BREWER — Dan Cashman was sitting behind a desk telling the newly crowned Miss Maine USA how she should act when she meets Miss USA pageant owner Donald Trump and sees his famously toupee-like head of hair.
“When you see him, you should say, ‘What in holy hell is on your head?’ ” said Cashman to Samantha Dahlborg. “OK, now we’ll practice. I’ll be The Donald.”
Cashman, who started a public relations firm in Bangor after serving as assistant press secretary to former Gov. John Baldacci, puckered his lips and contorted his face until the essence of Trump emerged. Dahlborg, wearing her tiara and sash, shouted out the line Cashman had given her. The 100 or more people crowded into a taping of “The Nite Show With Danny Cashman” roared with laughter.
A few days later Cashman dispassionately dissected the Trump bit’s origins. He knew Miss Maine USA was coming on, he knew the Miss USA pageant is owned by Trump, and he knew because he’s a student of comedy that “Donald Trump is just funny.”
For three years Cashman has been organizing and hosting Maine’s only statewide, late-night TV talk show, very much in the mold of “Late Night With David Letterman” or “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”
“The Nite Show With Danny Cashman” includes a live band, a crew of 20 or more students from the New England School of Communications in Bangor, and a core of eight or so staff members whom he can actually pay, thanks to advertising he sells for the show.
Cashman, 35, has managed to get his locally produced Saturday night show on the air in all three of Maine’s TV markets – Portland, Bangor and Presque Isle – something that very rarely, if ever, happens. In fact, local shows beyond sports and news are extremely rare these days.
Cashman has also attracted guests you wouldn’t expect on a Maine TV show, like Marc Summers, former host of the 1980s kids game show “Double Dare,” original MTV veejay Nina Blackwood, and Eddie Brill, the comedian who warms up the Letterman studio audience in New York City every night.
Station managers, guests and viewers all agree that the “The Nite Show” is not your typical local TV show.
“I did his show, and the remarkable thing to me was that he’s damn good at it,” said Summers. “I hope someday somebody picks that show up.”
EVERYONE IN THE ACT
At the Dec. 11 taping of “The Nite Show,” a capacity crowd of 100 people filled the Next Generation Theatre – a children’s theater attached to a consignment store – by 6 p.m. The crowd was settling in to watch three half-hour shows to be recorded over the next three hours.
Cashman had come right from his office, carrying spare shirts (so he looks different on every show), a bag full of cue cards he had written himself, a sock puppet Santa, and a prop composed of a shirt with a Boston cream doughnut smeared onto it.
Seven cameras, massive banks of audio and video mixing boards and more than 20 students were squeezed into the theater.
As Cashman prepared at his onstage desk, some of the regulars showed up to watch the taping. One was David Forbes Brown, a writer and musician who drives the hour or more from Bass Harbor every month for tapings.
After he had come to the shows for a while, Cashman asked him to be in on his ideas email list. Before each taping, Cashman jots down a dozen possible topics for his monologue, things in the news mostly, and emails them to a wide variety of people, looking for suggestions on which ones should be joke fodder.
Brown comes so often that Cashman has even used him as a performer. When Gov. Paul LePage was a guest earlier this year, Cashman had Brown act as a heckler from the audience. The joke was that Brown wasn’t heckling LePage, he was heckling Cashman.
“He (LePage) even ad-libbed with me,” said Brown, 49. “He said, ‘We could use more people like you in Augusta.’ ”
At the taping, each new episode started with the band playing “The Nite Show” theme, followed by Cashman’s monologue, some prerecorded and live skits and a guest.
Just like Letterman or Carson, Cashman sits behind a desk, his guest in a chair, and his own sidekick, former University of Maine hockey announcer Joe Kennedy, in another chair.
Admission to the tapings is free, though donations are encouraged to help the theater. Many people in eastern Maine talk about “The Nite Show” tapings as a fun night out.
“My wife and I are usually at every taping; it’s a cheap date for us,” said Bob Merritt, 52, a middle school teacher from Clifton, east of Bangor. “I can’t stay up late enough for Letterman, but Dan is just as funny.”
BORN TO STAY UP LATE
Growing up in Old Town, where his father was a state legislator, Cashman remembers having a slumber party when he was 8 or 9 and staying up late to watch “Late Night With David Letterman.” He knew he wanted to follow Letterman’s lead, somehow.
It didn’t take him long to start on his mission.
“At about the age of 8, he turned our rec room into a studio and would interview friends and family,” said his mother, Betty Cashman. “He used our video camera while we were on a cruise when he was about 11 years old and interviewed people on the ship.”
Cashman has had three versions of this show on the air in Maine. The first was on WBGR in Bangor and began when Cashman was a freshman at the University of Maine. He had been working as the costumed mascot for Bangor’s minor league baseball team, the Blue Ox, performing as “Babe the Blue Ox.”
The team and the station began working on a children’s show starring “Babe,” but Cashman persuaded the station to do a late-night show instead. It lasted two years, until Cashman moved to New York City for the summer to intern on the national radio show of Don Imus.
Cashman tried to resurrect the show in 2001, on Bangor station WCKD. But it got canceled after a year. Cashman says he and others who worked on the show were too busy starting careers to focus on it properly.
Then, three years ago, after he had started his own business, gotten married and had a child, Cashman started “The Nite Show” once again. He is technically host and co-executive producer (Luke Bouchard is the other producer), but it’s clearly Cashman’s vision that guides the show.
Local TV managers are impressed that “The Nite Show” has gained enough of an audience to draw advertisers.
“It’s highly competitive in the demographics our advertisers want to reach,” said Steve Hiltz, program director at WABI, the Bangor station that now airs the show. “It’s been a consistently strong performer for us. We, and our advertising clients, value the fact that the ‘The Nite Show’ is a unique local offering.”
On WABI and WAGM in Presque Isle, Cashman splits ad sales with the stations. He sells half of the ads, they sell half, for each half-hour show. On WPXT in Portland, Cashman pays for the air time but gets to sell all of the ads.
He started the show by investing $7,000 in lights and sets for the Next Generation Theatre. But he made that back and now makes a profit.
People who know and work with Cashman say his persistence may be his greatest strength. He began “The Nite Show” as a college freshman, and has not given up on the idea as a 35-year-old family man.
He has pursued guests, some for years, before persuading them to come on the show.
“Dan was incredibly persistent in tracking me down,” said Summers. “We had probably been talking for 10 years before I finally did his show.”
So the fact that Cashman is 35 and not yet on network TV – as Letterman was at 35 – doesn’t have him worried.
“There’s a quote I like about how if this were easy, everyone would do it,” he said. “I am one of the most fortunate people in the world to be able to do this kind of show even on a small scale. If I could do it on a larger scale? That would be nice, but I’m realistic.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: