Writing jokes for Jimmie Walker was the first gig David Letterman had in show-biz. In Indiana he’d worked in local broadcasting before coming out to Hollywood in the mid-seventies and doing sets at the Comedy Store, where he was duly paid in experience, exposure, and ready access to the waitresses (all three of which he avidly availed himself of). The Comedy Store is where he met Walker, flush with Good Times money and ready to invest some of it in material for his standup.
A lot of eventually big names wrote jokes for Walker in those days, and Walker tells all about it in his terrific new memoir Dyn-o-Mite!: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times. Besides Letterman, there was Jay Leno, Richard Jeni, Paul Mooney, Byron Allen, Jack Handey, Louie Anderson, Elaine Boosler, and others. They would meet up at Walker’s condo in Beverly Hills multiple times each week and pitch zingers at a rate of 25 bucks a pop, upon acceptance. Some of the better writers–and this category includes Letterman–would receive a flat fee of $150 a week. Often there’d be close to a couple-dozen people in the room. The atmosphere got competitive. “You had to have thick skin to absorb all the hits,” Walker writes. “It also helped to be vocal and forceful to push your jokes ahead, to fight for them to get noticed and appreciated. But slugging it out like that was not part of Letterman’s self-effacing personality.”