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David Letterman and his writer are not on same page over Joaquin Phoenix hoax

September 23, 2010 |  4:11 pm

LETTRMAN

What did David Letterman know and when did he know it?

That question keeps coming up with regards to Joaquin Phoenix's infamous appearance on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" in February 2009 when the actor was practically incoherent and looked more like a lost member of ZZ Top than he did an Oscar-nominated movie star.

On Wednesday night, Phoenix, who it turned out was faking his mumbling and rapping shtick for a movie being directed by Casey Affleck, reappeared on Letterman's show to promote the fake documentary "I'm Still Here" and apologize for dragging Letterman into his act.

Letterman, seemingly trying to make clear to his audience that he wasn't part of the joke, asked Phoenix, "I was not part of it, was I?" Phoenix said no to that and Letterman's question about whether the two of them were working off a script.

The only problem is Letterman's remarks on the show Wednesday about not being part of the gag contradict one of his writers, who last year told NUVO, an alternative newspaper in Indianapolis, that the host did indeed know it was hoax all along.

In an interview with Marc Allan, Letterman writer Bill Scheft made it pretty clear that everyone knew it was a stunt from the get-go. 

"That was all an act," Scheft said, adding, "Dave knew about it."

That, of course, doesn't jibe with what Letterman said on the show, and Letterman's people aren't commenting. Scheft did not immediately respond to an e-mail asking him about the discrepancy between his and Letterman's version of the events. A spokesman for Worldwide Pants, the production company that makes Letterman's show, said in an e-mail that "candidly ... I believe Bill is going to decline comment."

Although Scheft and the folks at Letterman's show are unwilling to clarify the situation, Allan stands by his story.

Contacted in Indiana where he is now working in media relations at Butler University, Allan, who has free-lanced for the Los Angeles Times, said he quoted Bill exactly right and even got a note from the Letterman writer after the piece ran telling him he did a nice job.

"I have no idea why Dave said that, why he is denying he knew about it in advance," Allan said, adding "the whole thing is mysterious and weird to me."

Us too.

— Joe Flint

Photo: Letterman and Phoenix catch up on old times. Credit: Jeffrey R. Staab / Associated Press.

Related post:

Joaquin Phoenix returns to David Letterman's show.

For the record: The name of alternative paper NUVO was incorrectly identified as NOVO in an earlier version of this post.

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