Posted by Rob Eshman
One of the criticisms you hear about Stern is that he has an out of control ego. I think a better term is healthy. Howard’s healthy ego is a lesson in itself. And the lesson is this: ego is good.
People say we live in a narcissistic society, that we are the twisted children of a Me generation of unbridled entitlement and desire, but often I find just the opposite: people shrink from their true power and their true potential. Every rabbi at some point drags out the story of a sage named Zusia who had a vision of what the angels would ask him in heaven. They wouldn’t ask him why he wasn’t as great as Moses, or Joshua. They would ask him why he wasn’t as great as Zusia.
“They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?’”
Howard doesn’t shirk from being fully himself. He has used his talents to their fullest, and asserted his personality into a sedate media landscape. He’s been fully Howard.
The apotheosis of this is of course the Howard 100 News—an entire professional news team devoted to gathering and presenting news about Howard Stern and his universe. Is there a better spoof of our celebrity-crazed society? Is there a more brilliant parody of celebs who feed on creating TMZ- worthy moments? The Howard 100 News is celebrity culture taken to its goofy extreme, where every star hires his or her own team of journalists to report on their every thought. (The difference between TMZ and Howard 100 News is that Howard uses truly seasoned journalists. I’ve been interviewed by Steve Langford a few times and there is zero difference in professionalism and approach between him and someone reporting on health care or nuclear terrorism). I’m trying to think of any comedian who’s done something similar to the Howard 100 News, and I can’t. It’s not like having a straight man, it’s like having a division of straight men.
That comic idea—that a star deserves his own news channel—can only come from someone who isn’t afraid of asserting his ego, of taking total control of his world and his image. Howard’s got an out of control ego? Like that’s a bad thing…...
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January 26, 2010 | 4:25 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Today Howard Stern did the impossible: he made me care about Ozzie Osborne. Don’t really know who the guy is, haven’t listened to his music, and I couldn’t care less about his reality show or what he has to say—when I can understand what he’s saying. Today I turned in to hear Howard interviewing Ozzie about his new autobiography. I was just about to switch to All Things Considered when Howard pushed the interview in a direction that had me riveted: he asked Ozzie about the 19 times he failed his driving exam. It’s not the kind of thing most interviewers would latch onto, but Howard must have sensed there was comic gold there.
“How do you fail a driving test 19 times?” Howard asked.
Ozzie then told the story of showing up high, or drunk, of having instructors refuse to get into a car with him—it wasn’t an anecdote, it was a whole movie. Howard has that ability to push into places in interviews where a great, untold story lies hidden, and draw it out. Part of it I think is his talent as an entertainer, his sense that what interests him will interest his audience. But deeper than that is his sense of curiosity, driving him to go beyond almost all other print or on air interviewers would go.
When I interviewed the great Israeli novelist Amos Oz earlier this year, he said the key to his talent is just that, curiosity. It drives one to a deeper understanding of oneself and the world and makes for great art… and great radio.
January 11, 2010 | 6:23 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
For the past few days Howard’s been playing and replaying an argument that took place on the after-hours “Wrap Up Show” between Stern Show writer Benjy Bronk and Tracy Millman. It’s verbal cage fighting. Benjy is a funny guy, a show writer, but he cannot go word for word with this tough chick who bats him around with her mouth until he literally starts making animal noises. And here’s the kicker: Tracy is not an on-air talent, she’s the office manager.
A few years ago, Tracy had a now-famous run in with Steve Grillo, a former show intern who was working as a bartender. She accused him of stiffing her with a big bar tab for drinks he said he’d comp her. That was the first time Stern—and his fans—heard Tracy Unleashed, and it was radio gold. Stern’s talent, his genius, is to recognize the power of a truly individual voice. In some ways that’s the heart of his show’s success: his ability to bring out and highlight the unique voice of everyone in his orbit. He recognizes, and is truly excited by, the power of the true, honest individual voice.
Now he’s talking about giving Tracy Millman her own radio show. (I can just see it, TMZ, the Tracy Millman Zone. Let Harvey Levin come after her and she could snap his head off with a hard stare).
“If she could bring up that level of honesty and anger,” Stern said , “she’d be a huge personality.”
There’s a big lesson there: find your true voice, and you could be huge.
Especially if your true voice is really articulate when its angry…...
January 10, 2010 | 1:44 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
I’m at a gelato place in North Hollywood, sitting at a communal table that’s papered over with sections of today’s LA Times and New York Times. An Asian-looking woman sits down and spots the LA TImes Calendar section with its cover story about NBC canceling Jay Leno’s 10 pm show. She picks it up and says to her byfriend, “Howard Stern was right.”
That’s it—point proved. Howard still attracts a demographic completely at odds with his image among his critics. The Asian woman has a pink blackberry and a Bottega Veneta wallet. She’s sitting with two Asian men in button down shirts, talking about real estate REOs. All look around early thirty, professional. His critics say Howard only appeals to post-pubescent white boys addicted to half-naked lesbians and fart jokes. What about thirty-something Asian-American professionals?
I ask the woman about Howard. She says she’s been listening for three years—a lot of her friends do. The two guys with her say they listen too. We get into a discussion about Howard;‘s future on Sirius—and we all agree that the technology itself doesn’t have much of a future. Younger people can just program their listening through Pandora or whatever’s next. Without Howard the company is toast.
“What will happen to Richard and Sal?” the woman asks.
“I’m not worried about them,” one of her friends says. “What about J.D.?”
“He’ll end up working for Ronnie,” the third guy says.
“You think Artie’s coming back?” the woman asks me.
I shake my head. It seems he’s got a long road to wellness, and being on the show full time any time soon seems unlikely. We’re quiet for a second. Mournful. Until one of the guys says, “Man, I drank too much.”
January 7, 2010 | 12:31 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The New York Post reported today that Artie Lange is hospitalized after attempting suicide:
Troubled comic Artie Lange landed in the hospital after stabbing himself nine times in an apparent suicide attempt, sources told The Post. Lange’s frantic mom called 911 Saturday morning after she entered his Hoboken apartment and found the bloodied funnyman, a law-enforcement source said. Lange sustained six “hesitation wounds” and three deep plunges. A source close to Lange’s management team confirmed that the Howard Stern sidekick stabbed himself, adding that his mother had come to visit him that day to drop off food. Surgeons managed to save Lange despite heavy bleeding. “We all have our demons,” Stern said on-air this week, referring to Lange’s past battles with addiction. “Artie has given this show tremendous moments of great comedy. He’s a tremendous contributor. He is a good man. Don’t forget how great he is.”
Artie is supremely talented—a guaranteed laugh on the way to work. My heart and prayers g out to him and his family.
I Googled a bit and found that self-stabbing is a rare form of suicide, and particularly troubling. One study reported that most stabbers are male (70 percent) and the vast majority to not succeed in killing themselves. All of them are intoxicated at the time of the attempted self-stabbing. The 1994 study found that self-stabbers fell into two groups:
The patients fell into two distinct clinical groups: the first consisted mostly of young men with antisocial personalities who were intoxicated at the time of the self-stabbing and who reported ambivalent suicidal intent; the second consisted of psychotic patients, most of whom were actively ill at the time of the self-stabbing, and who reported clear suicidal intent. Patients in the first group were noncompliant with treatment and difficult to engage; those in the second group needed psychiatric hospitalization and often responded to antipsychotic medication.
Artie, from what I’ve heard over the years, sounds like he could belong to either group.
Howard spoke about Artie today for the first time since break. He refused to go into detail. He was walking that line he often comes up against when he finds himself treating a personal or show matter completely differently than he would if it happened to another celebrity, or someone he actually didn’t like. Double standard? Absolutely—and he makes no apology. One of Howard’s quality is that he’s an experienced and mature broadcaster, well-aware of what the real limits of propriety are. They have nothing to do with dick jokes or naughty words or fart sounds, as the FCC would have it. They have to do with how you treat those around you—and Howard seems to know how to do that like a real mench.
Artie: good luck. Find Jesus or a good shrink or Britt Hume or a great prescription or whatever—you will get better, you will keep being funny, you will love and laugh and eat canoli again.