June 30, 2009
At about Minute 12 of my 15 minutes of fame, Steve Langford of Howard 100 News interviewed me for a story he was doing on this blog.
My son and I heard it replayed as we were driving home one evening last week…
…and I cringed.
Steve has a resonant radio voice. Me, on the other hand, I sounded like Howard in his bar mitzvah tapes. I’m a 48 year old 6 foot 2 heterosexual male with lines on my face, and I sound like a kid whose balls haven’t dropped.
Even worse: I sounded like JD.
JD is one of the show’s employees who Howard has fashioned into an on-air personality. He is a 20-something slack-shouldered mumblemouth, who would not get an audition, much less become a regular, on any show, on any medium, anywhere.
But Howard recognized that there is something entertaining in JD’s relentless inadequacy. Most shows reward talent with exposure. Howard delights in exposing the least talented, the most imperfect. His show sweeps up the people show biz discards. These people don’t appear on our screens or programs not because they aren’t moving or amusing, but because they aren’t pretty, poised or accomplished—in other words, they’re like most of us.
(In many cases they’re even worse off—drunks, dwarves, the mentally impaired and the physically disabled. How Howard deals with these folks is worth a whole separate post, or 100).
And because these people are like most of us, we can relate to them. I’d like to believe I have a bit more going on in my life than JD, but there is a part of me in him: my voice is not deep and resonant, I can mumble, pfumfer for a word, dig into my memory for an anecdote that refuses to materialize. In my 20s I was even more like JD—hell, I bet Howard in his awkward teens and twenties felt more like JD than Howard.
The genius of the show is that it is populated with characters to whom listeners can relate.
My last blog compared the show’s main cast to the Beatles. But at the risk of being a bit repetitive, I’ll suggest that the show also follows another model.
What accounts for the Stern show’s success and longevity is what accounts for the success of the sitcom form on TV—putting together opposite, relatable types of people in comedic situations. Howard is the dad—relatively stable and straight, responsible for the well-being of the family, but still full of unmet desires and crazy schemes.
Robin is the voice of reason. She’s protective and loving of the dad, but also there to chastise and correct him.
Artie is more carefree, more impetuous than Howard. He can be slower (compared to Howard, not to other mortals), less responsible and less driven.
Fred is mysterious—you don’t know when he’ll drop in (he literally does “drops”—sound bites that amplify the goings-on), where he came from or what he’ll say.
In other words, Howard is Ralph Kramden, Robin is Alice Kramden, Artie is Ed Norton, and Fred is Trixie Norton—and the show is the Honeymooners.