Posted by Rob Eshman
Best Jimmy Carter crack ever.
The comedian Greg Fitzsimmons sat in with Howard today to do the news with Robin Quivers. Robin reported how Jimmy Carter said racism was behind the opposition to Obama, and Fitzsimmons cracked:
Jimmy Carter, fresh off his his book, “Fucking Jews,” is deciding who’s racist.
Howard loved it, of course.
My New Years resolution is to keep this blog and Foodaism up daily. If Howard can host a radio show, make a movie, produce a TV show and write two best-selling books—I can handle everything going on at work and write a fachacta blog.
Shana Tova, Mr. Fitzsimmons.
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August 18, 2009 | 7:05 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
My son doesn’t like it when I listen to Howard. All summer I’ve been driving him to his internship in Beverly Hills. I wait in the car for him to get out of the house, figuring the extra time he takes are a few extra minutes of Howard. He gets in the passenger seat and reaches to turn off the radio.
“Can’t we just talk?”
“No.” I bat at his hand. “Let me listen. If you don’t laugh, you never have to listen again.”
He accepts. He’s always loved to laugh. I think he would sell me out for a Henny Youngman joke. (Last night he told one of his latest favorites: A girl goes up to her boyfriend and says, “I think we need to stop seeing each other. Everyone says you’re a pedophile.” The boyfriend says, “That’s a pretty big word for a 10 year old.”)
So we listen, and sure enough, by about Venice and Sepulveda, Adi cracks a smile. By the time I drop him off on Canon, he’s laughed at least once. Yesterday he held out until we got to Mar Vista. Then Howard made his crack about Don Imus knowing how to treat kids with cancer when he can’t even put together a decent radio show. Adi laughed. Today he held out all the way to Beverlywood, until Artie did his Christian Bale impression. That set him off.
I like to listen for the guaranteed laugh on the way to work, but I realize there’s a much bigger reason I’m compelled to tune in: Howard is my teacher.
The revelation came to me when Howard was talking to Robin about, hmm, how do I say this—bathroom hygiene. He was nailing down the particulars—wiping with toilet paper versus moist towelettes versus showering. I found it all compelling, even if it was frustrating that in 20 years of talking about it, no one has mentioned the obvious: buy a bidet attachment for your toilet, $200 bucks, install it with a crescent wrench, and you’re done, end of story, case closed, and cleaned.
It’s true that one of Howard’s main influence on the larger culture is his willingness to talk about the things we all do, but which, for good reasons or bad, we’re loathe to discuss. Important—but that’s not what makes him so powerful to me. In fact, what he says, as groundbreaking as it is, is in the end less important than what he does. Howard affects the culture, and his listeners lives—including mine—by what he does. By example.
Ultimately I think that’s why we keep listening. Put all the bits and gags and interviews and doodie jokes aside—Howard is a radio therapist, an inspirational broadcaster, a self-help guru—disguised as a shock jock.
I can think of ten ways Howard has inspired and led by example. Here’s the first and most obvious one. Let’s call it, Stern Rule #1.
Run TOWARD conflict, not away from it.
Think about it. His battles with management. With and among his staff. With the Congress. With the culture. Howard will say he didn’t necessarily seek out these battles, and in his personal life I have no idea how he handles conflict (I don’t know the guy, and I’m writing here about his on-air persona, which of course can’t be one and the same with his radio persona. Otherwise he’d have killed himself a long time ago).
But on air, he relishes a battle. He thrusts himself into it, well-prepared, fully-loaded, his facts and allies in place. Most of us (by that I mean me) shy away from head-butting.
I can say Howard has led me to at least learn to go for it, if not relish it.
That’s a great gift—above and beyond the dick jokes.
August 9, 2009 | 3:06 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
All weekend the Stern Show has been replaying tape of a visit the Howard Stern Show took to the Playboy Mansion in 2001. Howard’s interview with Hugh Hefner got me thinking about something I’d given a lot of thought to in the past: Why isn’t there a Howard Magazine?
Howard has had success in radio, television, movies and books—almost all media. He demonstrated his ability to create and serve a huge audience across many different platforms. But he neglected to conquer the one media that would ensure his vision and values endure even as he leaves radio and, like Hef, grows old.
I’m sure Howard has thought about doing a magazine. After all, one of his major influences was Mad magazine. And think how much of his show revolves around what appears in Playboy, Penthouse and the pages of national magazines.
These days of course the media environment makes the chances of launching a successful print periodical about nil: anything he does now would have to be web-based with a specialty print component (monthly limited circ collector’s editions, perhaps). But, still, there are two compelling reasons he should try:
1. To ensure his values will continue to influence the culture. As I’ve tried to prove in this blog, Howard Stern stands for something beyond boobs and fart jokes (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The values that animate his show—humor, tolerance, honesty, fairness, fun—need to be part of the American conversation.
2. To rebrand the Howard Stern Show. He can’t keep doing the radio show forever. Even if he re-ups another couple of years, at some point the air goes out of the balloon. What he needs to do is what Hef brillianty did—create a vehicl that can stay young and fresh even as he ages. Howard then becomes the impresario and Creator-Genius, with as much or as little hands-on involvement as he wants, but he doesn’t have to wake up at 5 am every morning to do it.
3. To serve his fan base. When Howard does leave radio, he will leave a lot of hungry fans, and that’s money left on the table. He would never stoop to gimmickry to mine their last dollars, but a web/print publication could maintain his standards, attract advertisers and serve his fans long after the show—and God forbid even Howard—are gone.
August 4, 2009 | 5:57 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
On vacation up in Lake Arrowhead, I turned on Howard in the car. I’d been with my family the whole time, which means no Howard. I love the guy, but anyone who allows his 13 year-old daughter listen to Howard Stern deserves a visit from Child Services.
I was running up to the local market, and had some alone time. Howard in the mountains is discordant. Arrowhead isn’t exactly Deliverance; it’s 2 hours from LA, surrounded by giant homes and laced with the wakes of 1000 speedboats, about as rural as Lincoln Center. But it’s still San Bernardino County, not the big city, and I realized as Howard’s voice merged with the scenery of pine trees and lakefront, how intensely urban an experience he is.
And that’s why so many Americans hate him.
Howard Stern stands for the city. He is, in a phrase I’ll borrow from the writer Ruth Ellen Gruber, a ruthless cosmopolitan—celebrating New York, urban culture, reveling in its language and people and its pace. What about the country? Howard puts country music up there with herpes sores and open sewage. His endless crank phone calls nine times out of 10 go to people with thick Southern accents. To Howard, the city is life, the country a swamp.
Many Americans despise him for this, and whenever the cultural wars flare, he is an easy and ready target.
But their tactic is a bit more insidious than that.
Because his attackers know they can also count on the fact that in the popular imagination, Cosmopolitan=Jewish. There is no People more closely associated with the city than the Jews. And Howard is so obviously, clearly physically Jewish, I can’t help assuming the Focus on the Family sorts, in targeting Howard, are counting on a dose of latent anti-semitism to further inflame their culture warriors.
After all, Howard is an abortion-supporting, porn-loving, four-letter-word spouting, New York Jew. What better symbol to the culture warriors of all that is decadent and liberal in America.
The problem, of course, is that the stereotype doesn’t exactly fit. Howard is also a Libertarian, a gun-owner, a supporter of Giuliani and D’Amato, and as conservative a businessman, family man and father as anybody walking into church in San Bernardino. He also likes fishing, vacationing in the country (at least), and girly music, like Katy Perry. That makes him not a stereotypical Jew, but a complicated Jew. Which is to say, a real Jew.
But his voice still doesn’t jive with lakes and pine trees.
July 14, 2009 | 8:31 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Sacha Baron Cohen was on the show yesterday. It was theatre. Cohen as Bruno, Stern and Robin as his straight man and woman. If you didn’t hear it, imagine a Sid Caesar sketch from “Your Show of Shows”—funny accents, stream of consciousness humor, one-liners—but imagine Caesar dressed as a flaming queen, reveling in incest and body functions.
Oh to have a Time Travel machine and have Howard and Bruno on stage in front of Caesar’s audience. At first they’d laugh hysterically—it’s the same beats, the same funny accents—then slowly it would dawn on them what’s being said, and their faces would fall, dead silence, then homicidal rage….
Cohen/Bruno gets the credit for provoking those responses, but Stern paved the way. As I blogged earlier, Cohen is the heir to a brand of humor that Stern (and before him Caesar and the Marx Brothers) pioneered. Consider this:
THINGS BRUNO DOES THAT HOWARD DID YEARS AGO
Ambush unsuspecting celebrities in fake interviews
Display his butt for comic effect
Talk openly and matter-of-factly about gay sex, anal bleaching, every possible bodily function
Spoof celebrities who adopt African babies
Create skits about off the wall gay characters
This isn’t meant to detract from Cohen. His talent is for acting, for taking concepts and ideas Howard used and literally taking them to the street, fully developing them as movie concepts.
Clearly, Stern appreciates that—he said he loved the movie, and he seemed genuinely enthralled by Cohen’s in-studio performance. Sure: he’s a proud dad.
Click here for Bruno’s 5 Top Jewish Moments.
July 10, 2009 | 6:27 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
“There is no lower form of media than radio,” Howard is fond of saying—over and over. Throughout the “The History of Howard Stern, Part 2,” Howard slams radio as the bottom of the media industry, and D.J.s as the lowest media life form (this was before Harvey Levin, mind you).
Whenever reporters asked him why he was trying a TV show, or going into movies, or books, his answer always included his opinion of radio—that he worked in the lowest rung of the entertainment industry, and yearned for the respect and money and fame that FM radio could never offer.
And yet he stayed.
He had enough success to leave, and he stayed. He stayed and he turned radio—which, when you flip around the dials, really is awful—into great entertainment. By talent and will, he made morning radio important, and profitable.
Yes, he wasn’t the only radio personality to become famous or rich or influential. But he did it by doing something new and different, not more demagogic talk radio, not the Top 40. He took a dead disrespected medium and made it into something.
And that’s been an inspiration to me.
Because if radio is the lowest form of entertainment, Jewish journalism, when I started 16 years ago, was about the lowest form of journalism. A lot of it still sucks, as does a lot of radio, but what Howard taught me was that there’s no reason any medium has to be second-rate, it’s the talent and creativity and drive and discipline you bring to it. That’s what Howard did that to radio: he took it seriously. The guy with the reputation for being a big joking a-hole was, while others were taking him lightly, treating his profession with utter seriousness. I get that listening to his interview segments in the documentary. He was on a campaign, a mission, to make radio matter, and he figured out the ways to do that, and he did it. Instead of leaving radio behind for a more “important” medium, he planted his flag—because that’s what he really loves and where his real talents lie—and made it work.
I think about that a lot.
July 7, 2009 | 9:29 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
“The History of Howard Stern, Part 2” replayed a segment from many years ago where Howard describes his upbringing by a domineering mother to being raised as a “little Hitler.” I think at one point he describes himself as the child of Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress.
That prompts his mother, Rae Stern, to call in, and Howard and she go at it. His tone is goofball sarcastic—you know he’s kidding. But Rae is upset, and keeps trying to tell him so. Come on—a woman who came of age in the shadow of the Holocaust being compared to Hitler on air.
I’ve heard the segment a couple of times now, and it’s clear Howard’s mom doesn’t appreciate the joke. And it’s just as clear Howard is making great radio.
“Don’t you have some of my brown shirts to clean?” he asks her. Because the Nazis wore brown shirts.
It ends with him saying, “I love you mommy”—sincerely—and saying goodbye, even as she keeps saying, “Maybe you need to think before you open your mouth.”
Afterwards, because this segment part of a radio documentary format, Howard comments on it.
“I was out of control,” he says. “I didn’t ever think that my words had consequences. All I cared about was making great radio.”
There’s regret in his voice, but the truth is, if Howard weren’t out of control, he’d have ended up as Steve Allen—the innovative founder of The Tonight Show who was much loved and quickly surpassed. Clever, a bit edgy, but hardly a culture-shaper.
In the argument with his mother, we the listeners were eavesdropping on a battle between a man’s ego and his superego—his need to assert himself versus his sense of what’s right and proper. It was the battle of what he knows he can be versus what he thinks he should be, his Inner Voice versus His Masters Voice.
That’s a battle we can all relate to, and it was Howard’s genius to make it part of his show. It was uncomfortable and dangerous—would he make his mom cry? Would she ever speak to him again? Would his dad stick up for his son or take his wife’s side?— and therefore you had to keep listening—Stern has a genius for creating radio suspense—what would happen next?
David Letterman, on “The History of Howard Stern,” says, “Howard has changed the culture.” It’s to moments like that he’s referring.
The Letterman Show itself used David’s mom in segments (whether they were “inspired” by Howard or came to it on their own I leave to others to prove—I just don’t know), but the difference is telling. Letterman’s mom segments are sweet and homey. Dave’s Mom is a gentle lady who is always forbearing, shaking her head at her cute rascal of a son. She’s the mom in those 50’s movie who smiles when the kids poke their fingers in her cooling pies, then run away.
That’s not Rae Stern. Rae Stern is an Old Testament God. She’s Jehovah in an apron. Forgiving? Not until he apologizes. Not until he REPENTS. “I didn’t raise you to talk like that!” “How dare you compare me to Hitler!” So he’s Howard Stern—he is still judged and sentence not on the fact that he’s rich, and famous, and successful but on how he behaves that day, that moment. If not, SHE is there, to call him, to chastise him, to be the mom we all fear, and he can be the son we wish we all were—the one who gives back as good as he gets, who lays it all out, who at least has the balls to call his mom Hitler, even if he has to take it back like a kid in the principal’s office. No—you can’t compare Howard Stern’s use of his mom to Letterman’s, you can only compare it to…
Phillip Roth. The greatest living American novelist and the greatest living American radio personality drink from the same Freud-infested well. (Roth’s background, upbringing, accomplishment and comedy is of course of a piece with that of Woody Allen, Larry David, and Stern). Remember the title of the first chapter of Roth classic book, Portnoy’s Complaint? It was. “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met.”
IT WAS HIS MOM!
And where did these words first appear, in a Stern monologue, or a Roth chapter:
She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.
That’s the famous first line of Portnoy’s Complaint, and it’s a trope that Howard brought out of literature and dramatized on drive-time radio. He brought this revelatory intimacy to radio both because he understood that it was funny and it sells, but because…
…he needed to. It was his cure, like writing was Roth’s and movies were Allen’s. Stern may say he regrets it, but to some extent, there was no other way out of his feelings, no better way to do battle than in public, through his art.
If, looking back, Stern regrets putting the people he loves through so much public drama, it’s a good thing for his career, and for us, that he did.
July 6, 2009 | 10:21 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Whether Howard Stern retires from his daily morning show at the end of his contract, or extends it for another couple years, the writing is on the wall—he isn’t going to be doing his show for that much longer. Two years? Three years? Five? Any way you look at it, it’s hard to see him going at it much longer in the current demanding format.
And why should he? There’s a lot to be said for going out at the top—and he is still at the very top of his craft. He’s achieved every milestone possible in broadcast radio, pioneered a new medium in satellite radio, and been more successful in print, TV and movies than any radio personality in history (Want to argue this? Try. Maybe I’ll grant you George Burns and Groucho as worthy quadruple-threat competitors).
That said, time is running out for all those celebrities who until now have been too scared to sit for a Howard Stern interview. Those A-listers who have can wear it as a badge of honor, something to tell their grandchildren about, something to boast to their friends about: I was interviewed by Howard Stern.
As I’ve written before, he is a master of the unscripted, unpredictable, in depth and ultimately utterly humanizing celebrity interview. They clamor to get with James Lipton of “Inside the Actors Studio”—the thinking man’s sycophant. (Lipton can shamelessly milks applause for even his guests’ crappiest movies. “And then, Ms. Hawn, there was a little something called ‘The First Wives Club….”). A Howard interview is for the celeb so secure in his or her career and his intellect that he is willing to be…honest. Or 85 percent more honest than normal.
That said, I’ve been making a list of all the people who need to sit with Howard before they lose the chance. Is that clear? It’s not for his legacy, but for theirs. Here’s my list, feel free to suggest names in the Comments:
Jamie Lee Curtis
Mick Jagger &
Keith Richard (ask them what was on C—-s———Blues, and who has a copy—I know)
Who am I missing?