Jay Thomas takes one more shot at David Letterman’s Christmas-tree meatball
Jesuit High School product Jay Thomas will topple his last Christmas-tree-topping late-night meatball Friday night (Dec. 19), concluding a longstanding holiday tradition on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” scheduled to air at 10:35 p.m. on WWL-TV. Thomas does the deed with a football toss, an odd Letterman rite that dates to December 1998.
Friday’s “Late Show” will also feature a Darlene Love performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” a Letterman tradition dating to 1986, as well as a just-a-guest-appearance by actor Josh Brolin.
Letterman is retiring next year, to be replaced by Stephen Colbert. Jay Thomas, meatball-slayer, will retire, too.
“It hasn’t struck me yet,” said Thomas during a recent phone interview from his California home. “It hasn’t hit me. Maybe next year.”
Thomas first felled the meatball (supplied by Rupert Jee’s Hello-Deli) when then-New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, another guest on the 1998 show, tried the stunt but missed.
The toss, later accompanied by Thomas re-recounting a weird encounter with “Lone Ranger” star Clayton Moore, became an almost-every-year thing.
A neck injury benched Thomas for last year’s Christmas show.
“I was banged up a year ago,” he said. “I was really sick. I had surgery on my neck and stuff, and it was bad. They had John McEnroe fill in.”
By trying, unsuccessfully, to smite the Yule orb by whacking tennis balls at it.
Thomas said he’s feeling much better now and that his throwing arm is in top shape.
“My arm is alive, man,” he said, adding that his health woes caused some weight loss – about 190 to 155 – but he’s otherwise fully recovered.
“I haven’t weighed that little since I was at Jesuit playing football,” he said. “I look like Al Sharpton. I feel great.”
As seasonal rituals go, Thomas has been part of one of the strangest. Much to his delight.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be one of those guys on late-night talk shows who everybody wants to see. Like on Carson, when Rickles would come out. I became that guy. And I love football, so my two big dreams were totally realized.”
At the time of my phoner with Thomas, he had not yet made a Wednesday (Dec. 17) CNN appearance about “The Interview” controversy — Seth Rogen, James Franco, Sony Pictures, Kim Jong Un, Guardians of Peace, etc., etc. – which he concluded by saying, “If they do strike Seth Rogen and James Franco, what a great end to their careers.”
The crack, which seemed to spring from the Jay Thomas who was a successful radio guy before becoming a successful Hollywood guy who is still doing radio (on SiriusXM satellite), prompted a moment of stunned silence from anchor Brooke Baldwin and a later clarification from Thomas’ publicist that Thomas “meant no ill” to the actors.
Who would? (Well, we know who would.) Thomas’ point was that someone somewhere along the production line, starting with Rogan, who is credited as one of the film’s writers, should’ve foreseen that mocking and then – spoiler alert, but it’s in the clip below — actually killing a nutjob with nukes on-screen, might stir up some fuss. (Though the “South Park” dudes seemed to skate with “Team America: World Police,” which unleashed fierce long-distance, puppet-show mockery on the current North Korean despot’s dad.)
Anyway, maybe Letterman will ask him about it.
At the time of our talk, Thomas said hadn’t landed on an appropriate parting gesture or comment for his last “Late Show” Christmas show.
“I was thinking that it would be weird if, in the middle of the Lone Ranger story, I started crying,” Thomas said. “Knowing Letterman, he’d probably think it was great.”
Staged tears is probably not the direction Thomas will go, though.
There is no crying in meatball.
“I’m from New Orleans,” Thomas said. ” ‘Shut your crying. Go by your momma’s house you wanna cry.'”