That clanging collection of bones on The Masked Singer turned out to be Paul Shaffer, music impresario and former music director for David Letterman on Late Show with David Letterman. Even calling Shaffer Dave’s musical director is limiting, because while that is true he’s also done much, much more, including performing on Broadway, being the bandleader for Saturday Night Live in the late ’70s, and working with The Blues Brothers all before he joined Late Night.
His association with Letterman was one of the main clues in his first package, though, when he referred to himself as a sidekick. And when he performed “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” against Black Widow, we were finally aware who was beneath the costume. Here’s what Shaffer had to say about “dying” on the show.
How would you describe your voice?
Shaffer: I’m a guy with a lot of feeling who wants to get the feeling out, but has a sort of… I’m no Ariana Grande. On Letterman, I was the sort of ‘straight man’ and I could sing in key and hold a note but everybody knew I wasn’t pretending to Adam Levine. I was just doing it for laughs. I love my R&B and rock. Some would say my sound is nasal.
Yes! I totally thought you were Charlie Sheen for a minute, with the gruff voice, and the fact that you were a skeleton who claimed to have been around the block a while. Did you see the guesses about you? What did you think of them?
Shaffer: I didn’t know there was big controversy; [producers] had put a number on a tombstone and it was the number of episodes I did on Letterman. And a guy started tweeting ‘You got it wrong,’ factoring in specials or practice shows or something. I don’t know [the actual number] — I’m not sure I can remember — but that guessing is part of the fun.
One of your big clues said you were tired of playing second fiddle, which is shocking to me considering your long list of achievements. Do you still feel that way? And do you wish you had accepted the role of George Costanza on Seinfeld ? That would’ve made you famous for sure.
Shaffer: I don’t feel that way at all. I was on national TV every night. I was, some would say, second fiddle, some would say straight man. It’s a hell of position. I would get my licks in while he had the full responsibility of the show. I could just groove. How perfect. And because of that show I got to do all these wonderful things. The Seinfeld part was early in the history of Letterman. I had no help. I was overwhelmed answering calls… I looked at that message and said what kind of cockamamie show is that? Well, the answer is the most beloved show in the history of television. It was one of those crazy things where, I don’t want to say I’m kicking myself but… Letterman was perfect. I got to play music and improvise with him.
How was going through the security protocols?
Shaffer: The security aspect is so crazy. They take it seriously. They have you sequestered. When you walk halls you can’t let anyone see your wrists or ankles. … You get in the rehearsal room and you put your head on so the dancers don’t know who you are. You don’t talk to them and then suddenly you’re on stage in front of the audience. The whole thing is surreal.
Did you have to lie to anyone like Dr. Drew did?
Shaffer: I told no one but my family and a few people, and those people had to sign a [non-disclosure agreement]. We all took it very seriously. My daughter is in the business and all her friends are saying ‘Is that your dad? Why is your dad in LA all the time? Letterman, my old boss for 30 years, he called me up and said ‘I know how these things work. You don’t have to say anything. I know how you walk.’ I didn’t say anything. I said I could neither confirm nor deny.
The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on Fox.