Posted by Rob Eshman
Only Richard Corliss in Time magazine got it right. This is a terrific movie. Kenny Turan at The LA Times, Anthony Lane in The New Yorker, the guy in The New York Times, especially Benjamin Ivry in The Forward— they should apologize for their reviews of this movie. The audience applauded at the end. At the screen. They knew no one up there could hear them, and they still troubled themselves to clap. Believe me, that wasn’t happening over at “The Proposal.”
So go see it. And if you’re a Stern fan, you’ll sit there and be struck at how much the David/Allen character reminds you of Howard. It could only have been more perfect if Woody had named the character Allen David Stern.
Woody Allen. Larry David. Howard Stern. Allen David Stern.
They are, when you think about it, one man.
Sons of battered immigrants, marinated in mother guilt, fascinated and fearful of the outside world, sickly ambitious and hence resolutely disciplined and productive, heavily therapized, prone to anhedonia …
…And funny as shit.
It always bothered me when Stern railed against Woody Allen. It felt like the folks were fighting. That was back when Allen left Mia Farrow for her
(CORRECTION: adopted daughter) Soon Yi. I got the sense Stern was not just legitimately outraged by Allen’s behavior, but that he was personally friendly with Farrow (Stern-the-professional clearly has a web of personal entertainment industry connections that play into how Stern-the-entertainer reacts on air.)
To me, it felt like fratricide, like the scene in Avalon when the two uncles couldn’t sit at the same table (“YOU CUT THE TURKEY!!!”) After all, Stern and Allen are two men who couldn’t be more similar in their backgrounds, their humor, their brilliant use of satire, and their impact on the larger culture. Then comes Larry David, the third musketeer. Call them the latter day Marx Brothers, except they’re not Groucho, Harpo and Chico,they’re Groucho, Groucho and Groucho. They’re not the Three Stooges, they’re Moe, Moe, and Moe.
Like Groucho and Moe, they’re the big brothers, the leaders, the ones who at the end of the day need only their brains, words and wit. Each of them is, as Larry David’s character in Whatever Works says, “a man with a huge worldview.”
It’s the worldview of the eternal outsider, no matter how much fame and money and critical success they achieve. It’s how come on today’s show, when Howard was interviewing Lydia Hearst, the model/actress/heiress to the Hearst fortune, and he asks her what kind of provisions her parents have set out in her trust fund, he quickly adds, “Obviously, no Jews, right?”
That’s the humor of someone who no matter how much they’ve arrived, will never fully feel like he’s arrived.
And thank God for our culture Allen David Stern has a son, and his name is Sasha Barron Cohen.
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June 19, 2009 | 9:14 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
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.
June 18, 2009 | 9:14 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
So yesterday I posted my first Stern blog, put my computer to sleep, went down to my car and turned it on. The first words I heard out of the radio were: “Super elongated [female body part].”
I had to laugh. Here I was trying to describe Stern in the most elevated terms, dedicating a whole blog to understanding his critical impact on culture—and then he smacks me in the face with a super-elongated….
Here’s where Stern differs from the rest of the media pack that has covered the lurid story. First, he stakes out a position. He’s a Jew and he has an opinion. I’ve listened to the show long enough to know that he has a knee-jerk rant against sex change operations. “The doctors who do these things should be locked up,” he says. He calls it mutilation. He says the same about circumcision (he has three daughters, so he never had to face the choice).
Then, after giving his opinion, Stern demanded details. Exact details. How do they form her organs into his. A skin graft? A bone transplant? Does it have sensation? Can it be used like an authentic one.
Keep in mind Stern’s on Sirius now, so there’s no FCC regulation. This is adults speaking to adults, using adult words. Stern is unafraid to be graphic in the pursuit of information, and as difficult as it is to hear, it is fascinating. That’s one Stern attribute: He doesn’t look away. Most of the media draws us in to a topic especially for its lurid value, but then takes a polite step back. If Stern has a transsexual on the show, he has the woman pull down her pants and has someone describe, in detail, what’s doing. “Nothing human is strange to me,” the Roman poet Terence wrote. The truth is, almost everything human is strange to us, and Stern forces us to look.
I get in the car this morning and Stern is still talking Chastity. This time he is getting a report from one of his reporters, Lisa G (née Glasberg), who he sent out to investigate how exactly a sex change operation works. She reports back that it involves clipping a ligament, freeing up a woman’s sexual part, adding a kind of prostheses, creating a sort of robo-penis. The gang on the show cracks some jokes about it.
It’s so awful, Stern concludes, you gotta believe no one would choose to go through this if they didn’t have to. Same with choosing to be gay, he says.
And here is where Stern’s talent really impresses me, and where society underestimates him: by going deep on Chastity Bono, he has just educated his audience, brought a hidden and shamed world into the light, laughed about it—used humor and information to foster tolerance. We fear what we don’t know, we hate what we don’t understand. Stern’s show goes a long way, among a wide demographic, to reducing that ignorance.
June 17, 2009 | 8:56 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Warning: No matter what your opinion of Howard Stern, this blog will offend you.
If you’re not a Howard Stern fan, you’ll wonder why anybody is wasting time writing about someone the media often portrays simply as a foul-mouthed shock jock.
Or, as my wife said last night, “You think that guy is way more important than he is. Enough with the Howard.”
I mean, what kind of show celebrates Father’s Day by giving away a free double “date” with what I’ll euphemistically call a working mom and her equally working daughter. (I got the impression, as I often do, that even some cast members, like Fred Norris, like Howard, didn’t approve. It was wrong. It was bizarre. It was compelling.).
And if you are a Stern fan, you’ll wonder why this blog veers so often toward the serious. Howard’s about giggles and strippers and midgets, right? If the show were meant to be taken seriously, it wouldn’t offer up mom and daughter hooker teams to married dads. Who dares to say something serious about that?
Well, I do. And you’re welcome to chime in.
The truth about Howard is that he’s right: he is still, despite his enormous financial success and fame, underrated and neglected as major cultural force. He is heir of a tradition of outsider satiric comedy that stretches back beyond the shtetl. He is on a pantheon of culture-changers that includes Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen and Larry David. As I wrote back in 2004, when the Federal Communications Copmmission was threatening to sue the Stern Show into oblivion:
It isn’t surprising that Stern is caught up in the kind of cultural and political battle in which Jewish comedians and commentators like Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce once found themselves.
He is heir to the Jewish tradition of the badchen, or shtetl entertainer. “They were scandalous, filled with gossip,” comedian and frequent Stern guest Richard Belzer has said. “Their essence was to expose and make fun of things in their society. The badchen’s society was the shtetl. We expand it to include the whole society.”
“Stern’s is an unleashed id unrepressed by socially approved feelings,” writes Lawrence Epstein in his seminal study of Jewish comedy, “The Haunted Smile.” “He is an attack on society’s right to censor the honest feels of the individual. He is a safety valve, a release.” In as free and democratic medium that exists, 18 million Americans vote for Stern each morning.
The badchen is what Thomas Cahill might call a “Gift of the Jews,” an outsider who exposes society’s foibles, pokes fun at its hypocrisies, makes people laugh and makes people think…
But I digress. I digress because I get defensive talking about Stern—in polite society people who enjoy his show always have to explain themselves. After many, many years of starting my morning with Stern, I’m up to the task. Let the blogs begin.