My father drove me to school almost every day between the ages of 5 and 14. He would drive me to Mrs. Wolf's Pre-School and indulge my obsession with the movie Dick Tracy by bringing his wrist watch to his mouth and speaking into it, "Mrs. Wolf... We're on our way." This would typically elicit an embarrassingly giddy response from yours truly. As the years went by, I stopped getting a kick out of such antics, and listening to the radio took over the daily commute. I don't remember exactly when it happened -- maybe 11- or 12-years old -- when I first listened Howard Stern. My dad was very careful. He would typically have Howard, on and if things got a bit racy or turned towards sex, he would turn the dial over to Don Imus or some other less interesting radio personality. I could tell he didn't want to but he knew if my Mom found out, he'd be screwed. That was my first exposure to Howard Stern.
My high school years consisted of me waking up to the same sound every weekday morning at 6am sharp. I would listen to Howard up until first-period English class at 7:25. I went off to college, and my affair with the Stern Show continued. I'd listen to him in between classes and in the morning. During the summer, I would listen to him while I mowed lawns, landscaped, and performed carpentry duties for a nearby restaurant. Like Stern, I graduated from Boston University, and my first broadcast experience was over the air of the campus radio station WTBU. We even shared the same whimsical philosophy professor, Jim Wilcox. In December 2005, two things happened that would change my life: my girlfriend broke up with me, and Howard left terrestrial radio and moved on to Sirius Satellite. As a 19-year-old, I definitely didn't take the break up well. We've all been there; you listen to sad music, thinking life can never go on, and you detach yourself from anything that remotely resembles fun. I would go to work and listen to Howard's replacement, David Lee Roth, and that would generally last about fifteen minutes before I had to turn it off. I went seven months without Howard in my life. I was depressed over the break up. I felt alone. Finally in July of 2006, I listened to Howard for the first time on Sirius. In a split second, I found my smile. It wasn't the novelty of being able to curse without fear of FCC fines that made me smile but rather the freedom the crew had to converse freely without regulation. On regular radio, Howard would be on a roll and have to stop for commercials after ten minutes. Sirius was the promised land. Howard would chat with Robin, Fred, and at the time, Artie about the most mundane subjects for hours on end making me laugh harder at their banter than any Hollywood screenwriter ever has. Since July of 2006, I have never missed a show.
Is it an obsession? Probably. I wake up and listen to the show because the cast of characters have become my family. This past week, Robin showed up wearing a catheter because she's being screened for possible cancer. Instead of throwing a pity party, Howard cracked, "I really resent you for making me feel bad for you on the same week as my big debut on America's Got Talent." That's the Howard Stern Show in a nutshell. It is an intimate room where secrets are told, laughs are had, and arguments are made while millions of fans hang on every word. In the past few years, Howard has transformed from a rebel "shock jock" into an elder statesman of broadcasting whose true impact will likely not be appreciated by the masses until long after he is gone. He changed radio. He is undoubtedly one of the best interviewers of his generation as the only person who can sit down and talk with Barbara Walters for an hour, and without missing a beat, follow it up with an interview with three porn stars willing to give a desperate virgin the night of his life.
Pixar's film Ratatouille has a very profound line spoken by Peter O'Toole. He states, "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." Howard based his career on finding talent everywhere no matter what the circumstance or affliction so long as the person is entertaining. Celebrity super fan Natalie Maines flew across the country just to catch a glimpse of Eric the Midget. His limo driver/security guard Ronnie The Limo Driver became a fixture on the show because of his angry outbursts. Sal "The Stockbroker" Governale used to call the show with prank calls; now he gets paid to do it for a living. Sal's allure is the constant examining of his seemingly awful marriage that sometimes result in disturbing song parodies about his wife. Howard loves reality. He loves honesty. Some of the greatest and funniest occasions on the show have ironically come from raw emotional moments. Not one moment on his show for 35 years has been disingenuous, and on Monday night, Howard brought his brand of honest entertainment to NBC's America's Got Talent.
As a longtime fan of the "King of All Media", I have been looking forward to this night since he announced it in December. I watched with two lady friends who fall under the female 18-24 demographic (hardly Howard's core audience). When the two hours ended, one turned to me and said with a surprised tone, "Wow. Howard is really funny." I responded, "Welcome to the club." That's what Howard joining AGT means to hardcore Stern fans. It validates our years of dedication. It softens the instant stigma that comes with telling somebody, "Yes, I am a Stern fan." We want people to know that we were ahead of the curve. We appreciated Howard for the brilliant comedic mind that he is and saw past the surface of strippers, the wack pack, and the misunderstood notion that he is a filthy misogynist.
The Stern show is a place where misfits gather to feel like they belong. The show embraces people's differences, neuroses, and handicaps that make us all unique. Instead of being ostracized from the "cool table", these people feel like they belong to a community. Nothing said or done is meant out of malice, but rather in the name of entertainment. If you're being goofed on, you're part of the family. With Howard back on network television, one of the misfits has been welcomed to the mainstream. I had never watched an episode of AGT until Monday night. I tuned in and found myself laughing out loud, applauding and tearing up at times. Unlike shows like American Idol and The Voice, AGT celebrates entertainment in any form: dancers, singers, comedians, instrumentalists, painters, etc. The task is to look for a unique talent. Who would be better to find it than the most unique talent in broadcasting history? AGT was never on my radar. With the brilliant addition of Howard Stern, it has become appointment television.
America's got Howard. But I've had him all along, and I'm glad the masses now get to enjoy him as well. Instead of smugly saying "I told ya so," I want to say, "Hey now!" and gladly welcome you to the party. Baba Booey!
- Garytt Poirier (@Garytt)