Why did Howard Stern ever want to be a shock jock?

I’m going to add something to the America’s Got Talent thread as soon as I see tonight’s results show. I’m amazed by how much I like this one now. There’s some incredibly good stuff, and the crowd is one of the best behaved I’ve ever seen.

But by far the biggest revelation has been Howard Stern. I’ll admit, when he first hit the scene, I found him seriously unlikable. He sounded exactly like the moronic, no-talent, gutter trash clowns I knew from high school with absolutely no skills other than stirring crap up. The fact that of all the gutter trash imbeciles that ever existed, he was able to make an amazingly lucrative living at this, really upset me. I don’t remember any Hawaii radio stations carrying his show, but I did hear snippets here and there, mostly from news specials, and I was far from inspired.

I can barely remember reading anything at all positive about him. There was this article on ESPN way back, someone comparing him to Charles Barkley, something like he can say what he wants because deep down he’s a nice guy and knows his stuff, but that’s it.

And then he repliced Nigel Whasisface on AGT. By then I’d pretty much forgotten about him and didn’t have much interest in reality TV anyway, but I still caught some episodes over dinner.

Holy cow. A complete 180 from the shock jock I’ve read about so much…hell, a complete 180 from most reality TV judges. Just completely intelligent and even-handed, like he knows the entertainment industry inside and out. I find myself agreeing with about 98% of what he says. Most judges rate about 40% on a good day. Best of all, he never forgets what the show is about; he realizes that an act can be great but wrong for Vegas.

So my question is, was shock value and grossness something he just really wanted to do for some reason? Was this just a Madonna thing, breaking new ground and getting his foot in the door? I mean, I can accept that Weird Al Yankovich is a talented singer who just happens to really like making people laugh, but Stern…I have a hard time getting it.

Disclaimers: I haven’t seen Private Parts, and the only news article I could find was about the slam he made against Jay Leno. (I think he came across badly in that, but I don’t know enough about the situation to judge.)

Well, you’ve poisoned the well a bit with your early opinion of him. All I can say is you prejudged him incorrectly. I first listened to him on WNBC and I immediately recognized that he was no flash in the pan shock jock. He was intelligent, witty, totally un-politically correct (before that term even existed), but he treated all subjects this way. Including taboo ones like sex, race, the hypocrisy of showbiz etc. Because of this he got lumped in with others with the label ‘shock jock’.

As he became more & more famous he always absolutely loathed and rejected the term ‘shock jock’ because he saw that for what it was: Being pseudo-obscene and obnoxious in lieu of having any true talent. He would also make the (very correct) point that because radio is the lowest rung of show business this is why it’s populated with so many talentless goofball ‘shock jocks’.

There’s a reason he’s literally the only person in radio to become mega-successful, he’s always been a very smart, intelligent, talented entertainer. Just sometimes he’s not afraid to showcase this by having a competition where porn stars fish hotdogs out of a toilet with just their mouths (hey, it was a brand new, unused commode sitting in the studio…) :smiley:

For some reason he reminds me of Penn&Teller on their show Bullshit, there is a lot of cursing and topless women but that is just to keep things entertaining. I guess I could see someone deciding the show was lowbrow nudity and language and writing off the rest which is very thought provoking.

He is also totally politically incorrect, to the point it would be easy to label him racist/sexist/etc. just going by what he says and not really noticing the sentiment behind it.

Hail Ants:

Only? Hardly. Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlessinger, for example. You might not care for their political/social views, but you can hardly dispute that they’re mega-successful, and their primary medium is radio.

How about you watch Private Parts? it would answer a lot of your questions.

He wanted to be a shock jock because he recognized that radio talk was stupid and vaccuous, and he understood correctly that people wanted more entertainment. This was over 30 years ago, and the world has changed a lot since. People have a lot more choices on radio and television now, and shock jocking is just one of many facets.

I have the exact same impression of him and, like you, never bothered to listen to his show and had only a middling impression of him.

It’s funny because my wife listens to his show in the mornings and apparently Stern says that he wants his judging comments to be the same thing people on their living room couches are saying. Sure enough, there’s been multiple occasions where an act ends, I say some remarks about it, and Stern repeats them almost verbatim a few moments later.

I used to listen to him on the radio years ago, his radio show is love it or hate it. He is capable of extremely crude thoughts which he is happy to share with the teeming masses and he has been very successful while doing so. He’s a smart guy.

Janis Ian wrote a spirited defense of Howard for The Advocate.

There’s a difference between *craft *and shtick.

  • Craft - What people are saying they respect about Stern is his *craft *- he’s invested years and knows how to entertain people, and what is entertaining in others. When to be provocative to stir conversation; when to put a guest under a spotlight vs. offering full support - whatever engages an audience. He is a very thoughtful craftsman - his riffing on air is totally thought-through, based on craft. This is what is shown - based on what I have see in clips - on AGT: Howard commenting on the craft of entertaining.

  • Shtick - that’s his persona that he uses when he applies his craft. His rude persona works given what he is trying to achieve for his craft. Shock jocks that try to follow Stern but aren’t nearly as good are all shtick and no craft. They get lucky every now and then, but don’t know how to dance on the line without crossing it - or when to cross it boldly in a way that gets people engaged, not just disgusted - the way Stern does…

Definitely see Private Parts - really quite good and insightful…

If the movie is to be believed then he went shock jock because at one time he was a shy man with no niche, popularity ensued and he then had an audience to satisfy.

I know it’s an autobiographical, but he really came across as a genuinely sensitive introspective guy, you should see it.

Stern positions himself (and his longtime friends) as just a bunch of guys (albiet imature ones) just trying to have some good natured gross fun while the stuffy conservative “establishment” (which is typically the butt of their jokes) tries to keep them down.

In contrast, when Don Imus called the Rutgers women’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy haired hoes”. He just came across as a bully and a jerk.

He also came across as a great husband who would never do anything to hurt his marriage. The separation was about two years later. It makes the movie hard to watch now. I thought the book was better. They fictionalized some of the real life events in the movie but left it factual in the book. Some of those events I heard live on the air so seeing them fake seemed weird.

He pushed the envelope in order to break out of the pack. He did not invent that style of radio contrary to what he says but he did perfect it and pushed to the front. He is a smart and talented guy. I always found the most enjoyable parts of his show were when he wasn’t trying to be shocking.

Having said that I have to say I can no longer watch or listen to him. I was a big fan from back in the WNBC days. I still have my* Crucified By the FCC* CD. But he just bores me to death now. He is stale and boring. I have Sirius and I try to listen but I never last long. And his exposed hypocrisy sickens me.

I haven’t listened to Stern since he went to Sirius. But fefore that I listed to his show every day for a few years. I was pretty young & immature then so I liked the raunchy parts… but i also always thought he was a fantastic and entertaining interviewer.

True, though I doubt Dr Laura is in his level of success (as in Stern is nine-figures rich and counting). Rush might be. But Stern is primarily in the entertainment biz, his self-declared title ‘King of All Media’ is somewhat accurate (though mostly boastful joking). Rush is the king of talk radio and has written a few best-sellers (I read a couple of them) but he’s viewed primarily as a politico. And it doesn’t help that, although Stern has his detractors, Rush is just dismissed & utterly despised by everyone in the entertainment business.

No, Stern was not judged incorrectly. He deliberately chose an adversarial persona for his show, even though he’s really not like that. The point was likely to capture the people who really felt that way as an audience, a group of people who didn’t have anyone at the time. Over the years, more of his real personality leaked in, to the point that he’s generally okay.
Plus, he’s being heavily censored on TV. And he was heavily depressed when he first started, and depressed people like to lash out.

Some great responses here. I guess, then, that the comparison to Weird Al Yankovic is actually sound, a man with genuine talent who for some reason felt compelled to do something weird with it. I think that part of it was that he came along at the right time, when political correctness really was getting out of hand, and someone willing to push back, but with humor, could build a loyal following.

I should add that talk radio isn’t something that I spend a lot of time listening to (and I’m not aware that any station in Hawaii carries his show), so while I can definitely see the appeal of someone like Madonna, or Charles Barkley, or even Rush Limbaugh, Stern’s overwhelming success has always been a mystery to me.

Thanks a lot. Nice to know I can count on this board being informative and even-handed most of the time. :slight_smile:

Will definitely look for the book on Amazon this weekend. The problem with the movie is that Blockbuster Video is all but a relic now (one location I know of still standing, in a part of the island I rarely go to), Netflix seems like more trouble than it’s worth, and Sony/Microsoft’s selections are still limited. (I hate that BV is toast; I’ve always been of the opinion that online movies should be an additional option to video rentals, not replace them entirely, but that’s another thread.)

It’s a tangent, but I feel that, in general, Weird Al is more talented than the people he is parodying. His parody of Lada Gaga’s “Born This Way” - “Perform This Way” - features lyrics that are much better from a technical perspective; better rhymes, scans perfectly, and has a refrain that actually has lyrics rather than just repeating the same phrase over and over.

Well, Stern playing a fictionalized version of himself still comes off better then Eric Bogosian playing a fictionalized version of Alan Berg (in Talk Radio). Bogosian’s character was an insufferable jerk to everyone, including his wife.