Paul Shaffer

Music Director


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-and-a-half-hour interview, Paul Shaffer talks about growing up in Canada, attending the University of Toronto, and becoming the musical director for the Toronto production of "Godspell." He reveals what prompted his move to New York, discusses how he came to be a musician/performer on Saturday Night Live, and talks about working with his fellow SNL castmembers. He then speaks at length about his long association with David Letterman -- as music director of NBC's Late Night with David Letterman and CBS' The Late Show with David Letterman. He talks about the first episode of The Late Show with David Letterman after September 11th, recalls being music supervisor for The Concert for New York City, and reveals how he missed out on co-starring on Seinfeld. He also discusses the theme song for his then-upcoming book, "We'll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives." Dan Pasternack conducted the interview in New York, NY on June 24, 2009.

"There I was in college and I couldn't figure out –- I couldn't do anything but go into music. I would've been too unhappy." 

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Paul Shaffer on joining Late Night with David Letterman and their approach to the show
Paul Shaffer on becoming a castmember on Saturday Night Live and accidentally swearing during a live broadcast
Paul Shaffer on Sonny and Cher's reunion (November 13, 1987) on Late Night with David Letterman
Paul Shaffer on joining the musician's union at the age of 15 and being in a band (but not yet seeing a career in music)
Paul Shaffer on how Lorne Michaels gave the creators of sketches full producing powers on SNL
Paul Shaffer on advice to aspiring musicians
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his family background; on the musical influence of his parents and their musical tastes; on seeing acts in Las Vegas as an adolescent; on watching The Ed Sullivan Show with his parents growing up, and their knowledgeability of the acts
On watching the CBC and recalling that between 5 and 7 PM, the network ran a test pattern during dinner hour; on the types of shows he saw on the CBC and the parody done of the CBC by SCTV; on his interest in rock 'n' roll
On joining the musician's union at the age of 15 and being in a band, but not yet seeing a career in music; on his studies at the University of Toronto; on playing music by ear (rather than sight); on getting back into music in Toronto by taking a summer course in jazz arranging and playing in a bar band; on deciding to pursue a music career; on meeting Tisziji (Mike) Munoz, who taught him "avant-garde" jazz
On becoming involved in the Toronto production of "Godspell" (and hanging out with many pre-Second City people, including Martin Short) which led to his move to New York

Chapter 2

On joining Saturday Night Live as it was being developed
On Saturday Night Live's early years
On some of the musical guests on Saturday Night Live including John Sebastian, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, and ABBA
On the development of Saturday Night Live's "lounge singer," "The Blues Brothers" musical sketches; playing Don Kirshner; and working with castmembers Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman

Chapter 3

On Saturday Night Live castmembers Chevy Chase (and hosting 2002's Comedy Central Presents: The N.Y. Friars Club Roast of Chevy Chase)
On becoming a castmember on Saturday Night Live and accidentally swearing during a live broadcast; on leaving the show after five years
On joining Late Night with David Letterman and their approach to the show
On David Letterman and working on his shows
On Sonny and Cher's reunion (November 13, 1987) on Late Night with David Letterman
On Letterman guest James Brown
On Bruce Springsteen's performance on the final Late Night with David Letterman Show
On David Letterman's move from NBC to CBS and the changes made to the new show, Late Show with David Letterman
On his favorite musical performances on Late Show with David Letterman (Iggy Pop, Fatboy Slim, Warren Zevon)
On how David Letterman's health issues affected Late Show with David Letterman

Chapter 4

On his chemistry with David Letterman; on how important it is for him to continue to work on Late Show with David Letterman and on what he'd like to do when the show ends; on returning to Late Show with David Letterman after September 11th; on being music supervisor for The Concert for New York City (airdate: October 20, 2001); on missing the opportunity to co-star on Seinfeld
On his proudest professional achievement; on his biggest professional regret; on dealing with celebrity; on the intersectionality of his career in music, television, and comedy; on the expansion of late-night television; on advice to aspiring musicians; on how he'd like to be remembered
B-roll: Paul Shaffer performs a theme song for his autobiography, "We'll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives" on the piano
Shows

Comedy Central Presents: The N.Y. Friars Club Roast of Chevy Chase

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Paul Shaffer on hosting Comedy Central Presents: The N.Y. Friars Club Roast of Chevy Chase (2002)

Concert for New York City, The

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Paul Shaffer on being music supervisor for The Concert for New York City (airdate: October 20, 2001)

Ed Sullivan Show, The aka Toast of the Town

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Paul Shaffer on watching The Ed Sullivan Show with his parents growing up, and their knowledgeability of the acts

Late Night with David Letterman

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Paul Shaffer on joining Late Night with David Letterman and their approach to the show
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman and working on his shows
Paul Shaffer on Sonny and Cher's reunion (November 13, 1987) on Late Night with David Letterman
Paul Shaffer on Letterman guest James Brown
Paul Shaffer on Bruce Springsteen's performance on the last Late Night with David Letterman Show

Late Show with David Letterman

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Paul Shaffer on playing music by ear with the band on The Late Show with David Letterman
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman and working on his shows
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman's move from NBC to CBS and the changes made to the new show, Late Show with David Letterman
On his favorite musical performances on Late Show with David Letterman (Iggy Pop, Fatboy Slim, Warren Zevon)
Paul Shaffer on how David Letterman's health issues affected Late Show with David Letterman
Paul Shaffer on how important it is for him to continue to work on Late Show with David Letterman and on what he'd like to do when the show ends
Paul Shaffer on returning to Late Show with David Letterman after September 11th

SCTV

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Paul Shaffer on how well he thought SCTV parodied Canada's CBC (and show Front Page Challenge), having regularly watched the CBC growing up 

Saturday Night Live

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Paul Shaffer on being friends with Brian Doyle-Murray and Bill Murray when he first came to New York, and collaborating with Bill on his nightclub club singer bit (which he later used on SNL)
Paul Shaffer on being hired for Saturday Night Live by music director Howard Shore
Paul Shaffer on his experiences during the early days of Saturday Night Live and the Wednesday brainstorming sessions of that era
Paul Shaffer on John Belushi's Joe Cocker musical parodies
Paul Shaffer on the problem encountered by musical guest John Sebastian while performing the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song on Saturday Night Live (and producer Lorne Michaels stepping in live on the air to ask him to start over)
Paul Shaffer on working with Bill Murray on "the lounge singer" sketches on Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on the development of "The Blues Brothers" on Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on Garrett Morris and his Tina Turner sketches, which led to his Don Kirshner impressions on Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on the "prison follies" sketches on Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on working with Saturday Night Live's Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman
Paul Shaffer on the bee costumes from the early days of Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller's "Shirley Temple Black" sketch and how it led to an on-screen credit for him
Paul Shaffer on his early duties on Saturday Night Live and how they changed
Paul Shaffer on how Lorne Michaels geared the schedule of Saturday Night Live to the evening hours
Paul Shaffer on how Lorne Michaels gave the creators of sketches full producing powers
Paul Shaffer on the "Chevy's Girls" girl group sketch
Paul Shaffer on Chevy Chase's penchant for pratfalls and the injury he sustained once (doing a Gerald Ford sketch)
Paul Shaffer on Elvis Costello's appearance on Saturday Night Live when he changed songs mid-set
Paul Shaffer on Patti Smith's musical guest appearance on Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on Saturday Night Live's "Video Vixens" musical sketches
Paul Shaffer on Chevy Chase
Paul Shaffer on Bill Murray
Paul Shaffer on becoming a castmember on Saturday Night Live and accidentally swearing during a live broadcast
Paul Shaffer on leaving Saturday Night Live after five years

Seinfeld

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Paul Shaffer on missing the opportunity to co-star on Seinfeld

Welcome Back, Kotter

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Paul Shaffer on the problem encountered by musical guest John Sebastian while performing the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song on Saturday Night Live (and producer Lorne Michaels stepping in live on the air to ask him to start over)
Topics

9/11

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Paul Shaffer on returning to Late Show with David Letterman after September 11th

Advice

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Paul Shaffer on advice to aspiring musicians

Bloopers

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Paul Shaffer on musical guest John Sebastian stopping his vocals after microphone feedback on Saturday Night Live's live broadcast

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Paul Shaffer on becoming a castmember on Saturday Night Live and accidentally swearing during a live broadcast

Fame and Celebrity

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Paul Shaffer on dealing with celebrity

Historic Events and Social Change

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Paul Shaffer on returning to Late Show with David Letterman after September 11th

Memorable Moments on Television

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Paul Shaffer on Sonny and Cher's reunion (November 13, 1987) on Late Night with David Letterman

Pop Culture

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Paul Shaffer on Sonny and Cher's reunion (November 13, 1987) on Late Night with David Letterman
Paul Shaffer on dealing with celebrity

Television Industry

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Paul Shaffer on becoming a castmember on Saturday Night Live and accidentally swearing during a live broadcast
Paul Shaffer on advice to aspiring musicians
Professions

Music Director

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Paul Shaffer on David Letterman and working on his shows as music director

Music Professionals

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Paul Shaffer on joining the musician's union at the age of 15 and being in a band (but not yet seeing a career in music)
Paul Shaffer on playing music by ear (rather than being a sight reader)
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman and working on his shows as music director
Paul Shaffer on advice to aspiring musicians

Musician

View Profession
Paul Shaffer on joining the musician's union at the age of 15 and being in a band (but not yet seeing a career in music)
Paul Shaffer on playing music by ear (rather than being a sight reader)
Paul Shaffer on advice to aspiring musicians
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Paul Shaffer on how well he thought SCTV parodied Canada's CBC (and show Front Page Challenge), having regularly watched the CBC growing up 
Paul Shaffer on missing the opportunity to co-star on Seinfeld

Late Night

View Genre
Paul Shaffer on playing music by ear with the band on The Late Show with David Letterman
Paul Shaffer on the early years of Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman and working on his shows
Paul Shaffer on how important it is for him to continue to work on Late Show with David Letterman and on what he'd like to do when the show ends
Paul Shaffer on returning to Late Show with David Letterman after September 11th
Paul Shaffer on the expansion of late-night television

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Paul Shaffer on watching The Ed Sullivan Show with his parents growing up, and their knowledgeability of the acts
Paul Shaffer on being friends with Brian Doyle-Murray and Bill Murray when he first came to New York, and collaborating with Bill on his nightclub club singer bit (which he later used on SNL)
People

ABBA

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Paul Shaffer on the trick played by writer Michael O'Donoghue on Saturday Night Live musical guest ABBA

Dan Aykroyd

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Paul Shaffer on working with Bill Murray on "the lounge singer" sketches on Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on the development of "The Blues Brothers" on Saturday Night Live 

John Belushi

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Paul Shaffer on John Belushi's Joe Cocker musical parodies
Paul Shaffer on the development of "The Blues Brothers" on Saturday Night Live 

Richard Belzer

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Paul Shaffer on being impressed with comedian Richard Belzer, who left a party to do a set and returned to the party afterward

Sonny Bono

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Paul Shaffer on Sonny and Cher's reunion (November 13, 1987) on Late Night with David Letterman

James Brown

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Paul Shaffer on Letterman guest James Brown

Chevy Chase

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Paul Shaffer on Chevy Chase's penchant for pratfalls on Saturday Night Live and the injury he sustained once (doing a Gerald Ford sketch)
Paul Shaffer on Chevy Chase and hosting 2002's Comedy Central Presents: The N.Y. Friars Club Roast of Chevy Chase

Cher

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Paul Shaffer on Sonny and Cher's reunion (November 13, 1987) on Late Night with David Letterman

Elvis Costello

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Paul Shaffer on Elvis Costello's appearance on Saturday Night Live when he changed songs mid-set

Jane Curtin

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Paul Shaffer on Jane Curtin

Jean Doumanian

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Paul Shaffer on leaving Saturday Night Live after five years

Brian Doyle-Murray

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Paul Shaffer on being friends with Brian Doyle-Murray and Bill Murray when he first came to New York

Don Kirshner

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Paul Shaffer on his Don Kirshner impression

David Letterman

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Paul Shaffer on joining Late Night with David Letterman and their approach to the show
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman and working on his shows
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman's health issues on Late Show with David Letterman
Paul Shaffer on his chemistry with David Letterman
Paul Shaffer on returning to Late Show with David Letterman after September 11th
Paul Shaffer on David Letterman applying the Saturday Night Live mentality to talk shows

Lorne Michaels

View Person Page
Paul Shaffer on how Lorne Michaels geared the schedule of Saturday Night Live to the evening hours
Paul Shaffer on how Lorne Michaels gave the creators of sketches full producing powers on SNL
Paul Shaffer on the problem encountered by musical guest John Sebastian while performing the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song on Saturday Night Live (and producer Lorne Michaels stepping in live on the air to ask him to start over)
Paul Shaffer on leaving Saturday Night Live after five years

Garrett Morris

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Paul Shaffer on working with Garrett Morris on Saturday Night Live

Bill Murray

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Paul Shaffer on being friends with Brian Doyle-Murray and Bill Murray when he first came to New York, and collaborating with Bill on his nightclub club singer bit 
Paul Shaffer on working with Bill Murray on "the lounge singer" sketches on Saturday Night Live
Paul Shaffer on Bill Murray

Laraine Newman

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Paul Shaffer on Laraine Newman
Paul Shaffer on Saturday Night Live's "Video Vixens" musical sketches

Michael O'Donoghue

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Paul Shaffer on the trick played by writer Michael O'Donoghue on Saturday Night Live musical guest ABBA

Regis Philbin

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Paul Shaffer on returning to Late Show with David Letterman after September 11th

Gilda Radner

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Paul Shaffer on Gilda Radner

Stephen Schwartz

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Paul Shaffer on working on the Canadian theater production of "Godspell" early in his career

John Sebastian

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Paul Shaffer on the problem encountered by musical guest John Sebastian while performing the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song on Saturday Night Live (and producer Lorne Michaels stepping in live on the air to ask him to start over)

Martin Short

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Paul Shaffer on working on the Canadian theater production of "Godspell" early in his career

Patti Smith

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Paul Shaffer on Patti Smith's musical guest appearance on Saturday Night Live

Bruce Springsteen

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Paul Shaffer on Bruce Springsteen's performance on the last Late Night with David Letterman Show

Warren Zevon

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Paul Shaffer on his favorite musical performances on Late Show with David Letterman (Iggy Pop, Fatboy Slim, Warren Zevon)

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