Jewish Journal

The Greatest Media Interviewer?

by Rob Eshman

June 19, 2009 | 9:14 pm

Just a clarification. As much as my wife tells me to turn off Howard whn she gets into the car— “Enough already with the Howard!”—she listened to every word of his Paul McCartney, Carly Simon, Francis Ford Coppola and other big name interviews.  I thought of that today as I heard the replay of his Jack Black interview from earlier this week.  Click on any station this week and you’ll see Black answering such hard hitting and revealing questions as, “Tell us about you movie.”

But Stern follows his own curiousity.  He wanted to know why Tenacious D, Black’s self-created rock star character, was such a bomb.  Stern’s fans know he will almost always push a celebrity into uncomfortable areas, where a star’s humanity will have to emerge out from under the pile of public relations manure. There are exceptions: one glaring one was that he didn’t ask Coppola about Godfather 3.  (Did he not dare?  Was he cautioned not to?  Did he figure that in the scheme of things how important was one screw up?  And time spent talking about Godfather 3 was time robbed from talking about Coppola learning about masturbation, or growing up with polio. Anyway, this isn’t the Howard Stern-Is-Perfect Blog). 

But the interview with Black did go into the discomfort zone. From the Howard Stern official web site show wrap up:

Howard asked how Tenacious D was doing, so Jack laughed that the rock duo’s movie was a bomb: “It was a big flop. Zero people went to see it…I was devastated because I was going around town telling people how awesome it was going to be.”  Jack confessed that the movie’s failure ended his writing career

You may, like my wife, despise the stripper routines and fart jokes, but I can think of a few reasons off the top of my head why Stern is arguably the best celebrity interviewer in broadcast media:

1. He listens.
2. He’s genuinely curious.
3. He pushes where others back away: into sex, into money, into the stuff the non-celebrities among us deal with all the time.
4. It’s a team effort: Fred’s sound effects and info; Robin’s questions; Arties anecdotes and jokes.  One of the reason the show succeeds is that it’s built around four personalities, not one. (Much more on this in a later blog).
5. He’s not afraid to be despised. It’s part of his appeal.  If he clicks with a guest, he wins.  If he doesn’t, he wins.
6. He plays to his audience, not his guests.
7. He’s on Sirius satellite radio, so he’s not bound by infantilizing FCC language and content rules, or too constrained by commercial breaks.

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Rob Eshman created the blog Serious Stern on June 17, 2009.  Serious Stern is devoted to a serious (hence the name) exploration of the cultural impact of Howard Stern.

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