Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa… stop the clock. – Ronnie Mund, 2011
That’s a sentiment made famous (and now regularly sound-bitten) by The Howard Stern Show‘s beloved Ronnie the Limo Driver. It was movingly and hysterically paid homage to in Sarah Silverman and Natalie Maines’ musical tribute to The King of All Media last night. SirusXM‘s Howard Stern Birthday Bash from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York not only celebrated the King’s 60th birthday, but also his legion of loyal fans, trusty longtime cohorts, and a brilliant career rise – now at its peak – in the face of adversity. During a season of vapid awards shows, this awards-less four-hour extravaganza was not only the most relevant in show business, but the most transparent. Stern’s loyalty to others, respect for his peers, hard work, and brutal honesty in broadcasting paid off.
Stern’s fans want to stop the clock at this moment. The man is at his creative and personal zenith. The Birthday Bash also proved the power of his self-promotional capital and humanness in marketing… aspects that keep people listening for decades while he matured as a person, entertainer, interviewer, and comedian. Rosie O’Donnell, Kathy Lee Gifford, Barbara Walters, George Clooney, Larry King, and Jerry Seinfeld – all people he verbally destroyed on the air in the eighties and nineties – appeared at the Bash to pay tribute to a man who changed the face of broadcasting as we know it. His maturity and ever growing clout in the entertainment business allowed for bygones to be bygones. Or: he won over his enemies.
Now Howard Stern has more power than most people realize. Since leaving terrestrial radio and joining SiriusXM in 2006, he helped increase the number of subscribers from 400,000 to 25 million. Most of SiriusXM’s subscribers joined specifically for the Stern Show. These are fans who pay money to listen to him and are some of the most motivated of any artist. If a musician, actor, or director appears as a guest, they’ll always get a Stern Show bump. Yet even with all of this power (and riches), Stern is just like us. He still gets angry at nonsensical social injustices (gay marriage, pot legalization – he’s for both), rants over dirty politicians, is intolerant at the mass stupidity the news media exhibits on a daily basis, and calls out bullshit… every time he hears it. He also gets giddy and nervous when encountering a hero like Paul McCartney, who has appeared on the show multiple times.
Speaking of which: music is extremely important in Howard Stern’s world. Last night’s show provided the listener and live audience with an A-list selection of Stern’s influences, biggest fans, show regulars, and new acts. John Fogerty’s blistering performance of the antiwar classic “Fortunate Son” prompted Stern to recall his memories of listening to Creedence as a teen and latching on to its rebellious attitude. Steven Tyler’s collaboration with Dave Grohl, Slash, and Train on “Dream On” and “Walk This Way” reinforced the notion that even old dudes can still rock and hit their peak.
The highlight of the show came when David Letterman sat down with Howard for a 25 minute discussion. Letterman gave Stern his first shot at a TV appearance in the early eighties and Stern became forever indebted to him. They have always been supportive of one another, but this was the rare case when Howard finally got to ask Letterman some deep digging questions. Stern’s brilliant interview style was in full force here. If you go on The Howard Stern Show to be interviewed – sometimes for up to two hours – expect it to be the most dangerous interview of your career… and the most valuable.
Last night was not devoid of heart. Despite the fact that the bulk of the content came from comedians and comic actors doing what they do best – being funny (Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Joan Rivers, Jimmy Fallon, Louis C.K., Robert Downey, Jr., Bryan Cranston, David Spade, Fred Armisen, George Takei, Tracy Morgan, Kathy Griffin, the list goes on) – it also came from genuine, heartfelt emotions. The most important being Howard’s relationship with cohost Robin Quivers, who nearly died of cancer last year; they sat alongside each other the entire night and lauded each other appropriately. Quivers has been Stern’s anchor of reason and loyal friend for over 30 years. Their partnership as a duo is probably the most successful and mutually respectful in all of show business.
At 60 years of age, Howard Stern hasn’t come full circle. He is at his peak. There is no better interviewer in broadcasting. He has the ability to bring out not just gossip, financial worth, and romantic/sexual history in a guest, but deep, genuine feelings and thoughts about one’s career, upbringing, grievances, and fears. Stern may now be filthy rich and remarried to Beth, his hot, younger wife (who, in fact, changed him in many ways; both practice pescetarianism and are animal activists), but he still remains grounded by his staff, friends, and family – and does everything for the good of the show, constantly maintaining the honesty and humanness in the material. But if you have nothing real – or funny – to say, then he’ll ask you to shut the fuck up.
Howard Stern has matured at 60. He had to piss off a lot of people, get fired, divorced, fined by the government, and lambasted by the media to finally reach a point where he is considered a trusted source of honesty and integrity. Stern doesn’t need social media. He is social media. He is a source of entertainment, news, and opinion that gets purchased on a monthly basis by loyal, devoted fans. How many artists out there create original content for 12 hours a week and have that much fan devotion and motivation?
Howard Stern was my age (38) when I started listening to him in 1992. I witnessed the O.J. trial, the books, the movie, the rise to megastardom, the divorce, Jackie Martling, Artie Lange, the death of Hank, High Pitch, the switch to satellite, Robin’s health victory, but most importantly, the development and progression in his relationships with friends, coworkers, and family. For over 30 years, Stern has supplanted bullshit with reality. And not manufactured reality, but real joys, pains, and disappointments that exist in all relationships. This is what keeps the fans coming back. One declaration that resurfaced between Howard and his friends and coworkers last night was that of love. He truly loves those loyal and close to him: Robin, Fred, Baba Booey, and even Benjy. Out of that love comes decades of hard work, passion, and quality entertainment. Or as fan favorite Ringo Starr likes to phrase it: “Peace and love. Peace. And. LOVE!”
Josh Valentine is Chief Marketing Strategist at Promenade Media.