WARNING: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday’s episode of The Masked Singer. Read at your own risk!
Turns out it was a beloved late-night star, not Martin Short or Steve Martin, who was behind dem bones! David Letterman‘s former The Late Show sidekick Paul Shaffer was the latest celebrity to get the ol’ heave ho from Fox’s The Masked Singer. Here, the 69-year-old former bandleader talks about why he chose to dress up as the walking dead, and how his old boss recognized him long before the judges did.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hi! You were supposed to be Martin Short.
PAUL SHAFFER: Ah, is that is who you were expecting, seriously? That’s hilarious.
I thought the clues were pretty good. What did you think?
You know what? The experience of doing the show, you are so sequestered. They really take the security part of it really seriously. You’re in a trailer outside the building. When you leave that trailer, you’ve got to mask up, you’ve got a hoodie and a visor, like you’re the Men in Black or something. Then you’ve got that giant head on when you’re rehearsing. So you’re not even aware of stuff like [the clues]. You certainly don’t see or hear the other contestants. That was my experience. I didn’t know what the hell was going on.
It was such a coup to get you. Was it a hard sell to convince you to do this?
Not at all, because I had seen some of the episodes from last year. Whenever I was home, I would watch it, because it was just so crazy. Yet, at the same time, it had two really good singers on the panel, and the other two were pretty hip people as well. It the midst of all that bizarreness, they were really going for vocal quality. Who is the best singer in these strange costumes? So it was a funny combination. When I got the call, I just said, absolutely. What a funny thing. It did not let me down. It was just as crazy as I would’ve thought.
Did they give you a choice in costumes?
Yes, they did. When I was looking at making a choice, I was going to maybe try to do some movement because I’m no singer. I don’t have a beautiful vocal instrument. I thought maybe I’ll do a few steps, and I could do that in the skeleton costume rather than some of those others like the ice cream cone or something. Strategically, maybe that was a mistake. Who knows? But Skelly and I became very close alter egos by the time we were done.
On the first night, I noticed that they had to help you come down the stairs. Was that because you couldn’t see?
It was both. You can’t really see where you’re going, and it was a big step, so they helped me off of it. You can’t look down. You’ve got a big head on you. But also, I thought the Skeleton should come out like a bag of bones. Like he can barely walk, you know? Then when the music hits, he jumps to it. I was trying to do that as well, trying to play that all at once.
Was “Rapper’s Delight” your choice for your first song?
I gave them a list of songs that I thought I could do, that I remembered. Apparently, they told me later, there was a teleprompter with lyrics, but who could see that? I had to know it. “Rapper’s Delight” I knew from way back in the day. It was so novel way back then that I memorized some of the verses, especially the one about how the chicken just tastes like wood. That’s the one they thought I should start with.
Let’s talk about what you sang tonight.
I went down in flames with the song “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by the band Jet. I remembered Jet performing it on Letterman, and I liked it. I liked it then. It was one that I thought, maybe I shouldn’t go all to the ’60s, or even the ’70s. Let me try to do something a little more contemporary. That’s one I thought maybe I could pull off. There’s some speaking in that too, which I took advantage of. And the style, it’s rock. Again, it wasn’t a beautiful, it’s not like I was trying to sing a beautiful ballad like Ariana Grande. Jenny McCarthy, by the time I got on, already knew it was me. She figured it out somehow.
Did you ever work with her or know her well?
No, I don’t think so. But they were all talking about sidekicks, because that was one of the clues. They were saying Andy Richter. Then I said to myself, why not Paul Shaffer? I was trying to get the mic to say, why not Paul Shaffer? I didn’t get that line in. Don’t ask me why or how she figured it out. “Rapper’s Delight,” I mean, let’s face it: It’s simply me talking. In retrospect, it was kind of easy to recognize my voice from that.
Well, I’m glad to hear it. The whole thing was so much fun, though. Those clues! I didn’t even know about them. There was something on the gravestone about the number of shows we had done on Letterman. People were tweeting at me, “You got the number of shows wrong.” I didn’t even know that number was in the set on the gravestone.
So viewers did recognize you.
Yes, that’s right. One of the tweets came from a guy who is an expert on the Letterman show, and knows everything about it. He started tweeting that we got the numbers wrong.
How many people in your life knew about this?
My family, or as the kids say, my team. I got a little team too. But anyone who you tell has to sign a nondisclosure agreement. So my 20-year-old son, William, who is in college, all his friends were asking him. He couldn’t say anything.
So are you expecting to get a call from Dave tomorrow?
He called me a couple of weeks ago! He knows about these nondisclosure agreements. So he says to me on the phone, “You don’t have to say anything, but I know it’s you. I know how you walk.” That’s how he recognized me, from my walk. We were together every day for 33 years, after all.
The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.