The Time I Wrote a ‘Tonight Show’ Bit for Boston Celtics Legend Larry Bird
This February marked the anniversary of two occasions of great importance to yours truly: the 30th anniversary of Larry Bird’s number retirement ceremony and the ninth anniversary of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
And thanks to one throwaway line, I was able to bring the two together.
In the fall of 2015, I was the Head Monologue Writer for The Tonight Show, and came across a story about a possible bird flu pandemic (can you imagine such a thing??).
“Ha,” I said to my friend Gerard, a Supervising Writer and diehard Celtics fan. “We should do a cutaway to Larry Bird coughing and blowing his nose and stuff.”
I wasn’t seriously pitching the idea, but Gerard’s eyes lit up. “Yeah!” he said. “That would be great! Do you mind if I mention that to Jimmy?” I told him to go for it.
The next day, a call was made to Larry's new employer, the Indiana Pacers, and within an hour I was told that Larry was in. He would connect with us via Skype the next morning – at 9:30 EST, 8:30 CST on the dot – to film his line.
A handful of us gathered in an editing room at 9:30 EST, 8:30 CST. I was too nervous to speak, so Gerard would direct. And all of a sudden, on screen looking back at us, was Larry Bird.
“Morning guys,” was all he said, and we were ready to roll.
On the very first take, he nailed it. Perfect timing, great delivery, sold it all the way through. But you always do at least two takes just in case, so we rolled once more.
Again, perfect. “Thank you, Larry,” said Gerard, as our editor prepared to log off.
But Larry wasn’t satisfied. “Let’s go again,” he said, his icy blue eyes coming into focus. When Larry Bird says you’re rolling again…you roll again.
Sure enough, it was even better than the first two...
“All right, boys,” he said, as he prepared to take off his mic and sign off.
“Thanks again, Larry,” said Gerard.
“Great job, Larry,” echoed the editor.
Then everyone looked at me. And in a voice that cracked badly, I said, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bird!” Perfectly acceptable, if it weren’t two days before Thanksgiving.
Larry hesitated, gave a smirk, and logged off. But I like to think that one of these days, I’m going to receive a Christmas card from French Lick, Indiana that says: “You too.”
But hey - at least Larry gave me more time than Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.