This is a blog post with an unfair headline.
In her interview with Andrew Goldman in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross has very nice things to say about Howard Stern. Here’s the good parts:
AG: When you interviewed Gene Simmons in 2002, he said some really shocking things to you, like, “If you want to welcome me with open arms, I’m afraid you’re also gonna have to welcome me with open legs.” He wasn’t in the studio with you. Do you suppose he would have been such a pig had you been face to face?
TG: He probably wouldn’t have. I’ve had guests walk out on me but never had a guest walk out on me face to face, ever.
AG: What’s so funny about that interview is, despite saying all those filthy things, Gene Simmons sounds so much like everybody’s Jewish grandfather from Miami.
TG: I know. That’s what I love about Howard Stern too. On the one hand he’s so out there and so radical, but within him is this kvetchy Jewish grandfather. Howard Stern is a radio genius.
AG:You two are perhaps the best at eliciting revealing interviews out of your subjects. What do you think the biggest stylistic difference is?
TG: I don’t ask about their penis size.
So let me point out three reasons why Stern is actually a far better interviewer:
1) No subject is off limits. This goes without saying. He will push into people’s sex life, anatomy, religious beliefs, political opinions—all the areas decent law abiding interviewers stay far away from. He’ll push and push for answers. I can’t see Terry Gross asking Alec Baldwin how many times he has sex with his new young wife. Instead of trivializing people, it humanizes them.
2) He is not afraid to be personally revealing. If Howard asks about masturbation, he’ll throw in his own answer as well. Sometimes he’ll do it jokingly (penis size) but more often than not, he makes people feel comfortable, or beholden, by first fessing up himself.
3) He’s in therapy. The more therapy he does, the better he’s able to push people, to uncover their motivations, to get deeper into their psyche. The result is people who I’m not particularly interested in (say, Billy Corgan, or any porn star) become interesting, because Howard manages to unlock something universal in their particular stories.
Terry Gross is well-prepared (Howard’s crew does a great job with his notes as well). She’s a good listener. She’s politically pretty bold. But she’s no Howard Stern.
Speaking of Howard’s honesty, his willingness to deal with his dog Bianca’s death on air—and cry over it—made for very powerful radio.
To donate to North Shore Animal League in memory of Bianca, click here.