Tony “Inky” Mendez, who served as David Letterman’s cue card guy for 21 years, will narrowly miss out on seeing Letterman to the end, after being fired for assault. According to the New York Post, Tony—who’s often been seen on screen as Letterman jokes around with him, and who also hosts the behind-the-scenes online series The Tony Mendez Show—had long been sparring with Bill Scheft, the show’s 15-time Emmy-nominated staff writer. “Bill was always undermining me—making himself out as Dave’s No. 1,” Mendez tells the Post. “Trying to pretend that I wasn’t even in the room . . . little passive-aggressive things.” And those little passive-aggressive things quickly turned into a big, aggressive-aggressive thing after Mendez finally decided he’d had it with Scheft exerting control over changes to the cards:
On Wednesday, Oct. 8, the three were rehearsing in Letterman’s backstage digs at the Ed Sullivan Theater when Mendez said he reacted to one of Scheft’s interruptions, telling him, “I know what I’m doing. Get off my back.”
But suddenly Letterman growled, “Tony, your sour disposition isn’t helping,” Mendez recalled.
“ ‘You’re the one who has the sour disposition, motherfucker,’ ’’ Mendez snapped back.
As seen on The Tony Mendez Show, that abusive relationship is par for the course with Mendez and Letterman. (“That’s how we talk. We tell each other ‘Fuck you’ and ‘Hey asshole,’” Mendez says.) But this time, Mendez says his feelings were hurt. “And then I realized that this is what Bill was doing,” Mendez tells the Post. “He was trying to create a wedge between us so Dave would think I was an asshole.”
After he “stewed all night,” Mendez arrived at work the next morning, determined to prove he wasn’t an asshole by assaulting Scheft. “I just grabbed him by the shirt,” Mendez says. “He was very surprised. He didn’t say a word. He was cowering, his eyes were real big, he probably peed a little bit on his pants.” And while Mendez definitely seems to be bragging a bit, he makes it clear that this altercation, where he was a big tough guy taking on the “bespectacled, 57-year-old” Scheft, was a mistake. “I’m the first one to say I should have never put my hands on him, but I never hit him. I just grabbed him and got my face in his face,” he says.
Nevertheless, Mendez was immediately kicked out of the theater and officially fired last week, though the Post says he’ll still receive a full salary and benefits through the end of Letterman’s waning tenure. Mendez also makes it clear he holds no will toward Letterman or the show, saying, “You do some things, and then you learn from them.” Given that Mendez is also classically trained in ballet, hopefully he’s learned that most of life’s problems are best solved through dance.