Posted by Rob Eshman
So who the hell is Benji Bronk?
He’s the heckler who disrupted Anthony Weiner’s press conference yesterday afternoon.
As the New York congressman intoned his prepared text, apologizing for texting salacious messages and photos to constituents and fans, taking responsibility for his actions, apologizing to his wife Huma Abedin, apologizing to the staff and supporters he betrayed, and finally resigning, Bronk shouted amidst the scrum of whirring cameras and flashing lights.
“How big is your penis!? Seven inches?! ”
Bronk is a writer for The Howard Stern Show. Fans of the show—like me—know he is 43, though he lied and concealed his age for many months until Howard Stern News reporter Steve Langford finally dug out the truth. Bronk is Jewish, from the South, perpetually horny, morose about his career, struggling to move up a rung. He carries a chip on his shoulder the size of a Walmart. On a show that elevates every participant, even every intern, to supporting character status, Bronk’s persona is that of an attention-starved, off-kilter sexually hyperactive man-child
Howard credits Bronk with being a good writer, if a very strange man. His finest moment may not have been Weinergate, but several months ago when he came across the comedian Tracy Morgan on a Manhattan street. Bronk started helping Morgan, acting like he was part of Morgan’s entourage. When Morgan asked, “Who are you?” Bronk responded, “I am part of your life.” It was creepy and brilliant and inspired—even Morgan later came on the show and said so.
Story continues after the jump.
Video courtesy of ABC News.
But why would Bronk disrupt what is supposed to be a solemn moment in the life of an American politician?
For years, one of the hardest parts of the Stern Show for me to appreciate was the faux journalism. Howard sends staffers into the world posing as reporters—people like Stuttering John, Gary Garver, Benjy Bronk. They identify themselves as reporters either from the stations Howard has worked for, or from Sirius Satellite Radio. They get access to newsmakers and celebrities. Then they ask about penis size. Or if someone ever said the N word. I remember cringing when Stuttering John asked Water Chronkite if he ever peed in the shower. I had to actually turn the radio off when he asked Dustin Hoffman if he ever farted in the bathtub.
I cringe, but inevitably I find myself smiling. It’s awful. It mocks journalism. And it’s funny.
For Stern, the ambush interviews serve two purposes. They provide content for the show. The reactions of the interviewees are the radio equivalent of those embarrassing Enquirer photos. Sometimes the Stern staffers are forcibly removed or shouted down. That’s good radio too.
They also give the show free publicity. It’s a really cheap way of branding the Stern show using other people’s cameras. Last night Bronk’s name and face were all over TV news. MSNBC’s Lawrence O ‘Donnell did a whole segment just on the disruption. Bronk’s face—round, sweaty, half-covered in a ski-cap—filled the corner of the screen.
But beyond those immediate functions, Stern’s use of ambush reporters does something else: it punctures the pomposity that passes as importance in our over-inflated political and celebrity culture.
Really, how seriously should we take a press conference featuring a congressman who texts his naked, challah-looking penis to admirers? How seriously should we take a press corp that sends 40 cameras and reporters to cover Weinergate, while news stories from Africa to Alabama go unreported? If the media wants to fiddle while America burns, Howard Stern will be there to demonstrate just how foolish they are. Sure Bronk’s questions are rude and silly, but how important is this story that it should suck all the coverage and resources away from serious stories about the soldiers dying in Afghanistan, the Medicare debacle, et al? Bronk is at least paid to be funny. He’s doing his job: is MSNBC? Fox? NBC?
In other words, sure Bronk is making a mockery of the news media. But can you really make a mockery of a mockery?
For more on Howard’s Stern’s crucial role in American culture, click here.
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June 15, 2011 | 7:45 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
I’m watching Anthony Weiner roast in public humiliation, and I can’t help thinking: If he had only paid attention to Howard.
The congressman, whose shocking shirtless tweets have by now pretty much sunk his political career, is a classic case of someone who used the Howard Stern Show for publicity, who maybe enjoyed Howard, but who but didn’t learn from it.
Because here’s Howard Rule #1: Be Honest.
A couple of days ago, Howard himself said it best: He has built his successful carer by telling his audience the truth about himself. By not hiding the darkest parts of his personality. By being honest.
Skidmarks, masturbation, pornography, marital temptation, flirtations— Howard talks about every aspect of himself. In doing so he has all but inoculated himself against public humiliation. What could possibly come out about Howard that would be more shocking than what he himself has revealed? Nothing. Unless it turns out he drowns puppies in his fish tank, nothing.
When you can’t express your urges, they can overtake you. If you refuse to face the darker parts of yourself, they can end up defining you. For a public figure, the more honest you are, the less likely your life will be revealed as scandalous. In over 30 years in the public eye, Howard has constantly shocked people, but never once has he surprised them. In other words, by owning up to his foibles, by talking early and often about them, he has controlled the shock value of his life.
Early in his career Howard decided to tell people the truth about his life. That single decision not only changed radio—as I wrote a couple days ago, among other things it made the airwaves safe for the word penis—it made him into the rare public figure who is almost scandal proof.
That doesn’t mean Howard doesn’t have secrets, or doesn’t present a persona to his audience that doesn’t 100 percent jive with the real Howard—of course he does. But when it comes to the areas of life we expect our public personalities to hide—their psychological challenges and physical weaknesses and public humiliations and sexual peccadilloes—Howard has been quite open and entertaining about these. The only way Howard can be accused of hypocrisy, of his public image not comporting with his private one, is if he turns out to be normal. Do you see the genius here? The only thing that can be revealed about Howard, that he has not revealed himself, is his normalcy, his goodness, his menschiness.
Hindsight is 20/20, but if Weiner on his Stern Show appearances had slowly revealed his struggles with whatever the hell is bothering him (Sexual frustration? Body hair?) the revelations now either wouldn’t have happened or wouldn’t have been so explosive.
And when they did become public, instead of doubling down on his lies and obfuscation, he should have again followed Howard’s rule and just been brutally honest: It’s me. I did it. I need some help.
We all hide. We all need help. None of us gets all our desires met, or all our fantasies fulfilled. To various degrees, each one of us is, as Howard’s theme song says, “a tortured man.”
Howard has taught me how to take control of the shock value of my life. When I write or speak, I strive to reveal as much as I can about myself—what happened to me, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. Not talking these things to others allows them a power over our private life that eventually sinks our public lives.
I do believe Anthony Weiner will be reborn as a superb and better paid TV pundit like Elliot Spitzer. If you’ve heard him on Howard or watched his YouTube rants against FoxNews anchors, you’ll see what an adept and entertaining speaker he can be. If The Jewish Journal had two nickels and a TV studio, I’d hire him today.
But I would only do so on one condition: Be yourself, Anthony. Or, at least, be more like Howard Stern.
June 7, 2011 | 10:45 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
We are living through a time of unprecedented penis talk.
Between Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal, and the attempts to ban circumcision through the ballot box, the news cycle has turned into one long crotch watch.
And who deserves credit for making the world safe for public penis talk? Howard Stern.
His show pushed the boundaries of what was considered an appropriate topic for the airwaves. As far back as the early 1980s, he was incorporating penis jokes and skits into his radio show (remember the infamous kielbasa-swallower?) and making his obsession with his small penis size an ongoing show myth (Yes, myth. He’s 6’5”. The same Hox genes that control limb size influence penis size). Stern’s focus on genitalia was one of the reasons he was kicked off KNBC, and the source of many of his run ins with the FCC. Fittingly, he named his 1993 autobiography, and the subsequent film, Private Parts.
Howard didn’t start people thinking about penises, but he pioneered the very idea that it was okay to talk about what everybody was thinking about, anyway. Today’s generation of show producers, newscasters and viewers grew up either listening to Stern, or in a world that he had prepped for the P word. And today’s network executives grew up watching Stern reap enormous ratings and success by talking penis. Critics always accused Howard of having the maturity of a 14 year old boy—but Howard revealed that most of us are right there with him.
In doing so, he stiffened the spine of all of us in media who have to make decisions about what is or is not “appropriate” to say or print. My first editorial decision at the paper was whether to do a story on oral sex in the wake of the Clinton/Lewinsky Scandal. Listening to Howard, I knew that there was no reason not to just talk about what everybody was thinking about. I steeled my nerves and put the story on the first cover I ever edited for The Jewish Journal. There was a shitstorm of backlash. Not one positive letter to the editor. One of LA’s biggest rabbis publicly excoriated me. And that issue of The Jewish Journal? Every single copy was picked up.
So now, thanks in part to Howard, the P word is filling the airwaves. We are on a 24 hour penis news cycle, broadcasters are giddy with puns, Jon Stewart, Howard’s direct satiric spawn, is in his glory, and it’s as if America doesn’t need to worry for a second about unemployment, the deficit, dying soldiers in Afghanistan, cutbacks in social services, or any of those things that pale in significance to…penises. I don’t speak Chinese, but I am going to bet that while we’re fiddling around with our penis stories, China’s media is urging the people on to greater success and productivity. Yes, we’re screwed.
We can only hope that the penis obsession returns to the place where it began and where it belongs, The Howard Stern Show. Then CNN and MSNBC can go back to covering more important things. Like vaginas.
May 26, 2011 | 1:00 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Last night at the tail end of a huge Jewish Federation banquet, at least 2/3 of the 1300 guests had left the cavernous Barker Hanger venue, the night was winding down, and it looked like nothing in the world would bring the dwindling crowd back to life.
Then Federation President Jay Sanderson took the mike and called the band Train onto stage.
And then, as the Man says, there was light.
Lead singer Pat Monhan started in on “Soul Sister,” and those who were left leapt to their feet and raced to the stage. The band ripped through all the hits, Soul Sister, “Marry Me,” “Drops of Jupiter,” “Calling All Angels,” and it was like music magic. Old Jews, young Jews, non-Jews, people who were fans (like me), people who wouldn’t know Train from Paul Anka, they turned into a frenzied tribe. It wasn’t clear Monahan knew where he was or who he was singing to—he thanked “the Jewish society”—but the man knows his craft. He bounces around the stage skinny as Jagger but a lot less threatening/druggy/wizened, and then jumped down into the crowd and posed for pictures as he sang, and just WORKED it.
Why is this a Howard Stern blog post? Because Train credits Howard with sticking by them when their carerre tanked, with constantly promoting them, with SAVING them. Howard has done deep, moving interviews with Pat, who I came to feel I knew through the show. Howard certainly turned a world of fans, like me, onto Train.
I iPhoned a bit of the finale, just so you can get a taste of how great the moment was.
May 10, 2011 | 12:58 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Tonight I’m moderating a discussion between Rabbi Mark Borovitz and Noel Biederman, the founder of the web site AshleyMadison.com. I first heard Biederman on the Howard Stern Show. Howard’s incisive interviews with him exposed all the genius and complexities behind the man and his site, which facilitates adulterous affairs online. When I read a Bloomberg News story describing how AshleyMadison.com is a runaway internet sensation, I suggested to our Singles blogger, Ilana Angel, that she weigh in on the subject. Biederman is Jewish, and I was fascinated about how he handles moral criticism of his enterprise. Ilana’s fiery blog posts caught the attention of Biederman himself, the two began an e-mail debate, they met, fell in love…. No. That last part didn’t happen. Biederman is happily married. Ilana even had the chutzpah to interview his wife. The interviews evolved into a suggestion that The Jewish Journal arrange a dialogue among Ilana, a rabbi and Biederman here in LA. That dialogue is taking place tonight with Rabbi Markl Borovitz, Biederman, and me, as the moderator. A major media outlet is filming it for a documentary on adultery.
And, needless to say, in my opening remarks, I’ll have to thank the man who inspired it all, Howard Stern.
March 17, 2011 | 1:19 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The Howard 100 News Team did a piece on my last post about Gary Dellabate’s leadership woes. Gary, it turns out, was not a fan.
After the news piece I genuinely felt bad for being perceived as piling on Gary—a popular Stern Show sport. I meant every word I wrote about what an accomplished producer he is, but he’s the one who is constantly complaining about the staff not respecting him, and about Howard undermining his authority. Those were the complaints I asked Drew Kugler to address.
Then again, maybe it’s none of my business. The magic of the Stern show is that it pulls you into a universe of people and issues that really have nothing to do with your life. You get caught up in it, like a batty old man talking back to his television. I have no clue to what extent Gary’s complaints are real or “for the show.” I have no idea who Gary is, beyond how he comes across on my car radio. If his complaints about being disrespected are entirely an act, then I stand corrected—and he’s a damn good actor.
March 16, 2011 | 4:47 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Sometimes I listen to Howard to learn what to do—these are what I call the Stern Rules. (By the way, a business writer not long ago enumerated some of his own, well worth reading here).
And sometimes I listen to Howard to learn what NOT to do.
Yes, Gary, I’m talking about you.
Over the past few weeks the show has focused on producer Gary Dellabate’s inability to get his candidacy for a volunteer position on his town’s Parks and Recreation commission approved. Gary has played the hapless victim while some local yenta organized baseless opposition to him— either because she finds the Stern show distasteful, or because she’s a publicity hound.
Then, today, Howard asked Gary to deal with a personnel dispute live on the radio, and Gary fumbled. Later on the Wrap Up show he complained about not getting the respect for his leadership he deserves. Thanks, Gary, for a lesson in How Not to Manage 101.
Before I turn to the expert, I do need to say Gary is arguably the most successful radio producer of his generation. The show is great—people devote whole blogs to it!—and he deserves credit for helping it be great. Who knows how many fires he has to put out, personalities he has to referee, decisions he has to instantly make— all the while putting out a fast paced show. And he’s been doing it for 20 years, and every year gets better. Gary Dellabate is a superb radio producer.
But he does has a weakness as a manager, and though it makes for good radio, it’s clearly bothering him.
I loved Howard’s rant on this really hit home with me. “I got into this business to do great radio, not to manage poeople’s problems!”: he ranted (I’m paraphrasing). “I don’t want to deal with this bullshit! You take care of it!” Oy, could I relate. How many of us who go into a profession for creative reasons end up getting sucked into all the administrative and interpersonal decisions that inevitably come up? Suffice it to say, I feel Howard’s pain.
As for Gary, I’m no expert, but I did what he should do: I consulted an expert.
Drew Kugler gets paid big bucks to fly around the country consulting with CEOs and other executives on how to be more effective at their jobs. He spoke on management at the TED conference, and he has changed the lives of some big people in town I respect. Our paths crossed because he’s a Jewish Journal reader (I WISH I could use him—can’t afford him) and he was kind enough to write a piece for us about the management lessons in The Kings Speech. During our lunch, he started talking about Howard Stern—and what can I say, he had me at Baba Booey.
Drew, it turns out, is a Howard Stern fan. (I’ll say it again: the Howard Stern demo is not butt scratching beer guzzling sexually frustrated losers; it is mostly successful professional men and women like Drew AND butt scratching beer guzzling sexually frustrated losers.)
I asked Drew what he would tell Gary, and Drew nailed it: Think of the stutter that kept King George from believing in himself, from finding his true voice and potential. Howard Stern, said Drew, is Gary Dellabate’s stutter. Read on to see what Drew means:
“If Gary REALLY wants things to change (the skeptic would say it’s all part of creating great radio to denigrate him), he must look in the mirror and accept that the way he’s acting is at the heart of the disrespect,” Drew e-mailed me.
“What is he doing that is worthy of following, that is worthy of being called Leadership? Not much at all. He could change that, but not with the choices he’s making now. It’s only going to get worse.”
“Gary must pay attention to the things that he’s doing and not doing that kill his influence. And then he must try new ways to get at this very old problem.”
“He seemingly is constantly belittling how he’s treated. Repeatedly, he literally whines that no one respects him (Fails to Communicate, says Jon Hein), and then in the next breath throws up his hands when asked why. He blames everyone for the problem, and refuses to verbally accept that he has the responsibility to work on it and get better. Thus, people continue to assume he has no ability or willingness to lead a solution.”
“He then and repeatedly blames Howard, which by the way, makes him look even more impotent. Complaining is the Opposite of Leadership, Baba! Bring ideas and invite people to work to make things better.”
“Stop telling yourself and the world around you that you can’t Lead. Would you follow you? I doubt it.”
“He’s worse off today after the Lisa/TV incident, and I am confident it will show in people’s future treatment of him.”
“He’s focusing on feeling sorry for himself and why he can’t change anything. It’s the same as King George in The King’s Speech, except that Gary doesn’t have a stutter. No, scratch that: Howard is the Stutter! The King blamed his plight in life and his inability to change on his stutter. At the heart of it, Gary blames Howard for all of his management weakness. That neuters him. He can’t change Howard. When the King decided to change, it was by taking the emphasis away from his limitation and practicing new thinking and actions.”
Lesson: don’t blame others, and don’t blame Howard, and don’t blame “what makes good radio.” Work on changing your actions and reactions in a given situation… and before you know it, look who’s the boss.
March 3, 2011 | 2:27 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
A couple of days ago someone thought to compare Charlie Sheen quotes to Qadaffi quotes. Funny bit. Picked up and done everywhere by now, even CNN spotlighted the idea.
But here’s Howard—pushing the idea WAY further. Today on the show Howard had Robin play a game where she had to guess who said the quote, Charlie Sheen or… Charles Manson.
The idea was brilliant, shocking… and really funny. Here’s a sample I pulled from Howardstern.com:
THE SHEEN OR MANSON GAME
Howard asked Robin to play a game with him: he reads a quote, and she has to guess who said it—Charlie Sheen or Charles Manson. The quotes, followed by Robin’s guess and the answer:
1. “I have a disease? Bullshit. I cured it with my brain.” Robin’s guess: Charlie Sheen. The correct answer: Charlie Sheen.
2. “You can’t process me with a normal brain.” Robin’s guess: Charles Manson. The correct answer: Charlie Sheen.
3. “You eat meat and you kill things that are better than you are.” Robin’s guess: Charles Manson. The correct answer: Charles Manson.
4. “Can’t is the cancer of happening.” Robin’s guess: Charlie Sheen. The correct answer: Charlie Sheen.
5. “The real strong have no need to prove it to the phonies.” Robin’s guess: Charles Manson. The correct answer: Charles Manson.
Stern also held a Beauty Pageant with some of the lovely young ladies Sheen has hosted.
The lesson? Howard has a way of pushing the boundaries on stories and jokes even when the stories themselves break those boundaries. As far out as things get, Howard has a way of pushing them farther.
That’s why, when the whole world is listening to Charlie Sheen, Charlie Sheen is listening to Howard Stern.