Jewish Journal


June 17, 2009

“Enough With the Howard!”


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.



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