t all for personal use, he was convicted for possession with intent to sell, and given probation.
Perhaps worried for the young and wayward Bill, his older brother Brian invited him to Chicago to join The Second City improv comedy group. A few years later, in 1974, Bill headed out to New York City. John Belushi recruited him for National Lampoon’s Radio Hour. The next year he was asked to join a new late night comedy show, Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. Not the more famous NBC show, this show was on ABC, and obviously was short-lived. It was cancelled the next year. Premiering that same year was another live late night comedy show, Saturday Night on NBC. After his show with Howard Cosell was cancelled, Bill Murray headed out to LA and made projects with the “guerilla video” commune TVTV. In 1976, the late night show on NBC had changed its name to Saturday Night Live, had become the biggest thing on television and had its first breakout star, Chevy Chase. Wanting to capitalize on his new fame, Chevy left the show and headed to Hollywood to make movies. Bill Murray switched places with him, leaving L.A. to come back out to New York and join the cast, taking Chevy Chase’s vacant spot in the cast of SNL. The rest is, as they say, history.
You’ll notice for both men it took a little while to find their comedic footing, to jump aboard a vehicle that could showcase their talents. Peerless as they are, David Letterman and Bill Murray are those rare sort of friends, a person who is your true peer and kindred spirit. Since his first guest appearance on Letterman’s show their televised time together are always these hilarious, manic, uncontrolled, whimsical, flights of comedic fancy. And we’re lucky to see the two of them riff of each other. For two men who are somewhat aloof or distant, somewhat hard to get to know up close, it’s beautiful to watch their friendship on tv. Think it’s safe to say they have one of the great modern bromances.
Here are some highlights from their thirty-two years of late night interviews. Enjoy!
1. Late Night with David Letterman (premiere episode)
This is their first interview from Letterman’s first show. It’s raw, it’s rough, it’s hilarious.
2. The Late Show with David Letterman: Bill Murray Shuts Down Heckler
If you doubt in the least, the love between Bill and David, watch how Bill Murray interrupts the show to shutdown a heckler and defend David’s honor. Hell, Bill goes up into the stands and drags the heckler out of the seats. The love is real.
“Who told you I suck?!”
3. The Late Show with David Letterman: Bill the Giants fan
You’ll notice in these clips that most of the time, Bill gets dressed up for Dave. Like, he wants to look pretty for him. But not like a debutante, more like to show he cares. And usually, his outfits are ridiculous. You’ll see what I mean as you scroll down. In this one, Bill Murray comes out dressed as a NY Giants football player and gives David a solid sports interview.
4. Late Night with David Letterman: Groundhog’s Day
It’s 1993 and Groundhog’s Day has just come out. No one knows what a huge hit it’ll be. Bill Murray has never been one to do a lot of press. But if he’s gonna go anywhere to talk about a new film, it’s to talk to his best bud, David. It’s like watching two boys have a sleepover and pretend to interview each other. And Bill Murray makes up a song and croons a show-stopping number… for Dave. Then he tries to explain Groundhog’s Day.
“I came very close to dancing on my own show.”
5.The Late Show with David Letterman: The Abduction of Bill Murray
This one begins with Bill Murray in a bag. It looks like he’s been the victim of extraordinary rendition and is brought to Letterman. When he’s let out of the bag, he’s got a white beard and is wearing an explorer’s jungle suit. He proceeds to give an interview as if he’s been kidnapped. Dave, of course, loves it.
6. Late Night with David Letterman: Bill Just Misses Dave
It’s 1987. Bill Murray is back hosting SNL. While in New York, he makes a stop by to visit his old pal, Dave. When Bill walks out he greets Dave and tries to give him a kiss. And Dave shies away like an awkward teen girl. They’re so cute together. Dave asks why it’s been so long since Bill has been back to see him. Bill says Dave didn’t seem to miss him. Keep an eye out for the Spanish conquistadors, birthday clown and little people dressed as sailors that Bill Murray invites out on-stage, until he gets mad and kicks the conquistadors out. You just have to watch … eventually, Bill rubs lotion on Dave and gives him some condoms.
7. The Late Show with David Letterman: Bill Gives Dave a Gift for His Anniversary
Bill Murray shows up with champagne, wearing a tuxedo for Letterman’s 25th anniversary. And he’s upset that David isn’t dressed up. He thought it was a big party.
“I thought we were kinda having a big thing here…”
“You are the party.”
“Yeah, that’s how I roll…”
8. The Late Show with David Letterman: Fantastic Mr. Bill
Bill shows up as dressed as a fop. And he and Dave riff on autumn in New York, the smell of burning leaves… It’s the tenderness of Bill’s memories that brings out a softer side of Dave.
9. The Late Show With David Letterman: “I’m Flying!”
Bill Murray shows up dressed as Peter Pan and serenades his BFF Dave.
10. The Late Show With David Letterman: Kentucky Derby Special
Bill Murray shows up dressed as a jockey. Hilarity ensues.
11. The Late Show with David Letterman: Bill Murray has a bum leg
Bill comes out in shorts, a winter parka and crutches after he “broke” his leg at the Olympics, looking to get Dave to sign his body.
“Are you in pain now?”
“I don’t know.”
12. The Late Show With David Letterman: Bill Murray has a bum leg pt. 2
In Pt. 2 of the same interview, when we come back from commercial, Dave tries to hold his laughter back when Bill Murray opens his parka and reveals his Johnny Weir sparkly Vegas-style ice skater top.
13. The Late Show With David Letterman: Dumpster Diving with Bill Murray
“You can’t wade in … You can’t wade in, baby!”
The last words said before Bill Murray dives in to a NYC dumpster that’s been converted into a pool of trash. Whose idea this is — we never know? Did he lose a bet? I can’t tell you for sure. But Bill comes in from the dumpster-pool and does an interview with Dave, only he’s soaking wet. Boys will be boys.
14. The Late Show With David Letterman: Bill Murray ABANDONS PERFECTLY GOOD PLANE
Last but not least… Bill Murray tells Dave about the time he jumped out of a plane.
And here’s Pt. 2 of Billy Murray sharing his story of jumping out of a plane.
“Being a Cubs fan teaches you how to live… how to deal with loss”
It’ll be sad to see him go. It’ll be a huge loss to the great state of weird and funny; because David Letterman (and Bill Murray) taught us how to properly love geeky smart, stupid human, odd, awkward and earnest. Thanks for all the laughs, Dave!