Taking Howard Stern seriously

The last interview you'll ever need to read with radio's greatest, loudest talker--and, just maybe, Hollywood's newest movie star

Stern is a superstar not because he panders to the lowest common denominator--indeed, various Arbitron ratings studies have shown that his demographics skew toward older, upper-middle-class audiences with incomes exceeding $70,000 and homes worth $300,000. He is a phenomenon because he comes off as an average guy sitting in your bedroom, your car, your office each morning. He's a paroxysm of frustration for those who listen to the show only on the surface, a shrewd commentator for those who dig beneath that surface, the last angry comic for those who'd lump him in with Lenny Bruce and Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks. He hates everybody, mostly himself.

"Srew it. If this doesn't work, I'll just stay on the radio."MSuch were the words Howard Stern uttered from the set of his never-broadcast 1987 Fox TV talk show pilot. It was Stern's first foray into television, and it was so uncharacteristically awkward, stilted, and unfunny, it's painful to watch even now. It was the first--and last--time Stern died outside of the radio studio.

Private Parts is not Howard Stern's first big-screen appearance. Indeed, he had a bit part in a 1984 film called Ryder, P.I., a no-budget detective spoof in which Stern played a wacky newscaster. The movie, of course, gets no mention in his book Private Parts or his Paramount bio--though some footage of Stern's goofy performance has turned up, on occasion, on the Paramount-owned Hard Copy.

Stern almost made his feature debut four years ago with The Adventures of Fartman, based on the flatulence-propelled superhero he created for the radio and who, later, made a much-ballyhooed appearance on the MTV Music Video Awards show--much to the chagrin of a viewing audience ill-prepared for the sight of Stern's milk-white, flabby ass. (Appropriately enough, the film Private Parts begins with a re-creation of this rather auspicious occasion in Stern's life.) But Stern and New Line Cinema, which was prepared to make Fartman, couldn't agree on licensing rights--they figured, with all seriousness, that Fartman dolls would fly off shelves--so Stern walked.

Then in stepped Ivan Reitman, director of Ghostbusters, Twins, Stripes, and myriad other well-received and ultra-profitable comedies. Reitman is a long-time Stern fan and perhaps the only Hollywood player not immediately repulsed by him. The director says he told Stern as far back as 1991 he should make a film about his life; Reitman might even direct, he suggested, giving Stern the sort of instant legitimacy he could never receive belching into that microphone every morning.

"I thought he was an original voice," Reitman says. "I pitched him. I said, 'I think it should be a biographical film, I think you should star as yourself, I think it should be almost documentary in feel.' It just took a while for that to happen."

Indeed, as Reitman went off to make Dave, the presidential comedy with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, Stern turned away from filmmaking and began writing (with Larry "Ratso" Sloman) his first book. Stern actually tried to get Reitman to direct or produce The Adventures of Fartman, but the director passed. "I told him, 'It's a great Fartman movie, but that's what it is.'" He advised Stern to stay away from it; to become Fartman, to don the silly outfit and fart his way across the big screen, would have meant giving up being Howard Stern. The transformation into a joke would be complete.

Reitman considered buying Private Parts when no other studio wanted to touch it. Stern's 1994 New Year's Eve special nearly ruined his bankability in Hollywood: Crass, boorish, and surprisingly juvenile for a man who had learned to turn the outlandish and trenchant into high low-brow art, it was a chance for Stern to have the four-lettered fun he couldn't on the radio, when the FCC was monitoring his every syllable. Unlike his short-lived 1992 television show for New York's WOR, which was syndicated nationally late Saturday nights (where it beat Saturday Night Live in the ratings in some markets, including New York), the special was more shit than wit. Of course, it made millions of dollars--at the time the highest-rated pay-per-view special ever.

"There was a fear I would be somewhat ostracized, thought of strangely" for working with Stern after the New Year's special, Reitman says. "Having just made Dave and Twins and Ghostbusters--these sort of grand traditional Hollywood films--what the hell was I doing working with this outcast? On the special, he just went for the edgy side of himself. It was just about breaking rules as opposed to entertainment. It didn't have the intelligence his daily show has, which is what I wanted to present in a film."

After the publication of Private Parts, Stern entered into a deal with Rysher Entertainment, Inc., to make a film version of his autobiography; at one point, John Avildsen had been signed on to direct, perhaps because Stern liked the idea of Rocky's director bringing his own underdog story to the screen. But Avildsen eventually backed off the project, perhaps because Stern kept rejecting script after script.

From the get-go, Hollywood envisioned Stern's film as a big-screen version of his radio show; it would be bigger, bawdier, wilder--the radio show on a movie's budget. One early script opened with once-regular guest and friend Richard Simmons baby-sitting Stern's kids and running around Stern's Long Island estate in a tutu.

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