Why Did David Letterman Refuse To Shake Hands With John Cameron Mitchell?

hedwig1Hedwig creator John Cameron Mitchell has accused David Letterman of a strange snub dating back decades: according to JCM, Letterman refused to shake his hand after he performed on the Late Show. And someone — unclear who — tried to prevent him from removing his wig when he performed “Tear Me Down,” with the implication being that audiences shouldn’t learn that he’s actually a man.

The accusation came during a chat with the audio-video club TimesTalk. According to Mitchell, Rosie O’Donnell was delightfully supportive, but Letterman kept his distance during the October 1, 1998 performance.

Can anyone track down the Late Show episode featuring the Hedwig performance? The internet is scouring its video library, now that the accusation is out, but so far no one has been able to locate a clip.

Also during the event: there was some gossip about the Hedwig sequel, maybe due to hit a (non-Broadway) stage in 2015. And apparently they’d been courting Neil Patrick Harris for the role for four years, just waiting for his TV schedule to work out.

For what it’s worth, NPH visited Letterman last month to talk about the show, and there was no sign of discomfort. Did David really fear an association with JCM? Did he intend to withhold the handshake? It’s hard to say.

But Letterman does have a history with handshake snubs. Back in 1986, when GE bought NBC, David Letterman popped by corporate headquarters to say hello to the new corporate owners. Some guy in a suit twice refused to shake David’s hand, as you can see in the following video:

So the guy knows what it’s like to be denied a handshake. Maybe John Cameron Mitchell can use this common ground to patch up their little misunderstanding.

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  • lykeitiz

    Letterman has always been a very public supporter of the LGBT community. If this is true, then there’s more to it.

  • NoelG

    I don’t doubt JCM’s story. From what I’ve witnessed as a tv viewer, Dave’s conversion to full LGBT acceptance has been very recent. Chaz Bono’s transition was difficult for him to understand and talk about and until, maybe, two or three years ago he would say “the homosexual” instead of gay. Not someone who is comfortable with an issue. Also, believing/supporting gay rights does not equal believing/supporting trans rights. That many years ago, it’s easy to see how Dave may not have progressed as far down the road toward all-inclusive LGBT acceptance as he has today.

  • WuzUpYall

    David Letterman not shaking your hand is a compliment.

  • MarionPaige

    Have you seen Shortbus? Would JCM’s appearance on the Letterman have been around the time that he was holding “practice sex sessions” with the cast of Shortbus on weekends?

  • bobbyjoe

    Letterman hardly seems homophobic, particularly since he’s done things like advancing the career of (lesbian) Barbara Gaines since 1980, where she rose from a production assistant to executive producer of the show. What Letterman IS is sometimes touchy, particularly if someone violates the rules of the show (for example, I’ve seen several bands talk about how after a performance a band is allowed to have ONE– and only one– representative talk to Letterman for a few seconds on camera– provided IF Letterman even walks over– and it’s a bad idea to cross him on this. Letterman wouldn’t be the first talk show host to be like this– Johnny Carson was notoriously similar in holding guests to strict rules). So, yeah, I wonder if there’s more to the story than this.

  • TampaBayTed

    Personally I don’t like shaking hands. Would rather give a slight bow of the head in acknowledgement of another. Handshaking is unhygienic and is a bit medieval.

  • haringfan1

    This reads like the load of unsubstantiated crap I’m sure it is. I’ve been watching Letterman for over 30 years and to my recollection has not given the slighest hint he has an issue with the LGBT community.

  • mcflyer54

    Boy I’m sure glad to learn about this 16 years after it happened. Knowing that JCM was about to expose him is probably why Letterman turned in his retirement papers.

  • mcflyer54

    @NoelG: Cher was uncomfortable of Chaz transitioning too. It is very difficult for many people to understand but that doesn’t make them transphobic. I had a great friend who went from male to female in the 1990s and, while I was never fully understanding, I was totally supportive and our strong friendship continued until her death. I came out before HIV/AIDS and if you want to know about a lack of understanding and tolerance you only need to talk to a few people who lived through it.

  • roy

    I saw an interview with John Cameron Mitchell on a morning news show, during that time period. He was am ass to the interviewer. Perhaps he was an ass to Letterman. David Letterman is very supportive to lgbt individuals

  • damon459

    WTF it was 16 years ago and it’s relevant now how?

  • tjr101

    This is ridiculous. This was back in 1998 and Bill Clinton was president. Why is refusing to shake someone’s hand back then even an issue and we don’t even have a clip or know the whole story?

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