Arts & Entertainment, Last Word

The Class Clown of Radio

The Class Clown of Radio

By Miriam R. Kramer

Ever since I was aware that he existed, Howard Stern has turned me off. As an avid fan of Late Night with David Letterman in the 80s, I’d see him come on the show as an edgy, juvenile loudmouth. In the early 90s I had a typical long DC commute. I’d change stations frequently, so every now and then I gave his syndicated show a chance. I’d last two minutes at the most before I had to move on. Yet quite recently I’d heard and seen some of his interviews on YouTube. They were calmer, insightful, and provocative. So I was sufficiently intrigued to give his new book, Howard Stern Comes Again, a collection of interviews with celebrity guests, a chance.

Before I started reading I wondered: Is Howard Stern just trying to change his image? Or is he being honest in describing where life, age, and therapy have taken him? My answer now: Probably both. Stern has never shied away from saying exactly what’s on his mind, even if he exposes himself in the process. He also knows just how to turn publicity to his advantage.

I enjoyed his introduction and his explanations of his career path. From having heard his neuroses in action, I also bought into his redemption arc.

Stern started in radio to get attention from his father, a radio engineer. His insecurities about his worth and abilities drove him to seek top ratings at any cost. He bounced around from radio station to radio station in the pursuit of fame. His immature sense of humor, self-loathing, and need for attention turned him into a shock jock who hired strippers for the studio and played games like Lesbian Dial-a-Date and Butt Bongo. In the meantime, he kept his family at bay with emotional deflection and “workaholism”. His OCD also caused him to obsess about all aspects of his career. Achieving high ratings finally got him a deal on Sirius XM satellite radio, where his interview style started changing because he had no FCC restrictions against which to rebel.

In the introduction, Stern also discusses a health scare that made him evaluate his legacy and body of work. After intensive therapy in the past fifteen to twenty years, along with Transcendental Meditation (TM) and marriage to his second wife, Beth, he changed his approach towards his wife, daughters, and parents. In the process, he disavowed both of his first two books and much of his earlier work on the radio as attention-seeking narcissism. He touches on topics such as his wife’s work fostering rescue cats, and the cats’ effect on his life. He also expresses regrets about alienating some of his earlier guests with antagonistic attacks instead of substantive interviews.

By sifting through his later, more substantive work, Stern painstakingly put together this book of interviews with celebrities and other newsmakers. He had Donald Trump on his show multiple times when Trump was a real estate mogul and reality show star. “And Now a Word from Our President…” breaks up blocks of better interviews with superficial, unfiltered discussions between Stern and Trump over twenty years, discussing such important subjects as Trump’s addiction to models and how hot Melania is. When Trump asked for Stern’s endorsement for President, Stern refused because he supported Hillary Clinton. That was the end of Trump’s appearances on Stern’s show.

More importantly, Stern includes interviews from people such as Madonna, Anderson Cooper, Paul McCartney, and Larry David. Most are worthwhile reads, although a few seem thrown in for celebrity value. He has some unexpected favorites, such as Henry Hill, the former mobster depicted in Martin Scorsese’s movie Goodfellas.

Talk show host interviews feature Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, former host Rosie O’Donnell, his good friend Jimmy Kimmel, and his contemporary and late night legend, David Letterman. The latter was of interest to me, since both men were consumed with their careers as showbiz titans with large cult followings. Stern’s interviews with stand-up comedians include Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, and Chris Rock.

Stern also includes a discussion with Joan Rivers. As a good friend, he spoke at her funeral. Although the featured interview is worthwhile, I remember finding a Joan Rivers memorial episode of his show on YouTube that touched me. He discussed what she meant to him as someone who loved and encouraged him throughout the years.  She was as complicated, extreme, and neurotic as he was. They had a strong connection perhaps in part because of their insecurities and drive to achieve stardom.

His interview with Jon Stewart proved to be one of my favorites. Stern delves into Jon’s relationship with his father with respect and a delicate touch. He also treats Ellen DeGeneres and her experience coming out on TV in the 90s with intimacy and care.

I found myself understanding his extreme sense of humor better from reading his introduction and even his “interview” with his mother, Ray, who once called in on his birthday. Howard Stern Comes Again would be a perfect beach book because it reads easily, but you may want to hold off on the hard copy because of its weight and size. Either get it on an e-reader or wait for the paperback.

As a biography and memoir lover, I find it fascinating to read about an outsized, flawed personality who speaks honestly about his weaknesses, strengths, and attempts to change. This is Howard Stern’s softer side, and it’s worth getting to know.

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