Why Howard Stern Still Matters

He may have foolishly backed the second Iraq War for two years, brainlessly endorsed America’s illegal torture policies and relentlessly bashed Rosie O’Donnell when she hosted her first talk show in the mid 90s.  He may have ridiculed The Dixie Chicks for opposing Iraq 2, made fun of Fergie’s singing and vowed never to get married again while criticizing others for doing do.

But over time, Howard Stern would reverse himself, admit he made mistakes and expressed questionable judgment on all the above (except the torture nonsense which he will hopefully regret ever supporting in the very near future).  In 2004, after reading a book by Al Franken, he became a critic of that same Iraq invasion and urged listeners to vote for John Kerry.  (Franken later appeared as a guest.)

When The Dixie Chicks appeared during his first year on Sirius in 2006, after concluding the interview, he graciously apologized for bashing them three years earlier.  (Since then, lead singer Natalie Maines has made a number of appearances on Celebrity Superfan Roundtable, an occasional spin-off of the weekly Superfan Roundtable heard on one of Howard’s satellite radio channels.)  And after Rosie came out of the closet and started supporting causes like gay family cruises, Howard started praising her.  They ultimately made peace off the air and became friends.  She’s even appeared on the show a few times.  He’s been complimentary to her new chatfest on OWN.

When he found out it wasn’t Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas who he saw deliver a terrible performance once, he apologized on-air after being corrected by his friend, the singer Esthero.  And despite sounding like Gene Simmons on a certain subject for most of the last decade, he gave matrimony another go a couple of years ago.  (He got lucky again.  Beth is a keeper.)  During one of his many entertaining appearances on Letterman, he freely admitted he was a “hypocritical liar” about the whole thing.  He even apologized to Doug Goodstein, one of his longtime employees, for raging against the former E! producer’s nuptials in 2000.  (Stern was recently divorced from first wife Alison at the time.)

How many broadcasters or even journalists for that matter do you know who are as consistently accountable as this deeply neurotic, often contradictory radio legend, even if that accountability isn’t always easy and immediate from one who can be quite stubborn?  (I can relate.)  And how many are willing to freely admit to their most embarrassing moments, their most disgusting habits and their biggest flaws on a regular basis, albeit for the sake of comedy?

He might be a self-admitted germophobe with horrible taste in TV (The Bachelor?  Dancing With The Stars?  Come on!).  He can make you cringe with some of his opinions (his definition of “fat” is awfully liberal and sometimes needlessly cruel) and those apologies and admissions of wrongdoing could happen a lot quicker sometimes, but for the most part, Howard Stern, perhaps more so than ever before, remains a force of good in the world of entertainment, a mostly honest, intelligent voice in a vast sea of stupidity, well documented and persistent flaws notwithstanding.

He was rightly critical of Don Imus’ astonishingly casual racism and Jay Leno’s comic thievery long before the mainstream got around to covering both.  Despite saying the word “fag” in the past (more for comedic purposes than any kind of serious, critical comment, it should be noted), no one has been more pro-gay than Howard.  (Admirably, he doesn’t say it any longer.)  He has long supported gay marriage, gay adoption and full equality long before the masses.  (In fact, one of the earliest champions of his show was the gay publication, The Washington Blade, way back in the early 80s when he did a show in the nation’s capital.)  After screening Brokeback Mountain in 2005, he publicly gave it a full-throated endorsement.  I could go on and on with many more examples but let’s move on.

Almost six years ago, when he made the jump to Sirius with his loyal crew, it wasn’t certain how many of his terrestrial listeners would join him.  Few in the media felt it was a good career move.  But enough have signed on (roughly four to six million, reportedly) to make the gamble worthwhile.  Furthermore, Sirius, which didn’t even have a million subscribers at the time, would soon see a surge of requests to make the company competitive with XM.  The venture proved so successful, the two companies soon merged after a long battle with Congress.

Yes, the value of the stock is horrifyingly low (usually a buck or two a share) and satellite radio has yet to show a profit after more than a decade in existence and certainly, mergers usually aren’t a good idea when it comes to divergence of opinion and talent (a lot of good, hardworking people lose their jobs all too easily) but without Howard Stern talking about the service endlessly the year before he made the move there, would the merger have even been a possibility, let alone a reality?  Had he not made the switch, would Sirius have generated so much customer interest?  Who else could credibly claim to put this relatively new business on the map, likely for good?

Despite the annoying matter of an ongoing contract dispute with Sirius XM, the typically loyal Howard has remained vital and newsworthy at this late stage of his career.  Let’s go over some recent examples.  During the show’s first proper satellite show in January 2006 (not counting those unbilled, impromptu test shows), Star Trek legend George Takei became the show’s new announcer.

Universally respected by the fans who have nothing but kind things to say about his charming seasonal week-long appearances, Takei suddenly started getting a lot of side gigs like a regular supporting role on Heroes, a part in the Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts film, Larry Crowne, and commercials.  Now out as a gay public figure after decades of being in the closet, his revealing stories about his sexual past and present have made him an endearing member of the Stern family.  The way Howard and the gang engage with him is both very funny and quite touching.  He’s rightly viewed as an equal on the show.

This year alone, the show has gotten tons of media mentions.  Benjy Bronk, one of the writers, hilariously crashed two press conferences (one for former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, the other for Gloria Allred and her client, one of Herman Cain’s accusers).  The New York Times actually quoted one of the very silly questions he posed to Weiner in a story on their website.  And the increasingly bitter Daily Howler moaned unhumourously about MSNBC broadcaster Rachel Maddow’s praising of Bronk’s remarkably ballsy hijacking of the Allred event.  The long forgotten blogger didn’t even bother to mention his name and refused to note why the blotchy, balding sweat machine even got up there in the first place.  (He was trying to impress singer Elisa Jordana, a friend he’s been deeply infatuated with lately.  The ploy worked.  They’re apparently a couple now.  Suck on that, Bob Somerby.)

But as always, like the The Playboy Interview, when big names open up on The Howard Stern Show, something interesting is bound to be revealed and played up big time in the mainstream press.  When Tony Bennett rightly noted that 9/11 was the result of too much American imperial meddling in the Middle East, Fox News broadcasters went nuts and foolishly condemned him.  After director Brett Ratner revealed intimate details of his sex life, he lost his gig producing next year’s Oscars.  (To be fair, in an earlier interview before the Stern appearance, he said, “Rehearsals are for fags,”, which also reportedly upset the Motion Picture Academy.  None of his comments should’ve got him fired, whether you agreed with them or not, quite frankly.  Remember, Roman Polanski, who anally raped a 13-year-old girl, won a Best Director Oscar.  No one was campaigning for him to give it back.  Stern has hammered the sickening coward beautifully throughout the decades.)

When a devastated and inebriated David Arquette pored his heart out over his separation from Courtney Cox in a phone call to his real-life pal (he was trying to defend himself from nosy media accusations that he was cheating on her), that one interview alone generated so much interest (mostly negative) that the second-generation actor ended up doing Oprah and Dancing With The Stars.  Lady Gaga’s piano-only performance of The Edge Of Glory received universal acclaim, particularly from those who generally don’t like her music.  (Rolling Stone provided a link as did numerous other sites.)  Chris Martin of Coldplay stopped by to play and chat.  And yesterday morning, Chaz Bono sat in for a very entertaining interview.  I could go on (Hugh Hefner’s runaway bride, for instance) but you get the picture.

Then, there’s the matter of American Idol and America’s Got Talent.  Howard is obsessed with these shows and talks about them endlessly on the air, maybe even too much.  When the former was looking for a new judge, Stern’s name suddenly got out there as a possible replacement.  And now that Piers Morgan, Larry King’s asskissing successor, has left America’s Got Talent, Howiemania has swept the media landscape once again.

As before, the New York comedian got a lot of material out of the coverage and while he coyly hasn’t admitted to being approached or even dealing with ongoing negotiations (a longstanding policy), the likelihood of Howard Stern being a judge on any of these shows is zilch.  Any gig that takes away from his radio show is a gig he won’t ever take.  And while he would easily be the most entertaining person on the show (as he always is on talk shows), other than winning over a completely different audience (which would be tempting for the still needy, surprisingly people-pleasing comedian), what would be the point?  He doesn’t need it.

When listeners complain that he’s now only on three days a week (it’ll be four next month), he still matters.  When he can continue to attract Grade A talent to appear and reveal different sides of their personalities, he still matters.  When many more are turned away because they might not be good on the show, he still matters.  When the misguided Parents Television Council is already campaigning against the very slim possibility of him joining AGT, he still matters.  When he exposes his empathetic side for Bono, Congresswoman Giffords, Darrell Hammond and all those sweet, abandoned animals at The North Shore Animal League, he still matters.  When he lashes out at Leno, Imus, the demented Andy Dick and all those responsible for the mess at Penn State, he still matters.  And when he continues to anger media hypocrites by thriving in the business for almost 40 years, he still matters.

Now if only he’d renounce torture.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, November 15, 2011
12:52 a.m.

Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 12:52 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Nearly a month ago in this space, I made a prediction about the possibility of Howard Stern becoming a judge on America’s Got Ta…: […]

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