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Tom Gliatto

Tom Gliatto

Posted: March 22, 2007 06:36 PM

May the Angels Welcome You, Larry "Bud" Melman

I know we are probably all having a very busy week, but I wanted to take a moment to offer a few remarks in eulogy of actor-nonactor/funnyman-straightman Calvert DeForest. You would better know him as Larry "Bud" Melman from his endearing and weird appearances on David Letterman's NBC show. He passed away this week, according to The New York Times, after a long illness at age 85. DeForest was in some ways a more presentable twist on of the kind of edgy Diane Arbus casting so important to director John Waters. At the time Letterman hired him he was already 60 years old or so, working as a file clerk and making appearances in student films. It was hard to tell what sort of empathy he had with ordinary life, or ordinary life with him, but the general impression was that it wasn't a strong connection.

On Letterman's show he nearly always wore a not very elegant suit and tie, and he had a large round face and big glasses-I always thought of an older, underexercised Tweetie Bird- and a loud, affectless delivery that was especially effective when he barked wth a mock-maniacal, mad-scientist laugh. That, at least, was a talent of some sort.

He was not a comedian so much as someone who could be deployed in comedy sketches. (I doubt he and George Carlin ever sat around backstage swapping versions of The Aristocrats joke.) He seemed to understand he was doing comedy without having any idea why it was actually funny, but he knew it was meant to be funny, and he enjoyed the fact that he drew a response. That always ambiguous glimmer of understanding and pleasure was essential: Otherwise I don't think I would laughed so hard at him and so looked forward to his appearances.

Even now I can tell you my two favorite Letterman bits, although I have to rely on memory: 1) his standing up in the audience and asking: "Why does potato salad spoil in the sun?" and 2) his introduction of a product called "Toast on a Stick," which in fact was just that. Toast on a popsicle stick. I can see, written out, those gags are meaningless, but he made them funny: Somehow he put across their ridiculousness. They floated up, released like balloons. I liked him very much, and if you know what that laugh of his sounded like, then I ask you to remember him too: AH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!