REGINA — An 81-year-old Saskatchewan gas jockey still has vivid memories of stepping out on David Letterman’s stage.
It was 1995 and Dick Assman found himself at the apex of “Assmania,” a Letterman-fuelled craze surrounding the Regina man’s unusual name.
“When I went on the stage, that was something else,” Assman said Tuesday, recalling his trip to New York to meet a throng of screaming studio audience members. “You walk on there, everybody is hollering.
“It was great, everything was first class. I enjoyed it.”
“Assmania” all started with a local ad in a Regina newspaper explaining that Assman, who worked at a Petro-Canada gas station in Regina, would be moving locations.
Letterman, who retires from his late show this week, pointed to the hilarity of Assman’s name and the short comedy bit snowballed into a recurring joke.
Assman notes the correct pronunciation of his German name is OSS-man, but he didn’t mind playing along with the joke.
“Nobody really said anything before, but now they do,” he said with a laugh. “It’s OK with me. If you want to have fun with it, go ahead.”
Ray Assman said the joke led to international celebrity status for his older brother. The name was emblazoned on T-shirts, pens and bumper stickers.
“Every time you mention it to him, his eyes light up,” he said. “Even to this day, people still ask me how he made out with it … it’s unbelievable.”
On a trip to Las Vegas, Ray Assman remembers a border security guard asking him if he knew the Letterman guest when he saw his passport.
“It’s not only in Regina, it’s all over.”
But Ray Assman noted that the fame never went to his brother’s head.
“If he won the lottery, he wouldn’t change his lifestyle. All he has ever done is work all his life,” he said. “He definitely enjoyed it.”
Dick Assman, who still pumps gas at a Petro-Canada station in Regina, said he hasn’t kept any of the merchandise featuring his name.
“I’m still doing the same thing I did before. I’ve got the same friends. I’m still working.”
He added that he wants to wish Letterman well in retirement. The Late Show with David Letterman will air its last show on Wednesday.
“I hope he retires happy, and good luck to him,” Assman said.
Clare Clancy, The Canadian Press