Late Show celebrity films segment on campus

Biff Henderson spends weekend working, signing autographs.

Note: This story originally appeared in the Monday, Oct. 22 issue of the Ball State Daily News

"Biff! Hey, Biff!" someone screams across the pavement. "Biff!"

This is how it starts. Biff Henderson is standing at Ball State stadium, in the concession area. The Late Show crew is on break, but Biff is not. He's talking to the crew, eating some food, maybe taking a smoke break when someone notices his presence.

Soon a small crowd has gathered around him. Undergraduates wearing jeans and Homecoming T-shirts, fresh from tailgating. Alumni in red sweaters and slacks, business cards in hand. High school concession workers in long aprons, glancing nervously back at their station by the nacho cheese dispenser. There are men and women, young and old, some wearing homemade "I Love Biff T-shirts." They all come to him to say, "We love the show, we love Dave, we love you, and while you're here could I get my picture taken with you and maybe an autograph?"

Biff signs his autograph countless times, personalizing each one. He poses for pictures, arms draped around his fans. He smiles, shoots the bull with them and cracks a few jokes.

"I had a Dave's Big Ass Sandwich at the Hello Deli once," says an alumnus, referring to the Manhattan deli where the sandwiches are named after "Late Show with David Letterman" regulars.

"You should have had the Biff, man," Henderson says. "That's the best sandwich in there."

After a while the crowd thins out. Biff is alone for a few more minutes before his name is called out and the cycle begins again.

"I get recognized everywhere I go," Henderson says. "Everywhere."

Is the fame hard to deal with, I ask him.

"That's a tough question to answer," Henderson says. He stops walking, and thinks about it. "It's good to be recognized. It makes people happy."

As Biff says this, a young woman runs up to him, holding out a scrap of paper.

"Biff, can you sign this?"

"Sure. What's your name?"

"That was so cool," she says to her friends a few minutes later, waving the piece of paper around.

Biff turns to me again, and shrugs.

"What can you do?"

***

"So who's your favorite Ball brother?" asks Jerry Foley, director of the Late Show. He's sitting at a conference table in the Administration Building, discussing the weekend's shoot.

"Uh, I don't know," says Al Rent, Ball State's director of marketing.

"Lucius?" suggests Tim Underhill, electronic media coordinator for University Relations.

"Ah," Foley says, looking down at a cheat sheet on Ball State history. "The doctor."

"Jerry is fascinated by the Ball brothers," says Jill Leiderman, writers' segment producer for the Late Show.

The crew, in town Friday and Saturday to film a segment of "Biff Henderson's America" for "Late Show with David Letterman," is discussing the day's schedule. Biff sits in the corner wearing the all-black outfit he will don throughout the weekend.

The crew suggests putting Biff in the marching band. Someone asks if he would mind wearing the band jacket and hat.

"Sure," he replies.

"Do you ever say 'no?'" asks Rent.

The crew laughs. "Oh yeah," one of them says.

Over the next two days, Biff and the six-member crew criss-cross the campus, camera in tow. Biff is in classrooms, offices and bars. He takes part in the bed race and marches with the band -- sans hat and jacket.

The crew has worked together on most of Biff's segments, says Leiderman, and "can finish each others' thoughts by now."

At each site, Biff goes through several takes as Foley and writer Tom Ruprecht make minor adjustments to wording, phrasing, body language.

"I know it's nitpicking," Ruprecht says at one point. "But I still think the pause is a little too long."

Before filming a classroom segment, Foley and Ruprecht debate how health science professor Dale Hahn should introduce Biff to the class.

"Should he call him a visiting professor?" asks Foley.

"How about just, 'This is Biff Henderson from New York, he'll be teaching your class today,'" Ruprecht replies.

"That's fine."

"Okay," Hahn says. "'This is Biff Henderson from New York -- '"

"Should he say from New York?" asks Foley.

"I don't think so," Ruprecht says. "I think just, 'this is Biff Henderson.'"

"Right, right, because he's Biff," Foley says "He's a citizen of the world."

***

The Late Show could not have asked for a more storybook weekend, says Al Rent. It is a sentiment echoed by many others, as Ball State defeats Toledo in its Homecoming game.

In the final minutes, when the result is inevitable, the Late Show crew lines up on the sideline.

"He's going to go out and shake the players' hands, congratulate everyone," Foley says. "You know, pretend he had something to do with it."

Leiderman says Biff has done the same thing after Super Bowls and World Series.

"He's amazing at it," she says. "Watch him."

In the final seconds Biff runs onto the field, trailed by cameraman Al Cialino and utility man Pete Pelland.

"We did it!" he yells, high-fiving the players, slapping them on the back.

Then Biff disappears into the maelstrom of students on the field, surfacing a few minutes later, unharmed and grinning.

"Everyone here has been great," Leiderman says. "We come into these places, try to meet as many people as possible, and then we're gone after two days. That can be hard."

Ruprecht says the crew makes the trips about once a month, and is often in a community less accommodating than Ball State.

"This makes it easy," he says.

The crew began shooting in Muncie on Friday afternoon. Just after dusk on Saturday, the Late Show crew shoots its final frame. The rest of the crew leaves, but Biff stays on location -- the Locker Room, in the Village.

A small crowd surrounds him. People offer to buy him drinks. People ask for autographs, just as they have throughout the weekend, at a nearly non-stop rate. But if Biff is annoyed, he never shows it. Instead he smiles. He cracks jokes. He signs autographs. He poses for pictures. But he never says no.


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