Howard Stern Comes Again
Simon & Schuster
The shorthand that follows Howard Stern around is “shock jock”. He is at pains to let you know he’s moved on from that phase. When he was a shock-jock he ruled the airwaves – and people, famously, wanted to see what he would say next. One of the secrets to his success – and he is a freak occurrence, we need to be cogniscant of that, always – was that his detractors would tune in for longer than his fans. Nowadays a shock-jock is someone we have instantly dismissed; someone we’ve heard about rather than heard. Someone we are furrowing our brow over, not smirking about.
In a 40–year career Stern, particularly outside of America, has run the risk of being self-memoralised in the book and then film (where, showcasing the towering strength and length of his ego in contrast to famous other shortcomings, he played himself).
He doesn’t talk about private parts as much as he used to – and he doesn’t want to remember the book and film Private Parts. Stern reckons the two books he wrote ahead of this new one have no place on his shelf. He wants you to burn them. He wants you to know that this is the new Howard. This is what he’s been working towards, the product of years in the game; of intense therapy, of doing the work, turning up forever and honing those formidable skills. But allow him his long-winded apology and reframing of himself. He might not have technically written this book (outside of chapter-intros) but this set of interviews from across his last two decades shows he certainly wrote the book when it comes to getting the good stuff in a celebrity interview.
Even if you’ve decided long ago that Stern is not needed in your life, antagonistic, juvenile, crude, dated…this book proves otherwise. On nearly every single page. Downwind from “Fart Man” is an intriguing, amazing interviewer – roving mind, restless spirit, so brutally averse to bullshit that his quest, always, is to break through. And he does that here. Over and again.
Watch as he sets people up and allows them to hang themselves with their own words (Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein). Be amazed as he gets deep and meaningful stories from people at a time when no one else did (Lady Gaga) or when they’d been near-forgotten (Billy Joel) or while they were written off by almost anyone else (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Maybe most telling is that it’s other professional interviewers that are the most candid (Conan O’Brien), the most revealing (Jon Stewart) and the most gob smacked by the depth and breadth of Stern’s research and insight (Stephen Colbert).
Some wag once said, many moons ago, that to get a really good interview out of someone you needed to know everything about them already. That certainly stands for Howard Stern. On full form he has the timing of the best comedian, the expertise of the best researcher (assisted by a team, of course) and the very best journalistic instincts. He combined all those to be the very best at a format that many wrote off as dead right around the time Stern commanded his highest fee. The highest fee anyone will ever receive.
To write him off as any version of talentless or lucky is absurd. And the proof that he has brilliance at his touch and that he evolved is here. And the best of it – interviews with Michael J. Fox or Courtney Love or Vincent Gallo or Joan Rivers – is frankly mind-blowing.
This is a textbook. He should have ditched the joke title and called it The Bragging Rights of Howard Stern. It would have been justified.
He’s a mess of ego and over-work and insecurity. He’s been emotionally and psychologically paralysed – and it’s those traits, as well as his curious mind, endless energy and hatred of the PR shill that make his life’s work so compelling.
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