Howard Stern is a genius, I’ve always known this.
After plugging in my brand new Sirius radio tonight and tuning into Howard’s “Meet the Shrink” I’m convinced he is *really* a genius. Like not when you say someone is “genius” because they’re successful–I’m talking genius because of their IQ. This guy has to have the highest media IQ out there.
[ Disclaimer: I own a couple of hundred shares of Sirius stock in my retirement account. ]
Now, I’ve been listening to Howard Stern since I was 12-13 years old. Back in the 80s we would come home from school and listen to tapes of the bits Howard would do between songs (yeah, Howard used to spin records). Sure the guy is raw, but what satirist of note isn’t? Lenny Bruce? Chris Rock? George Carlin?
The concept of “Meet the Shrink” is pure brilliance: a therapist interviews someone in dire straights. For background, Howard has brought odd personalities onto his shows for years, they’re call the “whack pack.” They go by carnival names like Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf, BettleJuice, or Jeff the Drunk. To be a “whack packer” you basically have to have some combination of disability, mental defect, or just general oddness.
For over 20 years Howard has brought these folks into his studio, and to the casual viewer, taken advantage of them. He has them involved in all kinds of stunts and games designed to make us–the audience–laugh. Of course, the truth is Howard takes these people out of obscurity, makes them famous, gives them an identity, and gets them jobs. Most of all he gives them social acceptance and helps them laugh at their problems. They are part of his gang, and that gang includes millions of listeners.
Here in Los Angeles I’ve run into “Stuttering John” a couple of times and both times I felt like I really knew the guy. He was beaming when I told him how funny he was on the show. Makes sense, back then he was an Intern with an embarrassing stutter, now he was the announcer for the Tonight Show! He’s the perfect example of what Howard does for these “whack jobs”–he develops them.
Anyway, on “Meet the Shrink” Howard has a life-coach named Dr. Judith McGrath do a therapy session with a whack packer. Tonight was the first episode and Dr. McGrath had “Jeff the Drunk” on the couch. Jeff’s appearances on the Stern show are legendary. He’s an angry, sloppy, drunken cowboy who makes obnoxious comments to anyone who gets in his way. The guy is a total mess.
Tonigtht Jeff’s clown makeup came off. As the therapy session starts we learn that Jeff was in a car accident that paralyzed his arm from the shoulder down. He said he was a really athletic, but that after the accident he gain weight, and gained weight. He got older, started losing his hair, and started drinking more and more.
He wasn’t laugh or being obnoxious, he was talking a really low, sad voice–it was gut wrenching. The guy was almost in tears a couple of times. He said being sober was pointless because women didn’t consider getting to know him anyway.
It was brilliant radio, perhaps the most compelling thing I’ve heard Stern do–except Stern wasn’t even on the radio at the time!
That’s when I realized Howard having two, 24-hour channel has given him the bandwidth to go deep–really deep.
Howard Stern is really going to change radio.