The Passage From Paul Shaffer’s Book We’re Pretty Sure He Wants Back

If you’re quoting R. Kelly, maybe hit the backspace button
The Passage From Paul Shaffer’s Book We’re Pretty Sure He Wants Back

Like most comedy celebrities of a certain age, Paul Shaffer has penned a memoir of his showbiz glory days. We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives is full of goofy stories about his tenure on Saturday Night Live and Late Night with David Letterman, as well as another story that Shaffer would probably like back — or at least he might want to word it differently. 

In the 1970s, Shaffer was working on his short-lived sitcom, A Year at the TopNorman Lear produced the show, filmed on the same lot as Lear’s more popular programs like All in the Family, Maude and The Jeffersons.  There was one other show as well, and one of its stars caught Shaffer’s eye. “I’d wander over to the One Day at a Time set, where I met Valerie Bertinelli,” he remembered. “She and I had a few fun dates. Enchanting personality. She was 16. I was 27, but as R. Kelly would say, Who’s counting?’”

Whoa, where to begin? “She was 16. I was 27,” is an admission most wouldn’t make outside of a courtroom. Maybe Shaffer could have passed it off as a casual encounter, but his aside, “as R. Kelly would say, Who’s counting?’” doesn’t help matters.

But was it as creepy as it sounds? 

It was enough of a fling that Bertinelli wrote about it in her memoir Losing It, though she makes it sound reasonably innocent. “I began seeing another musician. I met Paul Shaffer — yes, the same Paul Shaffer whos now famous as David Letterman's bandleader. … We struck up a neighborly friendship. Paul was a doll — nice, witty and immensely talented. What really got me, though, was that to me he looked like Elton John. We went out twice, including New Years Eve. Then his girlfriend called, and I never heard from him again. Thanks, Paul. In reality, there were no hard feelings, and we laughed about it years later.”

Laughed? Well, sort of. After Bertinelli married Eddie Van Halen, the couple showed up on Late Night for an awkward conversation with Letterman, who seemed determined to make Shaffer squirm. 

Things got off to an embarrassing start when Letterman noted that Penthouse had recently named Bertinelli one of its 10 sexiest stars. She didn’t appear to appreciate the “compliment,” so Letterman shifted to an even more uncomfortable subject — Bertinelli’s dating history with his pal, Shaffer. 

“Theres another little bit of intrigue with you and a member of the band tonight,” Letterman teased. 

“Well Paul,” asked Bertinelli, “shall we talk about it?”

The normally game Shaffer is at a loss for words, especially after Bertinelli tells the crowd that the two dated when she was 16. The audience groans, and Shaffer hides behind his dark glasses, nowhere to run. 

Bertinelli and Shaffer went out on a couple of dates, she said, before he dumped her and broke her heart.

“How old were you, Paul?” asked Letterman, knowing the answer.

“I was a little older than Miss Bertinelli at the time,” stammered Shaffer, aware that vice squads around the country were listening. “But let me say that, uh, we were just good friends.”

Shaffer’s sweaty hands fumbled a pen as Bertinelli blasted him for dropping her. “That was a long time ago,” he said with an uneasy smile. “And now you’re married to a fabulous guy…”

Oh yeah, Van Halen was sitting in with the band that night. He seemed less jealous than delighted to see Shaffer flounder on national television. 

What did Bertinelli’s parents think of Shaffer when he showed up at the family house to squire their daughter? “They thought I was a lovely young boy," he sputtered.

“Twenty-seven-year-old boy,” giggled Letterman. 

“We were just good friends,” Shaffer insisted.

Bertinelli gave a suggestive look. “We had a good time, didn’t we, Paul?”

“Just good friends,” he repeated as if he were giving a deposition.

R. Kelly would have been proud. 


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