From stage manager to on-air celebrity

January 30, 2003|By Diane Holloway | Diane Holloway,COX NEWS SERVICE

Biff Henderson's evolution from stage manager to star began one morning in 1980, when David Letterman was in the midst of his own transformation from wise-cracking comic to talk show host.

NBC had the gap-toothed guy, a favorite guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, working as host of a morning show, which was a strange place for Letterman's late-night sense of humor. (This was the show on which Letterman set fire to the stage.)

Henderson was stage managing in the wings when Letterman, on his way to do the monologue, suddenly pushed the startled stage manager toward the spotlight. Unflappable even back then, Henderson was heading for his mark to do a joke when Letterman shoved him aside at the last minute.

"No, I wasn't nervous," Henderson said recently from a phone in the green room of CBS' The Late Show with David Letterman. "There's nothing to be afraid of when you don't know what you're doing."

Three series on two networks later, Biff and Dave are still together, and Biff's sojourns into the spotlight have become more frequent - and more popular. Henderson receives lots of fan mail and has his own Web site, www.biffhenderson.com, which states categorically that Dave's grinning guy with the headset is "the most famous stage manager in the world."

Who can argue with that? Although Jay Leno's Tonight Show on NBC regularly beats The Late Show in the ratings, it doesn't have a star stage manager.

Besides sticking pins in a map to locate letter-writers' hometowns, Biff has traveled to small towns to chat with residents, taken viewers for a wild ride on his Golf Cart of Death, captained the Late Show Prize Wonder Van, appeared as Dick Tracy, roasted Kermit the Frog and wobbled on stage in Las Vegas wearing an enormous showgirl headpiece.

We laugh at Biff because he's funny and because he seems like a regular guy having fun - and not taking any of this show biz stuff seriously.

"I don't put forth an effort to have a sense of humor, but people have always told me I was a natural," Henderson said. "I laugh at myself sometimes. I wasn't a prankster as a kid, but I may have planted some seeds in other people's minds."

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