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Ralph & Linda Burke Appear on the Late Show with David Letterman

Ralph Burke, center, competes on the Late Night.

By Al Harris
News Bureau

4 August 2004 -- Jacksonville State University's Ralph Burke, director of JSU-Gadsden, landed on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman recently when he was selected from a line outside a New York deli.

Mr. Burke and his wife Linda were enjoying some free time near Rockefeller Center when they were asked to compete in a Letterman contest for a kitchen appliance. Letterman gave Mr. Burke 30 seconds to find the first reference to the name Monica in Bill Clinton's new book, My Life, with the index removed. The countdown and music began, and Mr. Burke flipped through the book furiously as deli owner Rupert Jee and Mr. Burke's wife looked on.

Thirty seconds later he had lost the contest but was awarded consolation prizes of a tray of cold cuts and two T-shirts.

"I've placed this in the category of the weirdest thing that ever happened to me," says Mr. Burke.

Q&A with Ralph Burke

Start from the beginning and tell us what happened.

We were with a group of 22 people from our church, Rainsville First Baptist, who had partnered with a church in Queens, N.Y., to conduct some volunteer service projects the week of June 27 – July 2. I was involved with a basketball camp. We reserved time in the evenings to go into Manhattan for sightseeing and shopping.

On a Tuesday Linda and I, with four friends, went into the city early to shop before we were to meet the remainder of the group. I wanted a Late Night cap from the CBS store that is next door to the Ed Sullivan Theatre, where the show is taped. They actually tape the show from 5:30-6:30 p.m. EDT. We noticed a crowd outside Rupert Jee's Hello Deli and went over to see what was going on.

One of the assistant producers came over and asked where we were from and I said “Alabama.” She asked our occupations and I told her I was with JSU and that my wife was a teacher. She then escorted us to the front of the crowd and said, “Stand here and in a minute the cameras will pan by. Just wave like you're having a good time. Someone will be selected to go in the deli and play a game with Rupert.” We never thought much about being chosen.

What did Letterman say to you during the show?

We could hear what was going on inside the studio from a speaker underneath the awning of the Hello Deli and heard Letterman tell Rupert to go out and select someone to play the Late Show Bill Clinton Memoir Challenge. Rupert walked straight to us and said, “You guys come on in."

Inside the Deli we chatted with Letterman through a speaker — we could not see him. We talked about being from Alabama and our visit to New York. He asked me about my T-shirt, which read, “ABREADCRUMB and FISH,” a take-off on Abercrombie and Fitch. Letterman asked me if it was a Biblical reference and I said, ‘Yes, it's a reference to the five loaves and two fish.” He quipped something like, “You see I'm smarter than people give me credit for.” He is always in control of the interview. He would ask another question before we could answer the previous one.

We were given a copy of Bill Clinton's new book, My Life, with the index removed, and were challenged to find the word Monica within 30 seconds. They set you up to lose. It's part of the game and the fun. Monica only appears 20 times in 987 pages.

Did you get to keep the Clinton book?

We got to keep the book and Rupert signed it for us.

Were you nervous?

I guess right after being chosen was when we were the most nervous. Once we were inside the deli the assistants and camera guys were pros. They kept saying, “Just be yourself, were gonna have some fun here.”

What did your wife say on the show?

I fielded most of the questions. Letterman had asked if we had children and I said, “No. We're raising one dog named Dixie.” Well, when we lost the contest, the “Late Night Girls” brought out this sick-looking deli tray for a consolation prize. Linda said, “Dixie will like that.” I have seen them give the same deli tray over and over again.

Did a lot of people at JSU and in Gadsden mention seeing you on the show?

I mentioned to my wife this past weekend that it had been a month since we were there and someone new has mentioned it to me every day. Since they taped in the afternoon, we had a chance to call some family and friends back home to get the VCRs going. I've had people tell me they watched and started screaming “Look, look, look, there's Ralph and Linda on Letterman!”

Dr. (Rebecca) Turner (vice president for academic and student affairs) saw it from her vacation in Florida. I've had friends say that they saw it in a hotel on vacation or business everywhere from New Orleans to Jackson, Tenn. We were in Cracker Barrel in Fort Payne the other day and a waitress said some people at another table wanted to know if we were the ones on Letterman. I guess it was our 15 minutes of fame.



Al Harris can be contacted at




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