What about your youth? Besides being called a moron by your father, raised "like a veal" by your mom and growing up the only white kid in an all-black neighborhood, did you have a happy childhood?
No, I wouldn't really call it happy. I was talking to my daughter the other day, my 10-year-old. I've never really sat there and told her that I lived in an all-black neighborhood, and that's why I was so fucking depressed, because I think that would send the wrong message to her, as if black people were bad. I said to my daughter, "Imagine what it was like if all of your friends moved away." And she said, "Oh, I would hate that." I said, "Well, that's what happened to me. All my friends moved away. And they wouldn't come back and visit me, because their parents were afraid." I had one or two black friends, and that was it. My parents could pick and choose. They would go and meet some of the more middle-class, upscale black people. They'd get in their car and drive and go see their white friends. They had a nice life. I, on the other hand, was in a prison every day.
When people ask, "How can you say the things you say about black people?" Calling them monkeys, for instance, your defense is "I grew up with black people."
I have no defense for anything I say. I just bullshit my way through life. I think black people have a tremendous sense of humor. You don't want to stereotype a whole race and say they have a tremendous sense of humor. That sounds kind of weird, too. But there was a self-effacing humor in the black community that was incredible. People were killing each other, people were stabbing teachers. But at the same time, you'd see sort of a very human side. A guy would say, "You motherfuckin' nigger," and the other one would go, "Your mother's a nasty-haired, big-lipped bitch," and these guys would go back and forth all day, and it was funny fuckin' stuff. There's humor in every ethnic group. I don't think I'm a racist; I don't do it out of hatred, I do it because I think it's funny.
You complain that there's too much ass kissing and image control that goes on in the world of media and celebrity. But you keep tight control over your own image. For a long time, you wouldn't do any interviews, and you have strict rules about how you can be photographed. It seems like you do the same thing you criticize other celebrities for doing.
I'm sure I'm filled with inconsistencies, but fuck that, I'm not the president of the United States. What happens with celebrities is they make a bunch of ground rules. I interviewed Boy George for E! His manager came up and said, "We don't want you to ask him about homosexuality." I was like "Really?" There's a guy sitting there, lipstick and fuckin' platform shoes with open toes so you can see his red toenails and hairy feet, and you're going to tell me I can't address that? But I have always been very blunt. I've never said to a reporter, "Don't ask me about something."
How much money do you make?
I don't answer that. See, there are some things I won't talk about.
I read $9 million.
Well, I'll tell you what's weird about talking about how much money you make–
It's something that you always ask celebrities.
That's why I asked you.
There's tremendous class jealousy, I find. People are very jealous of somebody doing well. My relationships – even with people who are close to me – have changed. They see you doing well, and they say little weird things. A little dig here and there. Even a relative could call my parents up and go, "Oh, I don't listen to Howard." It's almost like they want to knock you down or something. Because I think they perceive there's been a change in me, because suddenly I might have a couple of bucks in my pocket.
Has there been a change in you?
Oh, I don't think so. I have a nice house [a suburban manse minutes from his parents' home on Long Island], and I have two cars. I've got, I think, a modest lifestyle. I don't feel any different. I feel that for years I was in radio and I was unfairly compensated. And I still feel to some degree I'm unfairly compensated. I think there are people making millions and millions and millions of dollars off of me.
Your fans are mostly white males, 25 to 54, suburban. Why do they connect with you?
I think most guys were like me. They weren't the captain of the football team. Women were not taken with them. None of them were super students or really excelled at anything. I believe that I might be Everyguy. People in that age group of 25 to 34, 40, 50 – it's not so much a demographic. It's a psychographic. It's not necessarily a white guy. It could be a black guy. It could be a Spanish guy. They're sort of the skeptical, cynical, I-don't believe-a-fuckin'-thing-I-hear people.
You said about Rodney King, "They didn't beat this guy enough." Do you ever worry that something you say on the air – as a joke or with a certain amount of irony – that your audience might just take that as gospel?
Rodney King should have been beaten more. I think Rodney King is a blight on society. Rodney King was going over 100 mph, drunk. This guy is a fucking danger. If Rodney fucking King drove down my block and drove up on the sidewalk and hit my kid, I'd take a fuckin' gun and blow his goddamned brains out. Do I worry about what the audience's reaction is going to be? Absolutely not. You have to assume that they're reasonably intelligent enough to know that a guy on the radio shouldn't be formulating every opinion of theirs. I couldn't give a shit what the audience's reaction is going to be. I just hope they keep tuning in.
Are you Beavis and Butt-head's dirty uncle?
Yeah, maybe. I think Beavis and Butt-head is great. MTV wanted me to do a show for them. They said, "We love when you comment on records. We want a show where you'll talk over the videos." I said OK. We sat down and talked money. They had no fucking money.
You're saying MTV stole your idea?
No, I think Beavis and Butt-head are very original. I'm not accusing anyone, but I pitched that idea to them.
How's your relationship with David Letterman?
I don't know if you'd call it a relationship. When we first started getting to know each other, Letterman used to call me at my house and stuff. And we'd have long telephone conversations. It was weird; I'm awkward in that situation. I cannot talk to people off the air. I have a hard time, like, schmoozing with celebrities. I say, "They couldn't possibly be interested in me." And I don't know what to say to them. Like, are we friends because we're in show business? So, when he'd call, I didn't know what I was supposed to do. If I invite him over to the house, will he think I'm an asshole?
Did you invite him over?
No, absolutely not. I would just feel so strange doing that.
Richard Simmons has been to your house.
So you invite Richard Simmons over but not Letterman?
Richard Simmons expressed a desire to come to my house. It was a disaster. He was running through the fuckin' house, throwing cucumbers in the pool. He started squeezing my kids and my wife and housekeeper so hard that their ribs hurt.
I don't know; I think he was trying to impress me. I had Chuck Norris and his girlfriend and Joe Piscopo and his girlfriend to my house. I said, "Hey, this is a cool idea. I've arrived. I should have celebrities over."
Those aren't exactly A-list celebrities.
Well, to me they are. I mean, who's going to associate with me? Have you ever seen Joe Piscopo's baby-sitter girlfriend? Maybe the most beautiful girl in the world. He checked her out when she was 11 years old. And then Chuck's new girlfriend walks in, the 21-year-old aerobics instructor. And I'm sitting there, I'm ready to go whack off in the bathroom. It was a whole fucking sexually frustrating evening.
Where was Alison during all this?
She was right in there. Alison's a great entertainer.
Tell me a little about Alison.
We had sex last night. She was mad at me, because I wouldn't use the vibrator. When I first started using the vibrator, it was a fantastic thing. I can't stand foreplay. I could touch her for 30 seconds with this vibrator, and she would be completely orgasmic; she'd be going through the roof, moaning, "Give it to me, you hot, beefy man." But I found that women build up a resistance to the vibrator. I'd be laying there vibrating her for over an hour, and I'm like sleeping through it, so I stopped using it, and I just told her, "All I like is intercourse; this foreplay is bullshit."
How's that going?
I don't know. I hope she's still attracted to me.
Your daughters, it seems, are the sacred things in your life. [Stern has three: Emily, 10; Debra, 7; and Ashley, 1.] You won't let them listen to the show. Your nightmare is that they will grow up to marry one of your fans.
I've told the kids I'm a Harvard professor, and they don't believe it.
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