Posted by Rob Eshman
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.
7.24.12 at 3:02 pm | Why Howard beat Terry
5.15.12 at 2:30 am | Why do journalists reporting on Howard Stern keep. . .
5.8.12 at 1:35 pm | A rare out-of-character interview with Howard. . .
3.15.12 at 11:14 am | A brief exchange reveals a supermodel's super. . .
2.24.12 at 1:48 pm | Howard Styern is coming to America's Got. . .
6.24.11 at 7:15 pm |
5.15.12 at 2:30 am | Why do journalists reporting on Howard Stern keep. . . (16)
5.8.12 at 1:35 pm | A rare out-of-character interview with Howard. . . (15)
7.24.12 at 3:02 pm | Why Howard beat Terry (13)
May 15, 2012 | 2:30 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
Why do journalists covering Howard Stern’s debut on NBC’s America’s Got Talent tonight keep quoting the Parents Television Council opposition to Stern as somehow important?
Howard Stern went national tonight—and America’s most reviled DJ began the transformation into America’s most beloved reality show judge. I predict Stern will go from Satan to sweetheart in less than a season.
That’s because, as I’ve written here for years now, Howard Stern is among the century’s most innovative, creative, intelligent and just plain entertaining entertainers. America will soon discover that too.
All the news reports leading up to Stern’s debut—from Matt Lauer to The Yentas (i.e., The View) to the LA Times create faux drama by quoting anti-Stern statements from an organization called the Parents Television Council. The Parents Television Council has called for a boycott of AGT advertisers to punish them for bringing Stern, whom they call vulgar and indecent, to network TV.
Can we just be clear that the PTC is B.S.?
Since its founding—and initial burst of attention—in 1995, the PTC has steadily declined over the years by any objective measure: fundraising, membership, staffing, leadership.
I can tell you the PTC is laughably irrelevant, but why not let the facts tell the story?
Open up the non-profit organization’s Form 990 tax-filing and the awesome powerlessness of PTC is all there, in the numbers.
•Fundraising. In 2006 PTC received $5.1 million in income. In 2010, $2.9 million. The decline year over year has been steady and inexorable.
•Membership. Of that $2.9 million, the filing shows $152,000 in “membership dues.”
The minimum contribution for membership is $15—which works out to about 10,000 members. That squares with a 2010 report in The New York Times in which a former financial officer, Patrick Salazar, claimed that the PTC, which purports to represent millions of average Americans, has a membership of just 12,000 people.
The bulk of PTC’s income comes from a small handful of conservative foundations. The conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, for instance, donated $5000 to the group in 2010.
•Staff. The organization’s staff has steadily shrunken over the past few years. It now lists just three employees—how effective is any national organization with 2 senior staff and a secretary?
•Leadership. Founder L. Brent Bozell III stepped down a few years ago and was replaced by executive director Timothy Winters. (The 990 shows Bozell still received $24,000 in compensation last year, as a board member). Who has ever heard of Timothy Winters?
•More Fun Facts: According to the Form 990, PTC paid The Mail Room $3836 to engage in direct mail solicitation. That campaign brought in $296.
•Social Networking. Parents Television Council’s Facebook page has 97 LIkes. Howard Stern’s has 97,000. (The Jewish Journal has 1800. Hey, if you like this post and disdain the PTC, go ahead and Like us back).
Bottom line: Any reporter that quotes the Parents Television Council’s opposition to Howard Stern with the implication that PTC is significant, is committing journalistic malpractice.
Oh, wait my favorite fact about the PTC is this: On its web site the Parents Television Council proudly lists the members of its advisory board along with their pictures. The first advisor listed is Steve Allen.
Steve Allen has been dead 12 years.
May 8, 2012 | 1:35 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Sacha Baron Cohen spoke to Howard Stern Tuesday morning, not as Borat or Bruno or The Dictator, but as an even more elusive character: Sacha Baron Cohen.
The British comedian famously refuses to do interviews out of character, even going so far as appearing at this year’s Academy awards as The Dictator—and spilling an urn full of ashes (flour, actually) on a spooked Ryan Seacrest.
Monday night he marched onstage at The Daily Show decked out as The Dictator for an interview with Jon Stewart—even with a guy who gets the joke he refused to appear as himself.
But for Stern, he shed his shtick. He was just Sacha. My guess is Howard either refused or simply wasn’t interested in interviewing Baron Cohen in character. In Howard’s world, nothing is more shocking and surprising and funny than honesty—and you can’t get that behind a fake beard and makeup.
The interview on Sirius XM was comedy legend. “Two tall hairy Jews,” as Baron Cohen described them, bantering at 100 mph about their careers, their comedy, and for one segment—which I managed to record below—on being Jewish.
“You’re an Orthodox Jew,” Howard asks Baron Cohen at one point in the conversation.
And they were off. I’m burying the lede here, but during their exchange Baron Cohen acknowledged that many of the creative choices in The Dictator and Borat were designed to mock anti-semitism, and show the utter hypocrisy at work when the Arab world singles out Israel and Zionism for criticism.
The Arab Spring, said Baron Cohen, reveals the flimsiness of that lie.
“All these dictators blame everything on the Zionists,” said Baron Cohen, “it’s a great scapegoat. Now, young people are saying the reason we’re not happy is we’re living in these dictatorships. There’s a guy who’s a trillion-aire who’s sleeping with models and actresses, and we’re here without any rights being persecuted.”
“Yeah,” Howard agreed, “Forget the Jews. They’re not our problem. The problem is our dictator is killing us.”
Baron Cohen revealed one way he made this point: his character in The Dictator speaks Hebrew. So, by the way, did Borat. Howard asked Baron Cohen how it was that he was fluent in Hebrew, and Baron Cohen said his mother is Israeli—in fact, his grandmother,m at age 97, still teaches fitness classes in Israel.
Two more parts of their conversation struck me. One was the difference in their Jewish identity. Both men married non-Jewish women, and Stern couldn’t quite understand why Baron Cohen’s wife converted to Judaism. He also assumed that Baron Cohen satirized anti-semitism in Borat and The Dictator because he faced it as a kid.
But Baron Cohen said he never experienced anti-Semitism. As the son of an Israeli, and a generation younger than Stern, he has none of the love-hate relationship with his faith that is so prevalent in men like Stern, Woody Allen, Larry David. The children of traumatized immigrants passed Judaism on as something heavy and dark, a bitter pill, and most often their children spit it out. Stern used to love to tell listeners that he was only half-Jewish.
He wished. But for Baron-Cohen’s generation, assimilation, fear, rejection were replaced by pride, acceptance, even joy. They could see Judaism as a viable spiritual path, without the personal baggage of anti-semitism and the Holocaust.
Yes, listen to the interview, you’ll see what I mean.
The other was just how much of a role model stern was for Baron Cohen.
“I’ve been watching your career for 20 years,” he told Stern.
If you’ve heard the interviews Stern has done over the past year with Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and others, they all same much the same thing. A generation of ambitious, funny, comedians grew up listening to Stern, and were inspired by his courage and honesty—and crudeness.
As Baron Cohen said, “This is a guy who’s got balls.”
You can hear the Jewy part of the interview here:
Click here to read a penetrating op-ed by Sacha Baron Cohen’s cousin Simon Baron Cohen on the reasons killers target children. It’s not funny, no. But boy that Baron Cohen family is bright.
March 15, 2012 | 11:14 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
The web is buzzing over whether supermodel Elle MacPherson made anti-semitic comments during her Howard Stern Show appearance. She didn’t—but she did say something awful.
Howard asked her whether she had any photos of herself hanging in her house, and Elle said she did have one, a famous Herb Ritts image of her wearing nothing but a holster. Howard asked whether that wasn’t too provocative considering her sons are still teenagers.
MacPherson went on the offensive:
“Howard, I think you are just being absolutely Jewish!!!” she said.
“Why is that Jewish?” asked Stern.
“You’re being overprotective!” said MacPherson. “You sound like a nagging mother!”
Anti-semitic? Nah—MacPherson was just comparing Howard to a “Jewish mother,” though it didn’t come out exactly right. But as she explained elsewhere in the interview, she knows from Jewish neuroses—her two husbands and her first boyfriend—all Jews.
It’s what happened right AFTER that exchange that reveals something way more messed up about Elle.
“I once saw my mother come out of the shower,” Howard said, “it traumatized me.”
“Yeah, I can imagine,” Elle shot back, ” if she looks like you.”
There it is: ouch. Elle made a very cruel, superfluous dig at Howard’s looks—something he makes fun of, but something he—like anyone else—is very sensitive about. And here is this supermodel basically telling him, “Feh!.”
The old Howard would have laid into her right then and there, but the new Howard moved quickly past it and ended the interview all gentlemanly.
Howard took the high road, but had to be seething. Listen to the audio. Am i wrong? Why would a woman known for her incomparable beauty feel the ned to denigrate Howard’s looks? A shrink would go to town on her for this: is her M.O. to take on powerful men then gain the upper hand by pointing out how much better looking she is?
Forget the antisemitic B.S.—Elle MacPherson has deeper issues than that. Listen and let me know what you think….
February 24, 2012 | 1:48 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The cultural conservatives who boosted their profiles and filled their coffers by attacking Howard Stern back in the 80s and 90s had to have had mixed feelings when Howard went over to Sirius satellite radio in 2004.
On the one hand, he was finally off the public airwaves, where he would no longer poison—to use their word— popular culture. (I get a sense when I hear Rick Santorum talk about “the devil” destroying American culture, in his mind’s eye he sees Howard Stern).
On the other hand, with Howard tucked into a pay-per-tune format, the Arbiters of Goodness and Decency couldn’t use him as a whipping boy and fundraising hook anymore.
But now Howard is risen.
By signing on as a judge on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, not only is he back in the mainstream, he is bigger than ever. As his guest Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and The Voice told him this week, TV reality show fame is orders of magnitude bigger than radio fame…. And Howard was already pretty damn famous.
But now he won’t just be influencing popular culture, he’ll pretty much BE popular culture.
In many ways, his trajectory has followed the same path as that of Elvis, All in the Family, George Carlin, The Simpsons—all performers or shows that the guardians of American culture tried to vomit out and suppress, but who in the end came to define American culture, push it forward, and eventually be embraced and lionized by it.
Not long ago there was a story about how pastors are using episodes of The Simpsons to teach moral values. The Simpsons—the show the churches and righteous politicians once wanted to ban.
I have always thought that Howard was just as much, if not more, ahead of his time. His drawback was that by going to Sirius, he took himself a bit farther out of the game, and therefore, for a while, his influence on mass culture waned, even if his impact on the creators of that culture only grew (witness the list of celebrities who attended his party in LA recently).
A few months ago, long before Howard announced his move to AGT, I interviewed Bob Lefsetz, the media guru and fellow Stern fan. Lefsetz told me Howard’s task was to get himself a bigger audience in order to stay relevant.
“Howard Stern, if he were on mass media, could be the most powerful person in America. People are looking for leaders . People are looking for something they can rally around. Used to be in the last decade we all watched the same thing. Used to be everyone had an opinion on “Rowan and Martins Laugh In.” We’re looking for rallying points. But Howard took himself out of the game. You have to be able to scale. Howard literally can’t scale because he’s on satellite. If someone has Sirius they listen to Howard, otherwise it’s too big a step.”
That is exactly what Howard sensed he needed to do to.
He is going to be a wild success on that show. He will have a Second Coming in pop culture that will drive some conservatives crazy—witness Michele Bachman’s urgent fundraising appeal of last week, denouncing Stern.
But mass, middle America will finally see what so many of us have for so long. America needs Howard Stern’s talent.
June 24, 2011 | 7:15 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I was reading Mary-Lou Weisman’s biography of Al Jaffee, the legendary cartoonist and writer for MAD magazine, and came across Jaffee’s drawing of his first childhood superhero, a man his father called “Fartman.” Fartman was a fat old European who sat on a park bench in Al’s first home town (complicated, read the book) of Savannah, and farted on command for passersby. “He would challenge me to do it, then he’d rip off another one,” Jaffee said.
I don’t know whether this inspired Stern’s Fartman character, but I do know how much MAD magazine inspired Stern—and how much it inspired me. I devoured every new issue. After I stopped reading it—not sure why, guess I just thought I outgrew it—I never found any humor like it, until I started listening to Howard.
June 22, 2011 | 4:38 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Today Arlyn, one of my colleagues here, stopped my on the way to the coffee room and said, “Howard loves you.”
Arlyn drives in from the Valley, a looong schlep, and she listens to Howard each way. Thirty something, single mom, professional, well-educated—exactly the type of person Howard’s critics assume DON’T listen to him. And she loves him.
She told me Howard mentioned my blog post from yesterday. I missed that listening on the way in, but we found it on YouTube:
Just for the record, here’s my Top Ten for America’s Greatest Living Humorist:
1. Howard Stern
2. Woody Allen
3. Steve Martin
4. Larry David
5. Stone and Parker
6. Garrison Keillor (Not my cup of tea but fair is fair)
7. Jon Stewart
8. Stephen Colbert
9. Don Rickles
10. Bill Maher
June 21, 2011 | 2:38 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
So there’s a post over at Slate.com, “America’s Greatest Living Humorists: Parker and Stone, or Larry David?”
The author, Jeremy Stahl, goes back and forth trying to decide who is our number one funny man: the creators of South Park, Team America and The Book of Mormon, or the co-creator of Seinfeld and creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The jumping off point for his essay is a piece at Salon.com by Mark Stoller Zeitz that says… basically the same thing.
The criteria they go by are “audacity, visual flair, musical chops, verbal invention and gut-busting silliness, not to mention consistency of vision over time.”
“I can think of a few other serious contenders, including Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien, and Tina Fey,” writes Stahl.
Really? You can’t even think of Howard Stern? Okay, put Howard aside for a second. Woody Allen? Garrison Keillor? Steve Martin? Matt Groening?
Say Stahl can’t think of other “serious contenders.” Does he have one of those laptop thingees? Can he Google? I mean, in the realm of “living” humorists, if not popular and active (those weren’t his criteria), you’d have to add Carl Reiner, right? And what about Don Rickles? Whole parts of these peoples’ acts wouldn’t exist had Don Rickles not made the stage safe for Heeb jokes.
But since the writer doesn’t do his due diligence, let me answer his question: Who is the greatest living American humorist? Howard Stern.
I’ll break it down:
Audacity: Howard pushed the envelope so far the FCC tried to take away his stationery. He has taken on the Federal government, popular taste, celebrity culture, and his corporate bosses. He has rolled the dice on his career many, many times in order to win laughs on hi own terms.
Visual flair: Not sure why this belongs in the “humorist” criteria, but so be it. Howard has turned his show into a ‘visual” medium by painting word pictures of the antics in his studio, the characters in his head, the thoughts in his mind. So he doesn’t draw funny pictures. The category was greatest humorist, not greatest cartoonist.
Musical chops: Are these qualities just selected to tilt the verdict to Stone and Parker? I mean, what were Mark Twain’s “musical chops?” Did Will Rogers play the ukelele? What musical was Jon Stewart in? Anyway, so be it. Howard incoporates music into every aspect of his show, from his long-running gag-band The Losers to the Robin song parodies.
Verbal invention: Howard does this for five hours each day, mostly extemporaneously. He does it without his personal team of highly paid Jewish writers (you try being funny without one of those), and while he is surrounded by talented funny people like Robin, Fred and Gary, he has no big production values besides his mike and his mouth.
Gut-busting silliness: See above: 5 hours a day. No script.
Consistency of vision over time: All credit to Stone and Parker, who are brilliant. But on this last point, Howard wins hands down. He was upsetting the political hypocrites, religious nuts and celebrity sycophants before those two were out of diapers. Along the way he’s written two best selling books, starred in a successful movie, created a crazy-funny TV show, and inspired a generation of humorists—like Parker and Stone.
As for Larry David, he’s funny too. I’ve written before that the similarities between Stern and David (and Woody Allen) are telling.
But if the writers for Slat-on pick “audacity” as the lead criteria, Howard Stern wins.
Which begs the question: What web site wins the award for Most Hackey Attempt to Drive Web Traffic Under the Guise of Making a Significant Cultural Observation? Ladies and gentlemen, the award goes to… Slate!