It could be argued that Letterman’s “Stupid Human Tricks”, sketches with Rupert from the deli across from The Late Show studio, and Leno’s “Jaywalking” segment can all be traced back to Mr. Steve Allen. Allen was, after all, the original host of The Tonight Show, the nationally-networked show born out of the locally-produced Steve Allen Show that Allen started in 1953. The Tonight Show, or Tonight! as it was originally titled, was America’s first foray into national, late-night programming, and Steve Allen’s gift for ad-libbing and performing were perfectly matched for the setting and the time period.
Allen left The Tonight Show in 1957 to concentrate on his prime-time program, again called The Steve Allen Show, which he had hosted since 1956 (that’s the show on which Elvis performed “Hound Dog”). In 1961 the show went from NBC to ABC, retitled as The New Steve Allen Show, and lasted one final season. He then hosted a syndicated program that aired in late-night, The Steve Allen Westinghouse Show, which was a particular favorite of a young David Letterman during his college years. The program ran from 1962-64, and was by Allen’s account, “the wildest talk show ever done.” It was on The Steve Allen Westinghouse Show that Allen’s pranks and sketches, some of which he developed on his earlier programs, really blossomed.
In his 1997 Archive Interview, Allen recalls the origins of The Steve Allen Westinghouse Show:
Describes a memorable elephant tug-of-war sketch:
Discusses the giant tea-tank bit (later recreated by David Letterman):
And details how he began his prank/funny phone calls:
Late-night today is infused with the legacy of Allen’s sketches. Who’s got a “Stupid Pet Trick” to show off?
- by Adrienne Faillace