The "lethargic fan" who caught David Letterman's attention in 1994 was actually Dan Koller, an intern from Dallas.

The "lethargic fan" who caught David Letterman's attention in 1994 was actually Dan Koller, an intern from Dallas.

Editor's note: Because the Late Show With David Letterman is ending this week, the Internet is filled with remembrances by people who used to work there. But only one person -- Dan Koller -- also worked at The Dallas Morning News. 

Dan Koller

Dan Koller

I have no idea how the Late Show With David Letterman internship program may have evolved over the past 20 years, but when I was there, in the fall of 1994, interns were assigned to particular departments. Some were assigned to the writers. Others belonged to the researchers. One intern worked for the assistant to Paul Shaffer and his band. 

I was placed in the mail room. The mail room staff was a staff of one, and I was his intern. Initially, this seemed like a less-than-ideal situation. But it turned out for the best. The Late Show was spread over multiple floors of the building above the Ed Sullivan Theater, and most interns had no reason to venture beyond their assigned departments. But my duties required me to visit every floor on a daily basis. 

As I made my rounds on the writers' floor one day, head writer Rob Burnett and Spike Feresten asked to speak with me. Feresten -- who would go on to write for Seinfeld and host TV shows of his own -- had written a segment about an audience member who was unresponsive during Letterman's monologue, and they wanted to know if I'd be interested in playing the role. "Sure," I told them. "In fact, I've been in a few plays in high school and college ..." 

Here are 10 times Dallas people were awesome on Letterman's show

That's when Burnett put up his hand to interrupt me: "We don't want you to act. We don't want you try to be cute. We just want you to look the way you do every day when you're delivering our mail." 

If my ho-hum mail duties hadn't inspired that sleepy, indifferent expression, Feresten might never have conceived "Dave wakes up lethargic fan" -- as the bit was described in the script -- much less asked me to be in it. It's my own personal Stupid Human Trick, one that inspired a confused viewer in Tennessee to write a stern letter to Dave, admonishing him for making fun of someone who was "obviously disabled." 

The clips of Letterman breaking (pre-cut) boards across my back, force feeding me No-Doz (actually Smarties) and pretending to clock me with a phone receiver were taped over the course of three consecutive evenings, a few weeks before viewers saw them. In those days, episodes were recorded from 5:30 to 6:30 on the day they aired. After that, Letterman and his staff would work into the evening on pre-recorded segments like the one featuring me. 

I can't speak to how such bits have been created in recent years, but I get the feeling that very few of them have been created at all. I don't have cable or a satellite dish, so I consume the Late Show via clips on YouTube. Lately, those clips have almost all been interviews, musical performances, monologues or top 10 lists. Segments that required Letterman to leave the Ed Sullivan Theater -- as he and I did when Connie Chung punched me in the gut -- seem to have gone by the wayside. 

The Late Show's YouTube channel has 215,000 subscribers. That's a fraction of the 7.2 million people who subscribe to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. That show and Jimmy Kimmel Live (5.9 million YouTube subscribers) both excel at producing segments that have the potential to go viral via social media. 

Letterman -- who turned 68 last month and has an 11-year-old son at home -- apparently no longer had the time or energy to produce such segments anymore. And that's a big reason why we get to enjoy only three more of his shows. 

Follow Dan Koller on Twitter at @ByDanKoller.

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