How a letter from a fan helped create one of the longest-running jokes in David Letterman’s career, the broken glass sound effect joke.
One of the gags that David Letterman used in almost every episode of his late-night TV shows was a broken glass sound effect. Letterman would frequently toss pencils, papers or other objects during his show and an audio engineer would play a sound effect of glass breaking. The joke was funny because a casual toss of a pencil can’t break a window. It was a simple joke that was groundbreaking at the time for late-night TV in the 1980s.
The First Time David Letterman Did The Broken Glass Sound Effect Joke
But this joke wasn’t entirely created by his writings staff. They got inspiration from a viewer named Kirk Hancock from Auburn University. Hancock, a college student, wanted to know more about the wall behind Letterman in his TV studio. Specifically, Hancock wanted to know if Letterman had real glass windows in the TV studio. Letterman read Hancock’s letter during their Viewer Mail segment in his May 6, 1982, show and then demonstrated how “real” the glass on the set was by throwing several pencils at the windows. Each pencil toss resulted in an audio engineer playing a broken glass sound effect.
The Longest Running Joke In David Letterman’s Career
If you were a fan of David Letterman through the years, then you’ll immediately remember the broken glass joke. Letterman repeated the gag in almost every show throughout his 30+ year career on television. In fact, it could be argued that the broken glass joke is the longest-running joke of Letterman’s professional career.
Thank you, Kirk Hancock, for giving Letterman the inspiration for the broken glass sound effect joke. Letterman should have hired you as a writer!
NERD NOTE: When Late Night With David Letterman first debuted on NBC in 1982, the network gave advertisers a bundled deal if they added some commercials on Letterman’s show to their Tonight Show With Johnny Carson buys. But by the mid-1980s, the tables had turned. Letterman was the “cool” show with the younger audience that advertisers wanted to buy first. So NBC flipped the bundle and gave advertisers a deal if they added Carson to their desired Letterman buys.