They say you only get one chance to make a first impression, and for Morgan Park resident Pat McGann, that one chance took place last week on “Late Show with David Letterman.”
The 37-year-old comedian flew out to New York to make his network TV debut on the show, which was taped Jan. 23 but aired Jan. 24. Not surprisingly, McGann — who performs Wednesday through Saturday at Zanies Comedy Club in Rosemont — admitted he was nervous before his “Letterman” set.
Here, he discusses what the day of the taping was like in detail, from the moment he woke up in his hotel to the bar where he ended the night. (The following is an edited version of a longer conversation):
10 a.m. I woke up around 5:30 or 6 a.m. I didn’t think I’d fall back asleep, but I totally crashed out and didn’t wake up until 10. I’ve got two kids at home and am used to waking up at 6, so it was nice to fall back asleep.
11:30 a.m. I had a meeting with a guy who is in the comedy business at a coffee shop. I wanted to kill two birds with one stone while I was out (in New York) and I also was looking for a distraction to keep my mind occupied. After that I went and got a “Late Show” onesie for my son and a shirt for my daughter at a store near the theater. My daughter is going to be 2 in a few months. We told her before we left “Daddy is going to be on TV” and she said “With Caillou?” “Caillou” is some (expletive) kids show every parent hates.
1:30 p.m. My wife and I met with my parents, sister and aunt for lunch. I knew we would have a huge party after the set so this was our opportunity to have a quiet meal. We decided to walk because it would be another nice distraction. My parents were very quiet. They very much tried to stay out of my way. My dad told me a few days after “Our hearts were in our throats,” but they didn’t want to project it that day.
5 p.m. I walked over to the (Ed Sullivan Theater) with my suit and shoes. The green room had cookies, fruit, water — it was beautiful. Now it was starting to become a reality. A friend of mine, Eddie Brill, does the warm-up for Letterman. He came to relax me, and then they came and got me for makeup. They asked if I wanted them to do my hair and I said: “Don’t touch it. It can’t look better than this.”
When you see the producers, you realize it’s just another day at work for them. It makes you want to act like it’s another day of work for you, too. As much as you’re nervous, you want to act like you’ve been there before.
6:30 p.m. They brought me downstairs to the green room. When Kevin Bacon was finished with his interview, he said a quick hello. I don’t think he realized I was the comedian going on. He probably thought I worked backstage.
I’m feeling like I’m in the locker room before a game waiting to go out. You just want to have that ball tipped up and start. I was thinking “Don’t screw this up. This is it. A lot of people are going to watch this. This is a great opportunity.”
6:35 p.m. I got to pick the song I go out to. I’m the biggest Pearl Jam fan, so I had to go with Pearl Jam (“State of Love and Trust”). I didn’t hear it though. I was in a daze — maybe it was a combination of focus and nervousness. I was so focused on walking out there, hitting my mark and starting. Once I got the first laugh from Dave, it registered: “Man, David Letterman laughed at my joke. That’s awesome.”
When I look out, I try to play the middle of the room, eye-level-wise. My wife, parents, sister and a bunch of guys I grew up with on the South Side were there, and so was my college roommate. I didn’t look for them. I prefer not to see people I know. When I left, I turned to the crowd and gave a thumbs up and saw my college roommate in the front row. I’m so glad I didn’t see him earlier. I would have given him a smirk.
After I was done, Letterman said, “Great stuff, that was lovely.” Then he announced where you can see me and said “Great suit.” I said “Thanks, my wife picked it out for me.” He just seemed very genuine. He’s my Johnny Carson. This was the only show I submitted to (to perform on). This was my goal from the beginning.
6:40 p.m. My wife was in the green room and I gave her a big hug — that felt great. She was like: “You exhaled when you walked out. That made me nervous. But you stepped up.” If I could make one change, there’s so much about my wife in (my set), I wish I would have said her name. But she didn’t care.
7 p.m: We went to a bar around the corner from the theater and just really got after it. Drinks were flowing. I got to keep my cue card from the intro and turned it into a game. Everyone had to do their best intro. My buddy made the bartender and busboys do it. I’m embarrassed to admit we were there until 2 a.m.
This experience was a rollercoaster, starting when I was backstage: “I don’t know about this. Do I want to go on the ride?” Then when you get off, you don’t remember much. It’s kind of a blur. You only remember a couple turns and deep drops. But once you walk out of the line, it’s like, “Oh my God, I want to do that again.”
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When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Zanies Comedy Club, 5437 Park Place, Rosemont
Tickets: $22 at rosemont.zanies.com