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Sneed exclusive: Comedian Tom Dreesen on his friend, David Letterman

The Letterman file . . .

“I’m worried about him.

“If it weren’t for his son, Harry, I’d really be worried about him.”

Thus spoke comedian Tom Dreesen about his buddy, David Letterman, who exited his legendary late-night talk show Wednesday night.

OPINION

“Dave is a reclusive, shy guy who absolutely adores his son, Harry, who will be the reason Dave opts to stay in New York,” said Dreesen, who has been close friends with Letterman since 1975 — when both worked as unknowns at L.A.’s Comedy Store.

“But if it wasn’t for Harry, my best bet is Dave would be hidden in the mountains of Montana, living on his ranch, riding one of his 27 horses,” added Dreesen, who hails from Harvey, Ill.

“He loves Montana. His ranch is huge. You drive forever to get there and it’s so hidden, I told him, ‘You are worried about the National Enquirer finding you? Hell. The FBI couldn’t find you.’”

“My guess for the future? Dave will get involved in his production company Worldwide Pants . . . and then just fade away, like they say about old soldiers.”

Dreesen, who is this/close to Letterman, reminisced with Sneed on Tuesday about the first time they met.

“He had a beard and was driving a red pick-up truck!

“Dave had just left his job as a weatherman in Indiana,” he said. “He was married at the time and his wife had a job.

“Look, we started out together. I met him offstage at the Comedy Store. He had originally planned to be a writer. He saw my performance and said he really liked my set.

“We became fast friends as stand-up comics, along with the rest of the unknowns at the club like Robin Williams, Jay Leno, Michael Keaton, Gallagher . . . and, oh yeah, Debra Winger was the girl waiting tables.

“It was an amazing time!”

“I’m extroverted. Dave is shy. A private guy. But we became buddies. Good buddies. I taught him how to play racquetball until he eventually beat me. We played basketball. Jogged together.

“You know, every comedian had a stage persona. For some, it is a continuation of themselves. Not Dave. His stage persona is arrogant, cocky, acerbic. But he is really socially shy and none of those things.

“Dave is actually what St. Catherine of Siena once said: ‘If you are what you should be, you’ll set the world ablaze.’ David Letterman is who he should be. He is a broadcaster. He was never comfortable as a stand-up comedian.

“He is also a picky eater and never comfortable in big, fancy, public restaurants, although one day he surprised me by inviting me to dine at the 21 Club in New York.

“So we walk in, and Martha Stewart waves hello, and we walk past her and go down some winding stairs until we hit a brick wall and then a door opens and we’re in a little room like a wine cellar with a table and five chairs.

“It was where people like Elizabeth Taylor kept her wine stored, and that isolated setting was David all the way. He was never good in crowds and could never take a compliment. His dad died when he was young and I think it affected him.

“Look, we talk or e-mail each other all the time. He’s my friend and he’s scared. Hell, I spent four years in the military and that was hard to transition to civilian life. Can you imagine how he feels after 33 years as a late-night talk show host?”

And when Letterman decided to go to Iraq to entertain, he took Dreesen with him.

“There was a time when Dave was going through a tough time and I spent two weeks with him at Lake Tahoe. I was there for him and he’s always been there for me.

“The first time he hosted ‘The Tonight Show’ for Johnny Carson, I went with him. He was a nervous wreck. Tom Snyder of ‘The Late Late Show’ made a comment like, ‘I want to see reaction of the crowd when this no-name comes out!’ A year later, Snyder’s show was taken off the air and Letterman replaced him!”

“One night outside the Comedy Store, I got into a fight. I punched the guy. Dave couldn’t believe I’d ‘sock’ someone. I wouldn’t have used the word ‘sock.’ ”

“I told him, ‘You are not physically mean, but intellectually you can cut someone to ribbons.’ One night a drunk heckler was giving him a hard time on stage — and Dave cut him down to size. Turned out it was Ringo Starr.”

“‘You’ve ruined your career and now you want to ruin mine,’ he told Ringo.”

Speaking of careers, Dreesen, who was the opening act for legendary singer Frank Sinatra, hits town in June and is performing in his hit show, “An Evening of Laughter and Memories of Sinatra,” June 12 -13 at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind. . . . Singing during the seventh inning stretch June 24 at Wrigley Field . . . and making appearances all over the city June 10-29, while visiting family and old friends. Bet he’ll be sitting outside Gibsons on a sunny day.

Sneedlings . . .

Thursday’s birthdays: Mr. T, 63; Al Franken, 64, and Lisa Edelstein, 49.