For the second night in a row, superstorm Sandy and its aftermath forced David Letterman to live out that performer's nightmare: Telling jokes to a vacant theater, or as he called it, "a big ol' empty barn."
Letterman hosting the "Late Show" to an unpeopled Ed Sullivan Theater on Tuesday, as he did on Monday, was the oddest sight of the considerable and continuing cultural fallout of the hurricane that left New York institutions like Broadway, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center no more open for business than the city's damaged subway system.
But the New York entertainment industry was fighting to go on with the show, and none more than several of the city's late-night shows. Though "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show" canceled tapings for the second day, the "Late Show," Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night" and a traveling out-of-towner, ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," went ahead with shows Tuesday.
When "Late Show" band leader Paul Schafer asked Letterman how they were supposed to approach such an awkward situation, Letterman quickly replied: "Just like every night: We pretend the audience isn't here."
When Letterman introduced his first guest, Kate Hudson, the actress didn't stride out; instead a middle-aged bald man appeared — presumably an employee of the "Late Show" — who bantered with Letterman as if he were Hudson.
The three shows took varied approaches to inviting audiences to brave the difficult transportation prospects. Kimmel, a Brooklyn native, had planned to begin a week of shows in the borough on Monday. He began them a day late on Tuesday – with an audience – at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
"I was born in Bay Ridge. I grew up in Mill Basin, and tonight I have returned to save my people from the storm," said Kimmel, referring to Brooklyn neighborhoods. "Thank you for ignoring the local authorities to be here tonight."
Like Letterman, Fallon had hosted his show Monday without an audience, but he happily welcomed audience members back on Tuesday.
"First off, thanks to our great audience for making it out to the show tonight," Fallon began his monologue Tuesday. "I'm so glad you're here, because last night's audience was the worst."