Encased in the long black limousine that has transported him from Beverly Hills, Calif., to downtown Pasadena, Howard Stern is about to merge with his fans. The car inches along East Colorado Boulevard toward Vroman's, the site of his West Coast book signing in December. Cops line the streets. Wild-eyed devotees – a mob estimated at 10,000 – wave copies of his best seller, Private Parts, shouting, "I love you, man!" and "Howard is God!" Stern has seen it before but still seems a little freaked. "These windows are tinted, right?" he asks the driver. "They can't actually see us?" He reaches up and pulls the black cover over the sunroof glass. Soon the limo doors pop, and the Dark Prince of radio – black jeans, black suede fringe jacket, black shades – braves the screaming throng, stretching his 6-foot-5-inch frame to full height and raising his arms like a conquering hero. One man, overcome by the emotion of the moment, yells out, "HOWARD! Show us your PENIS!"
It's a telling scene: watching Howard Stern become HOWARD STERN! Are they the same guy? The standard Stern "story" goes something like this: Foulmouthed, pervert shock jock revealed to be smart, mild-mannered family man who meditates in spare time. But it's not quite that simple. He turns down the volume in person, but it's still Howard: a strangely charismatic mixture of arrogance and self-deprecation. He's also very funny. Spend enough time with him, and the line between man and myth becomes a blur of public performance, private neuroses and jokes about his reputedly undersized weenie.
The facts of his life are easier to grasp. Stern was raised on Long Island, N.Y., in a town called Roosevelt, a Jewish kid in a black neighborhood. His father, Ben, a radio engineer, called him a moron. His mother, Ray, was, he claims, so overprotective that she once told him to wear a pair of her panties when he had no undies of his own. Young Howard amused himself by putting on dirty puppet shows. At Boston University, he got into college radio – around the same time he started doing transcendental meditation – and met his wife, Alison, whom he thanks warmly in the book for letting him "finger" her on their first date.
A disc jockey who hated jockeying, he worked his way up: Hartford, Conn., Detroit, Washington and, finally, New York City, where comic transgressions like his Lesbian Dial-a-Date, combined with autobiographical rants and unfiltered riffs on the news, made him No. 1. His syndicated five-hour show grew to an audience of 3 million. Nonfans called him racist and misogynous. The FCC fined him for indecency, while even Time magazine defended Stern's right to anarchic, juvenile free speech.
After a deal with New Line Cinema to make a movie called The Adventures of Fartman died last year, the self-proclaimed King of All Media's crown looked dented. Then came Private Parts, his bull's-eye men's-room manifesto that became the fastest-selling book in Simon and Schuster's 72-year history. Suddenly movie studios were calling again. Rupert Murdoch was talking to him about filling Chevy Chase's vacant late-night chair on Fox. What would Howard do next?
In Pasadena, he signs books and breasts and pregnant bellies for seven hours, pausing only for bathroom breaks. Jessica Hahn, part of Stern's posse of misfit-fringe celebrities, shows up and tells me about Howard's "heart of gold," how much he does for charity, "quietly, behind the scenes." I notice that, per Howard's standing request, she is wearing no underwear.
Over two brutal days in Los Angeles, Stern rises at 4 a.m. to phone in to his radio show. He meets with Hollywood people about TV and movie offers. He does The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, taped early so Stern can catch the 4 o'clock back to New York, where there's more work to be done on his pay-per-view special, the Miss Howard Stern New Year's Eve Pageant. At dinner after the book signing, he's fried, barely able to converse. By the next day in his dressing room at The Tonight Show, he's fully stoked again, rehearsing new ways to humiliate Leno.
Fear drives Howard Stern, not hate or megalomania. "I'm still scared of the image of the old-time announcer showing up at bar mitzvahs and handing out pictures and balloons," he says. "I've tried to elevate the role of disc jockey to somewhere beyond circus clown and carnival barker."
He just turned 40. Because there's a chip on his shoulder the size of Long Island, all his new-found fame, cash, fandom still don't satisfy him. I ask if having his own late-night show would.
"To me, that would be the ultimate credibility," he replies. "Would I love to take Letterman's audience away from him and just shut his trap? Yeah, I would love to do that. Do I think I can do that? I know I can."
Who has the most famous penis in America, you or Michael Jackson?
John Wayne Bobbitt. Come on!
Who re-enacted his penis severing for the world on your New Year's Eve special. If you had your own late-night TV talk show tomorrow, is that the kind of quality entertainment we could expect?
Pay-per-view is great because I can go on there and do exactly what I would love to do. I can fuck a sheep. I have a lot of ideas on what I can do with network television, too, not necessarily in a raunchy way but something different.
You originally wanted to call your book "Howard Stern Has a Small Penis."
No, I wanted to call it Mein Kampf. Then my agent said, "There won't be a Jew in the world who will buy that book." So then I said the title should be Penis, because I thought if it went onto the New York Times' best-seller list, it would be "Howard Stern's Penis." And they'd have to write "Howard Stern's Penis is No. 1."
What's with the penis obsession? You've likened yours to an acorn. You claim you're hung like a pimple.
I think I might as well be upfront about it. No guy will ever admit to having a small penis. I just went on the record. I might be one of the smallest guys in the world. I had a trip to the doctor when I had an anal fissure. My asshole was a mess. I'm lying there on this doctor's table, and my penis, I mean, it was inside itself, like a turtle's head poking backward. It was so fuckin' embarrassing. Who the fuck's going to admit to something like that? And that's great radio. Because it's someone being honest about their fears and emotions.
So what exactly would you put on a late-night TV show if you had one, and how would you beat all the other shows?
First of all, seeing me on a traditional talk show like Leno or Letterman would be enough to beat them. Because my attitude and the way I handle guests would be just so bizarre. Seeing me sitting next to Goldie Hawn is different than seeing David Letterman, Chevy Chase or Jay Leno or anybody sitting next to Goldie Hawn. It just doesn't look right. I could go that way and be very successful. But I don't want to do a late-night talk show that depends on guests. I would depend more on the hot stories of the day, real people. I think people would respond to an opinionated late-night host. I know some sponsors would complain, but I'm sick of hearing Billy Crystal talk about his latest fucking picture and all that bullshit. The show's got to be about me, not about the guest.
Is that what you told Rupert?
Murdoch. The guy who owns Fox. You met with him about doing a late-night show. You said on the radio that Fox would be crazy not to back a Brinks truck up to your house.
Right now, I've got a lot of offers on the table. I can do television, or I can do a film. I have a lot of good ideas for film, but the problem is there's no immediacy. It would take two years to make. I like instant gratification. I would love to make the announcement that I was going up against those late-night guys. They're just so vulnerable. Jay is so weak. Jay is like a deer that's been hit in the woods by a couple of bullets. He's just sort of wobbling around, waiting to be knocked off.
And Letterman? What kind of animal is he?
Dave is looking old, like an old elephant. He's 46. It's the same show, day in, day out. Before he gets firmly in the Johnny position where he's the guy, he's late night, I'd love to come in and burst his fucking bubble. I would just take such pleasure in that. I have a very warped feeling about myself that I'm worthless, and the only way I can prove myself to all the fucking experts is to show that David Letterman is nothing. There are a lot of people hoping I fail. But I like that. I need to be hated.
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