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

But now there is no one around Stern save for his coterie of writers and the ever-present Robin Quivers. It is Valentine's Day, and Stern is sitting in the Manhattan studio of WXRK-FM talking to comedian Pat Cooper, a once-forgotten Italian comic from the 1960s whose career was resurrected when Stern began booking him as a guest several years ago. Cooper's the only guy who talks louder than Stern: Next to him, Howard's an ant in a hurricane, a mute observer who can only nod as the old Vegas comic rants and raves through the microphone.

The studio itself is much larger than it appears on the E! show: Dozens of lights hang from the ceiling, and there appear to be at least six cameras stationed at various angles. Posters from Private Parts and Miss America, framed in steel, hang from thick chains; Plexiglas sculptures of Stern and Dell'Abate stand on small columns between Stern's station and the glass booth that houses Quivers.

Contrary to the chaos overheard by radio audiences--the dissonance created by Norris' pistol-quick sound effects and Martling's whinny and Stern's own tenor--the studio seems almost calm this morning--surprisingly serene. Until Cooper opens his mouth. On the morning of this most romantic day, Cooper starts yapping about how a woman's vagina is more like a "Brillo pad," a "hairbrush" men bust their balls to get at for even a moment. Cooper growls that he doesn't need what other men crave: "I've got my right hand," he snarls.

Stern agrees--but of course. This is his gambit too, the lament of the tortured man who insists he wants to cheat on his wife but is too guilt-ridden to go through with it. That and, he whines, some "loud-mouthed broad" will rat him out to the tabloids, thus giving his wife half his hard-earned millions. Better he masturbate than do the deed with a stripper.

"He happens to be right," Stern says to his microphone. "He's like a sage. You get crazy and make crazy decisions. What do ya think O.J. killed over? Not a penis."

And then Stern rolls his eyes. He wiggles his eyebrows. He flashes a grin. It's the one that says, "What the hell did I just say?"

A moment such as this one occurs in the film Private Parts, when Stern goes on the air to talk about Alison's miscarriage. It has since become a classic Stern moment, one that took place during his tenure at DC-101 in 1982: Stern, speaking as "God," phones to blame Howard for Alison's miscarriage: "A real man would have done it right the first time," God tells Howard, who then shouts back, "I don't think this is funny!" But Howard does, dragging the bit out for two days even though it infuriated his wife and nearly destroyed his marriage.

Yet there's a moment in the film immediately after that bit when Stern looks genuinely sorry for what he has just said. The smile turns into a frown, the laugh gets swallowed. It's the look the radio audience cannot see, the moment when Stern realizes he has crossed that imaginary line separating the absurd from the inexcusable.

"That moment occurs throughout my day," Stern says later. "I often sit and go, 'Jeez, what did I just do? What are the consequences of what I just did?' And it's tough because I do not ever want to lose the premise that you have to just talk about whatever's on your mind. When I come into the house and get into an argument with Alison, it's happened to me a million times in my life. I know she's gonna give it to me. I'm like, 'Hey, honey, I'm home!' but I know I'm gonna get nailed.

"That's that open-ended issue in my marriage, but it was also important to show why we're friends. What goes through my mind when that happens is, 'Uh-oh, I'm fucked. I'm in for it. I'm gonna get yelled at.' And yet there's a tremendous satisfaction of having just revealed things to my audience [and that] I'm on a roll. And that roll is, like, unbelievable."

People have long tried to find the "real" Howard Stern, but in the end, there's really only one--the shock jock who surprises even himself, who traps himself in cages of his own creation and spends his off-time trying to extricate himself until the next jam. On the air, he turns on his friends, betrays his wife even by his own admission, wishes death on his enemies, and maybe even feels bad about it. For a second. But did he make you laugh?

"Another day in paradise," he says when this is all over, when 10 a.m. rolls around and the on-air light is dark for another weekend. Stern's whole body seems to groan, his every muscle and follicle exhausted.

"Shit," he says, stretching and yawning, looking ready to hide again. "I'm tired.

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