Posted by Rob Eshman
My son doesn’t like it when I listen to Howard. All summer I’ve been driving him to his internship in Beverly Hills. I wait in the car for him to get out of the house, figuring the extra time he takes are a few extra minutes of Howard. He gets in the passenger seat and reaches to turn off the radio.
“Can’t we just talk?”
“No.” I bat at his hand. “Let me listen. If you don’t laugh, you never have to listen again.”
He accepts. He’s always loved to laugh. I think he would sell me out for a Henny Youngman joke. (Last night he told one of his latest favorites: A girl goes up to her boyfriend and says, “I think we need to stop seeing each other. Everyone says you’re a pedophile.” The boyfriend says, “That’s a pretty big word for a 10 year old.”)
So we listen, and sure enough, by about Venice and Sepulveda, Adi cracks a smile. By the time I drop him off on Canon, he’s laughed at least once. Yesterday he held out until we got to Mar Vista. Then Howard made his crack about Don Imus knowing how to treat kids with cancer when he can’t even put together a decent radio show. Adi laughed. Today he held out all the way to Beverlywood, until Artie did his Christian Bale impression. That set him off.
I like to listen for the guaranteed laugh on the way to work, but I realize there’s a much bigger reason I’m compelled to tune in: Howard is my teacher.
The revelation came to me when Howard was talking to Robin about, hmm, how do I say this—bathroom hygiene. He was nailing down the particulars—wiping with toilet paper versus moist towelettes versus showering. I found it all compelling, even if it was frustrating that in 20 years of talking about it, no one has mentioned the obvious: buy a bidet attachment for your toilet, $200 bucks, install it with a crescent wrench, and you’re done, end of story, case closed, and cleaned.
It’s true that one of Howard’s main influence on the larger culture is his willingness to talk about the things we all do, but which, for good reasons or bad, we’re loathe to discuss. Important—but that’s not what makes him so powerful to me. In fact, what he says, as groundbreaking as it is, is in the end less important than what he does. Howard affects the culture, and his listeners lives—including mine—by what he does. By example.
Ultimately I think that’s why we keep listening. Put all the bits and gags and interviews and doodie jokes aside—Howard is a radio therapist, an inspirational broadcaster, a self-help guru—disguised as a shock jock.
I can think of ten ways Howard has inspired and led by example. Here’s the first and most obvious one. Let’s call it, Stern Rule #1.
Run TOWARD conflict, not away from it.
Think about it. His battles with management. With and among his staff. With the Congress. With the culture. Howard will say he didn’t necessarily seek out these battles, and in his personal life I have no idea how he handles conflict (I don’t know the guy, and I’m writing here about his on-air persona, which of course can’t be one and the same with his radio persona. Otherwise he’d have killed himself a long time ago).
But on air, he relishes a battle. He thrusts himself into it, well-prepared, fully-loaded, his facts and allies in place. Most of us (by that I mean me) shy away from head-butting.
I can say Howard has led me to at least learn to go for it, if not relish it.
That’s a great gift—above and beyond the dick jokes.
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August 9, 2009 | 3:06 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
All weekend the Stern Show has been replaying tape of a visit the Howard Stern Show took to the Playboy Mansion in 2001. Howard’s interview with Hugh Hefner got me thinking about something I’d given a lot of thought to in the past: Why isn’t there a Howard Magazine?
Howard has had success in radio, television, movies and books—almost all media. He demonstrated his ability to create and serve a huge audience across many different platforms. But he neglected to conquer the one media that would ensure his vision and values endure even as he leaves radio and, like Hef, grows old.
I’m sure Howard has thought about doing a magazine. After all, one of his major influences was Mad magazine. And think how much of his show revolves around what appears in Playboy, Penthouse and the pages of national magazines.
These days of course the media environment makes the chances of launching a successful print periodical about nil: anything he does now would have to be web-based with a specialty print component (monthly limited circ collector’s editions, perhaps). But, still, there are two compelling reasons he should try:
1. To ensure his values will continue to influence the culture. As I’ve tried to prove in this blog, Howard Stern stands for something beyond boobs and fart jokes (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The values that animate his show—humor, tolerance, honesty, fairness, fun—need to be part of the American conversation.
2. To rebrand the Howard Stern Show. He can’t keep doing the radio show forever. Even if he re-ups another couple of years, at some point the air goes out of the balloon. What he needs to do is what Hef brillianty did—create a vehicl that can stay young and fresh even as he ages. Howard then becomes the impresario and Creator-Genius, with as much or as little hands-on involvement as he wants, but he doesn’t have to wake up at 5 am every morning to do it.
3. To serve his fan base. When Howard does leave radio, he will leave a lot of hungry fans, and that’s money left on the table. He would never stoop to gimmickry to mine their last dollars, but a web/print publication could maintain his standards, attract advertisers and serve his fans long after the show—and God forbid even Howard—are gone.
August 4, 2009 | 5:57 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
On vacation up in Lake Arrowhead, I turned on Howard in the car. I’d been with my family the whole time, which means no Howard. I love the guy, but anyone who allows his 13 year-old daughter listen to Howard Stern deserves a visit from Child Services.
I was running up to the local market, and had some alone time. Howard in the mountains is discordant. Arrowhead isn’t exactly Deliverance; it’s 2 hours from LA, surrounded by giant homes and laced with the wakes of 1000 speedboats, about as rural as Lincoln Center. But it’s still San Bernardino County, not the big city, and I realized as Howard’s voice merged with the scenery of pine trees and lakefront, how intensely urban an experience he is.
And that’s why so many Americans hate him.
Howard Stern stands for the city. He is, in a phrase I’ll borrow from the writer Ruth Ellen Gruber, a ruthless cosmopolitan—celebrating New York, urban culture, reveling in its language and people and its pace. What about the country? Howard puts country music up there with herpes sores and open sewage. His endless crank phone calls nine times out of 10 go to people with thick Southern accents. To Howard, the city is life, the country a swamp.
Many Americans despise him for this, and whenever the cultural wars flare, he is an easy and ready target.
But their tactic is a bit more insidious than that.
Because his attackers know they can also count on the fact that in the popular imagination, Cosmopolitan=Jewish. There is no People more closely associated with the city than the Jews. And Howard is so obviously, clearly physically Jewish, I can’t help assuming the Focus on the Family sorts, in targeting Howard, are counting on a dose of latent anti-semitism to further inflame their culture warriors.
After all, Howard is an abortion-supporting, porn-loving, four-letter-word spouting, New York Jew. What better symbol to the culture warriors of all that is decadent and liberal in America.
The problem, of course, is that the stereotype doesn’t exactly fit. Howard is also a Libertarian, a gun-owner, a supporter of Giuliani and D’Amato, and as conservative a businessman, family man and father as anybody walking into church in San Bernardino. He also likes fishing, vacationing in the country (at least), and girly music, like Katy Perry. That makes him not a stereotypical Jew, but a complicated Jew. Which is to say, a real Jew.
But his voice still doesn’t jive with lakes and pine trees.