Howard Stern hasn’t released a book in 24 years. Back in those days, he was a guy who didn’t think twice about calling Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig”; using a giant, rotting fish as a mallet to spank a naked woman on the air; or viciously mocking a member of his “Wack Pack” with Down syndrome he’d dubbed “Gary the Retard.” On the cover of the book Miss America, he dressed as a drag queen, and inside he offered detailed accounts of his private cybersex sessions with fans.
“I needed her to make me come,” he wrote about a woman he called a “hot little slut.” “My balls were bluer than the tip of Walt Disney’s frozen nose.”
The Howard Stern of 2019 — who spends his free time fostering rescue cats or painting watercolors — can only shudder when that book and its 1993 predecessor, Private Parts, comes up. “If I read them, I’d want to jump out a window,” he says. “I haven’t picked them up in years. They are snapshots of who I was back then, and I want to take that guy and shake him. I was a selfish prick. I can just see that quote in Rolling Stone, ‘I was a selfish prick.’ But it’s true.”
It’s before 8 a.m. on a Thursday in mid-April, and Stern is usually at his Hamptons home or Palm Beach estate by now, since he broadcasts Mondays through Wednesdays only. But he’s come into his SiriusXM studio in New York for a rare extended interview timed to the release of his new book, Howard Stern Comes Again, a compendium of his best interviews with the likes of Lady Gaga, Stephen Colbert, Gwyneth Paltrow and other A-listers.
Stern is now friends with ex-antagonists like O’Donnell. Gary is almost never seen; when he is, Stern lovingly calls him “Gary the Conquerer.” “Retard” has vanished from Stern’s vocabulary, along with bits that demean women or minorities. He vacations with friends like Jimmy Kimmel and Jennifer Aniston, and goes to parties with Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin and others he used to torment.
To Stern die-hards, this is blasphemy — the equivalent of Johnny Rotten singing Pat Boone songs. Superfans gather each day on the Howard Stern subreddit to blast their former hero, calling him “Hollywood Howie” or “PC Howie” and arguing over when they stopped listening. (Oddly enough, they all seem tuned in to current show developments.) But as Stern settles onto the studio couch usually reserved for show guests, he says he doesn’t care about the Reddit crew. As he reveals in his new book, he recently had two cancer scares. First, he almost underwent chemotherapy when his white-blood-cell count was off the charts, but discovered at the last moment that he was suffering from mercury poisoning from eating too much fish. Then, in a hypochondriac’s nightmare scenario, he got a full-body scan and doctors saw a spot on his kidney. They said there was a 95 percent chance it was cancer, and he had major surgery, only to wake up and learn it was a cyst that had burst.
In the book, he also says that after many years of psychotherapy he has come to terms with his narcissism. He says he no longer has any desire to humiliate or insult guests to score ratings. In an era when former heavyweights like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer have been pushed out of the industry due to their treatment of women, it’s no small irony that Stern’s couch is now where some of the biggest names in the industry go for in-depth interviews. It’s the sort of third-act surprise that few people would have ever predicted for the guy formerly known as Fartman.
It’s been 24 years since your last book. What took so long for you to write a third one?
I’d say to my agent, “I don’t want to do another book.” They fucked up every summer I ever had.
Writing is the hardest thing for me. I’m used to talking things through. Sitting down and actually being on my computer while the sun is shining outside is just brutal. It’s nothing I enjoy. It’s just revisions, revisions, revisions. But I always had an idea for an interview book because I thought it revealed more about me than the person I was interviewing, just based on the questions and where my head goes.
You say that you didn’t like your old interview style. What were you doing wrong back then?
I was obsessive about the ratings. I wanted to continue being number one. I didn’t want to be the guy just spinning records. I wanted to be as big as the music I was playing. I wanted it to be about me. As the radio show grew and we were doing things that the government was freaking out about and religious groups were up my ass, I was really feeling pressure, like my career could be over any day. I had to entertain the audience and give them more and more. So on terrestrial radio, where you’re getting rated literally every minute, a guest would walk in and I say to myself, “I gotta get right to the fucking outrageous.”
What’s a good example of that?
When George Michael was in Wham!, I said to him first thing, “Are you gay?” OK. Yes, that’s outrageous, and it’s not fair to the guy. Gilda Radner, she went running out of the studio and banged her head on a speaker because she was so freaked out by me because I was insane. I was fucking crazy because I was so worried that the audience would tune out.
At the time, you were battling every morning zoo in America, right?
Yeah. In my mind, I knew all the answers. The audience won’t sit still for anything that’s more than 30 seconds long. All they want is to be shocked and outraged. That’s where I was at in my life. I also have a regret about Robin Williams that haunts me. I was so angry at the world. I love Robin Williams, and yet if he came into my studio, I had to act like I didn’t love him. I’d be, “Fuck you.”
What was going through your head?
“Fuck you. I need all the attention.” I was a baby. I want every listener. I want everyone focused on me. You’re not going to be funnier than me. You’re not going to come into my studio and steal the moment from me. This is who I was. Rather than say to Robin Williams, “My God, you’re here,” and celebrate an amazing talent and the beauty of that guy’s career, he walks in and I start in, “Hey, you’re fucking your nanny.” Bam, sledgehammer. Sock him right in the fucking head. Asshole. Me, not him. And my audience is cheering me on because who does that? There’s a lunatic loose from the mental asylum.
What made you change?
I have gone and done psychotherapy. I’ve learned there was a way to talk about what was going on in Robin Williams’ personal life. I could’ve expressed to him the beauty of Robin Williams. Who knows what he would have revealed? Who knows what impressions he would have broken into? It brings me to tears to imagine what that moment could have been like. Some people in my audience would say, “Man, you don’t kiss anyone’s ass.” It ain’t about kissing anyone’s ass. It’s about “Shit, I love this guy.” I want to tell him what he did for me when I was lonely and couldn’t find a friend. If I saw him in a movie or even Mork & Mindy, he just brought some goddamn pleasure into my life, which is the whole reason I got into radio. I wanted to bring people pleasure.
I had this idea that I gotta call him and apologize. I started to put it in process and see if he would take my call, but he killed himself. I get chills when I tell you.
Is there anybody you called to apologize to who didn’t want to hear it?
Yes. I don’t want to say who, out of respect to that person. Listen, it’s not like I’m an alcoholic who made calls to everybody in my life. But I did call certain people. Most were very gracious and said, “I’m glad you made this call.” And this one person — I don’t think they were wrong — said to me, “You know what? You caused me a lot of pain and grief. I don’t know that I can really get over this.” I said, “I’m not looking for you to get over it. I’m not looking for anything other than letting you know I was a dick and I’m a fan of yours. And I’m sorry I caused you so much grief.”
What interviews are you proud of?
When Gwyneth Paltrow came in, we had this fucking great conversation. I say great because I didn’t know that much about her. We started to talk about her career and her life. At the end of the interview, she goes, “You know, when I argue with my husband, the easiest thing to do is to blow him.” And there it is. It’s the art of conversation. And goddamn it, conversation is an art. When I say conversation, I’m talking about in front of a mass audience and making it compelling enough that people want to stay in their car. And we’ve lost that.
I feel like we now live in a world where everyone has a radio show. I don’t know a person I meet that doesn’t say, “I have a podcast.” They’ve never actually broadcasted to an audience to hold people’s attention. People like Charlie Rose, Oprah, Edward R. Murrow, Barbara Walters were celebrated for this art of conversation. The reason I wrote the book is to celebrate that and to say it is an art, that there is a revelation.
It’s a big change from the old Howard.
I think you can still be the asshole who loves talking about queefing and fisting and fucking and all that, but also inspires some new kinds of radio and new kinds of discussion. So that’s where I’m at now. That’s why I’m still in the game. This is really kind of mind-blowing. I always saw my career as like a musician. The idea is not only to become as big as the music I was playing, but to constantly change. I do want to evolve. I want the audience to stay relevant and youthful.
I had to change when I got to SiriusXM. I couldn’t do an interview every day with a porn star. You can do that shit here. You can wipe people’s doody if you want. You can vomit on women if you want to, or men, whatever your thing is. They don’t care. It’s the Wild West.
I feel like there used to be two Howard Sterns: the on-air Howard and the off-air Howard. Now they feel much closer together. Is that true?
That’s 100 percent right. It makes me happy to hear you say that because one of my biggest criticisms of radio performers is (A) they don’t change, (B) they don’t present the fullest picture of themselves. The most interesting picture of me for my audience would be to really see a fully integrated guy, not this separated off-the-air/on-the-air — because that implies there’s an act going on. But I was afraid to present certain sides of myself.
I’ve gone onto the fan forums and the Howard Stern subreddit. They are packed with supposed superfans who hate the new Howard. They want the show back to the way it used to be with porn stars and strippers.
I wouldn’t go on the Reddit. You read that stuff as a performer, you will be stuck doing your greatest hits. I have a thin skin, so I don’t read it. But I know the rap with me. It’s like, “Wow, where’s the women squirting in Gary’s face?” “How come Howard isn’t taking rectal temperatures anymore?” We’re doing some of that, but as a human being it would be downright fucking creepy if I stayed the same. I’m no longer a 30-year-old man. I’ve changed. So there is no fucking way I can hold on.
I’ve learned something in therapy. You can’t have 100 percent of the audience. I was under the delusion that I could pull that off. Literally, I used to get insulted when I’d see the ratings say one out of every four cars on Long Island riding into Manhattan, they’re listening to you. I’d go, “What about the other three?” It’s this hungry search for love, attention. You’re looking for love in all the wrong places. The guy who says to me, “Hey, man. You suck now. You were only good when Jackie was on the show.” I go, “Well, to you, maybe. But I like the show much better now.” That’s all you can do if you’re going to grow and evolve. But I kind of laugh at that whole attitude, like, “Hey, man. He changed.” Thank God I fucking changed.
It’s the same with musicians. People never want them to change, but then complain if they stay the same. You can’t please people.
Oh, no. You cannot. The great thing about having a radio show back in the Eighties, Nineties, there was no internet. I was the keeper at the gate. If you wanted to criticize me, you had to get on the phone with me, and I controlled that conversation. Now with social media, holy shit, it isn’t as much fun to be a radio guy. Everybody now has an opinion and gets heard.
So you don’t care that there’s a certain segment of the old audience who feel betrayed by the show now?
Look, “betrayal” is a strong word. I’m an entertainer, and I’m going to do what I think is most entertaining. There are people who want to hear your greatest hits. Some people are really pissed if they see Bruce and he doesn’t play “Thunder Road.” They gotta hear that. I’m not interested in doing my greatest hits. As far as I’m concerned, this is a whole new radio show. I’m a snake who sheds many skins. I don’t want to ever be stuck walking into this radio station and reading Reddit and go, “Yeah. You know what I gotta do? I gotta fling bologna at a girl’s ass and see if it sticks.”
Doing stuff like that made you very popular.
That was really right for the times. I was curious about porn stars. I was curious about pissing off Pat Robertson or whoever might be listening and raising money to get me off the air. I’m on a medium now — there’s no pissing off Pat Robertson or the religious groups. This is a paid medium. They don’t give a fuck. What is it I need to do as a performer to keep this interesting and relevant? My audience is very different. Forty percent women listen to my show. People would be shocked by that. So to the guy who wants me to do the same thing over and over again, hey, I understand you. But I’m not your guy. If I was, I probably would have had a five-year career.
Do you ever miss talking to the porn stars, though? Those were interesting interviews.
No, I don’t. Whenever I feel the desire, I’ll talk to a porn star. But it’s kind of the same story over and over. There’s a lot of sadness in being a porn star. When I would have a lot of porn stars on, I thought, “Well, hey, man, this is something we all do. We all watch porn. Let’s not fucking sit here and pretend we don’t.” I want to know what the hell goes on. What do you do to prepare for an anal scene and all that? I’ve done a considerable amount of research into this area. I wrote the book on it. Cool. I’ve explored it.
Do you feel any shame over what you did to women back then?
No. Because first of all, it was a performance and it’s nothing I’m interested in now. But at the time, the only thing I had in my heart was to entertain. I don’t know that I looked at the bigger picture. These were people who . . . this is what they wanted to do. This is what I wanted to do. It was funny. It was more titillating than anything. It pissed off the establishment. I was just about “Tell me what’s going on out in the world and let me fucking explore it.” I did it about race. I did it about religion. I did it about sexuality. Not only were women baring themselves naked, I was naked. I was fucking insane. I’m going on MTV with my asshole sticking out. It was just about celebrating freedom, and it was dangerous.
In the MeToo era, many people would look at what you were doing then and conclude you were debasing women.
I agree. We all change. I’m a big proponent of the MeToo era. I think it’s really great. I have three daughters who are out in the workforce. I totally support that. It wasn’t about dehumanizing someone or insulting someone. It was more about sort of being caught in the rock & roll crazy world that we live in. But now when I look at that, it doesn’t fit. I was talking to a person the other day about people’s views on homosexuality. I’m a big proponent of gay people and gay people being treated fairly. I always liked that I was talking to a very macho male audience about “Hey, dudes. What do you care if some other guy wanted to blow a guy?” Celebrate it. But, you know, back in the day I used to think, “Homosexuality might be something we can cure.” What did I know? But so did the American Psychiatric Association up until the fuckin’ late Eighties. [Editor’s note: This is a common misconception. The APA redefined homosexuality in 1973.] Even with MeToo or views on race or views on sexuality, all of it, I’d like to think of my career as being a contributor to actually getting conversations going. All my outrageous antics, I think, made people more comfortable with their own sexuality. But you’re right. There are implications of “Hey, nowadays would you do that?” Absolutely not. But then again, if I was a psychiatrist I wouldn’t try to convince a homosexual man to fuck women.
Can you talk a little bit more about what it means to be Howard Stern in the post-MeToo world?
There’s a certain pleasure I take in that I was already up front about my sexuality. In terms of my private life, I’m a monk. I was never a cheating husband. I felt I was respectful to women that I dated or had intimate relationships with. I ran almost a prison-like environment for the people who work for me. I never allowed any shenanigans on staff between the men and women who work here. I always felt I led an exemplary life. I felt I led an honest life. But on the air, I talked about everything.
The thing I kind of enjoy about the MeToo movement is women feeling safer in the workplace. But secondly, there was always this notion that I couldn’t get across, the hypocrisy that all of these people in society who are rewarded because they’re such good citizens, like Senator Kennedy or a preacher who tells his congregation that Howard Stern is the devil. We all knew that in their private lives a lot of these people were downright fucking deviants. Now all the hypocrisy is being exposed.
You interviewed Harvey Weinstein, one of the first people exposed by the MeToo movement.
I really struggled with putting Weinstein in the book, because here’s a guy who goes, “Oh, Howard, the casting couch can never happen.” People are so good at masking what’s really going on in the world. Here I was putting it all out there on the air, but in my private life I led an exemplary life. I like that all this hypocrisy is now being exposed.
You write in the book that you’re closer to your daughters now than ever before. In what way?
I attribute that all to therapy. My desire was to always be the best dad I could be. I took parenting very seriously. But somewhere along the line I asked myself questions like, “Am I making a real connection with the girls?” I was so convinced that I had it so together that I remember when I first had my children, my agent and true friend, Don [Buchwald], said to me, “Are you going to do therapy? Are you going to go into some sort of family therapy?” I go, “Don, I got it all together. My kids are great. My marriage is great. I don’t need therapy. Therapists should come to me.”
This is the arrogance I had. Stupidity. They should come to me and talk to me about how to get it together. I’m exemplary. Well, I was a workaholic. I was a recluse. I wasn’t connecting on deep emotional levels. I couldn’t even connect with myself. How could I be in a marriage when I’m working 24/7? So then the divorce happens and I’m not in the house every night with them. Well, I panicked. I said, “I’m going to lose everything that’s important to me. I want my life to go right. Things are not going right.”
So I had had this psychiatrist’s phone number for five fucking years sitting on my desk, and I was afraid to call him. I was in a really bad space. But I knew it, at least. I’m an asshole, but at least I’m somewhat self-aware. I finally picked up the phone and said, “Can I come and make an appointment?” I was scared shitless. I didn’t know about psychiatry. The only thing I knew about psychiatry was what I’d seen on TV. I was scared. The idea of talking on a microphone in front of millions of people, all right, it’s intimidating. It still is to this day. But I can do it. Sitting one-on-one in a room and having some sort of interaction with a man . . . it was suggested to me that I see a man because I got real daddy issues.
How did therapy go at first?
I went and, oh, my God, I’m in there doing a radio monologue. I’m not talking about anything fucking real. The guy calls me out on my shit right away. He goes, “You’re laughing and you’re telling me stories like you’re on the radio, but what’s going on with you?” That finally shut me up. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have words. I’d never had a conversation with an adult like this where somebody listened to me or even asked me how I was. I never had that growing up. I did whatever I was told. I was a good boy.
You talk about two major health scares in the book. You’re a lifelong hypochondriac, so what was it like to actually be facing the real thing?
It was mind-blowing. First of all, my parents are alive. My father’s 96, my mother’s 91. I’ve had this delusion that I was never going to have a big health problem. I thought I would die in a car accident. I just thought genetically nothing can go wrong. I never was in a hospital. When they said to me, “You’re going to have chemotherapy,” I was in a tailspin.
I don’t know how to deal with any kind of adversity like this. I’m the guy who somehow has a psychological promise with his mother that if I behave myself, she’ll make everything good. There’s still a little boy in me that believes that. When at first the guy said chemotherapy, I was in complete shock. There’s no fucking way. And then this fucking unbelievable guy, Dr. Agus, comes in my life and goes, “Get that mercury level checked.” I go, “Really? Could it be that simple?” It was a 37. Normal is, like, 11. He goes, “It’s your mercury.” They were going to put me on fucking chemotherapy thinking I had some kind of cancer because my white-blood-cell count kept dropping.
How did you get your mercury levels down?
As soon as I stopped with all the fish. . . . I still eat fish, but within reason. I’m obsessive with my eating. I thought, “I don’t want to eat chickens and I don’t want to eat birds. I don’t want to eat cows. I’ll eat fish and I’ll eat it twice a day. It’ll keep my weight down, and it’s healthy for you.” But our fucking oceans are poisoned, so I’m poisoning myself as I’m doing this. The fish are winning. They’re getting their revenge on us for taking them out of the ocean. Holy cow. If this guy Agus hadn’t done this for me, I’d be getting chemotherapy. So then I went and got this body scan, and then they tell me they think 95 percent chance I’ve got cancer in my kidney.
How did you react to that?
I went numb. “This can’t be happening.” Then they’re telling me, “Don’t worry. We caught it early.” Then I go in for surgery. I was obsessed. I say, “Please.” I said to the surgeon, “Don’t put that tube up my penis.” Because I know when you’re in surgery for a really long time you get a catheter. I’m frightened of that. I don’t want anybody seeing my tiny dick. I pictured that whoever has to do this to me is going to be there for an hour trying to find the hole.
Anyway, when he did finally tell me that it was a fucking cyst that had burst and there was nothing there, part of me was like, “Thank God I’m healthy.” The other part was like, “Oh, my God. I just went through unnecessary surgery.” It took me a full year to get my shit together.
You missed a day of work for the surgery and then told everyone it was just the flu.
I’ve shared everything with the audience, but I didn’t want to come clean about it. Really, my thinking on a very base level was “I don’t want someone calling in and saying, ‘Hey, by the way, I had a friend who had the same surgery and they told him it was nothing and blah blah blah.’ ” I just didn’t want to go through that.
How hard was it to go on the air every day and talk about Tan Mom and Ronnie the Limo Driver’s sex life while all this is going on and you think you’re dying?
Robin [Quivers] suffered with cancer big-time. When she was going through the worst of it, she wasn’t talking about it on the air. She said, “The reason I’m not talking about it is this is the one place I completely forget I have cancer. When we’re on the air talking about Tan Mom or Fist Fest, we’re in another universe.” It does take you out of that misery for a couple of hours.
For me, I think some of that was occurring as well. When I do the radio show and I’m sitting behind that thing working the equipment, the way my mind goes, literally my eyes roll into the back of my head. I don’t know what happens, this weird process that goes on. But I do forget. There were moments all of a sudden where I would be completely taken out of the radio show talking to Tan Mom because all of a sudden I go, “Oh, shit. I’m going in for a cancer operation. I have cancer.” That’s not where my head needs to be. And then I was able to compartmentalize and just go right back into it and forget.
Did Robin talk to you about this off the air?
Robin was really helpful, and in a way I could even relate to Robin even more. Robin’s illness was devastating to me. In a way that I had never felt before. I was beside myself. I was angry about it. I was fearful I was going to lose her. I say in the book that literally she’s my courage. It’s the goddamn truth. I don’t have a studio audience. Jerry Seinfeld will talk to me about stand-up comedy. He’s talking about feeding off the audience. Robin’s my whole audience. Robin’s my reaction. Robin and I never look at each other during the show. I actually crouch down low behind those three monitors so that I don’t purposely see her. I want to hear her.
When her voice or that sound isn’t there, I just feel paralyzed. I need her there. She was on the air almost every single day. I think she missed one show. I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know how to express my gratitude for her doing that. She says she did it for herself because it was her salvation. But for me, having her there is my salvation. I never thought about illness. I never thought about Robin ever being ill. I see us as forever young.
Who are your dream guests you still haven’t been able to book?
I thought I was going to get Springsteen. I went to see his Broadway show. I had read his book. Springsteen’s another one where I suspect some of the things I said about him on the air in my earlier years turned him off to me in terms of doing the show. In fact, I know it. I’ve heard through the grapevine. But I’ve become so appreciative of Springsteen after seeing his Broadway show and reading his book. I got word that there was some discussion to promote the Netflix special coming up, that Bruce was considering coming on the show. I don’t go out and solicit, I just sat patiently waiting for Bruce like a spurned lover. I sat there waiting night after night.
But it didn’t happen. I was really disappointed. In fact, after the second time I saw his show, I got invited back to say hello to him and I got a chance to tell him how much I loved it. I’d even received a note from him about it because my words on the air meant something to him. So I thought it might happen. It didn’t. I would love to get him on the air.
You also write in the book about your quest to interview Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Why wouldn’t the campaign do it? We tried to book her for a ROLLING STONE cover, and she wouldn’t do that even though we endorsed her and had all the Democratic candidates during past presidential campaigns.
That shocks the fuck out of me. I think she was afraid of me. I genuinely get that. But I did everything I could, short of sending up smoke signals. I had this dream that I could make her palatable, more than palatable, likable to an audience that I know looks at her and is like, “Eh, fuck her. I don’t like her.” Whether because she’s a woman or because they just don’t know her. I liken her to almost every female guest I’ve had. There’s a certain segment of my audience who’d call up and say, “You know what? Fucking hated her and now I kind of dig her.” I thought I could do that for her.
You had Donald Trump on the show a bunch of times.
That wasn’t as a candidate. It was a guy who wanted to get his brand out there. But he knew how to talk. He knew how to talk like a dude. He just got it. He knew how to sound like a guy who was just using his own language. He wasn’t reading off a teleprompter.
So I recognized this. I thought, “Jeez. What if I could do that for Hillary? Fuck policy. Let’s just talk about your life. What was your first dream? What did you want? What was the relationship like with your parents?” Whatever it is, more of a human-interest approach. I feel blessed that this happens in this studio. People forget there’s a microphone. They’re not as on guard. For whatever reason, I’m able to make people relax.
I felt there could have been a magical moment for her. Would she have won the election after this interview? Probably not. I mean, I don’t know. But what did they say? There were 70,000 votes that could have swung the Electoral College?
Yep. Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
I’m all over the country. I’m popular in Michigan. I’m popular in Wisconsin. I have audience.
I bet that to Hillary Clinton, you’re still Fartman.
Absolutely, and I proudly say I am Fartman. But Fartman went to an analyst and it turned out to make him a better broadcaster, a fuller human being. I bring more shit to the table now.
How would you rate Trump as a president?
That’s such an involved question. He was one of the best radio guests you could ever have. When he became president, he became one of the worst radio guests because he had to be a politician. It was awkward because I was a big Clinton supporter. I like Donald. He was at my wedding. But we didn’t really hang out on a personal level. Then he ran for president — it would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to say to Donald, “Hey, I’m in.” I mean, I could have been at Camp David and realized my dream of seeing what the fuck is going on over there and what the taxpayers are paying for. Who knows? I probably would have been head of the FCC. I don’t think he really cared. Can you imagine you interviewing me as head of the FCC? “Yeah, well, fuck it. We’re getting rid of everything.” But politically, I didn’t agree with Donald, nor did I take his candidacy that seriously in the beginning.
I was literally at Mar-a-Lago having dinner with my wife when I heard about this. I was laughing because I knew the history of Donald. Donald first used to announce that he was running for president the first couple of times because he had to sell a book. So each time he would announce he was running for president, and it would drive up the book sales. It would be like if I floated a ridiculous story that I was running for president. I think what happened the third time was he was in the middle of a negotiation with NBC on The Apprentice and why not announce you’re running for president? I don’t think for a minute that he wanted to be president. I don’t think he’d put a lot of thought into “what are my core values?” I remember Donald back in the day used to be a Hillary Clinton supporter. I don’t know that this was the most thought-out thing in the world. I don’t think I’m telling you anything that’s shocking. Donald used to call me from the campaign trail. I think he really wanted me to embrace his campaign.
You write in the book that he asked you to speak at the RNC.
Yes. He did. It was very hard for me to say no because it’s not that I’m a tried-and-true Democrat. I’ve voted Republican. I ran as governor as libertarian. I’m kind of all over the place politically. But I have certain core values that I did not agree with Donald. I think there’s room for a sane immigration policy. I’m not for illegal aliens flooding into the country, but my grandparents came to this country. I’m not so
selfish that I’m going to close off this country to other people. This is the most wonderful country in the world to me. There are lots of things I don’t agree with that Donald is doing. What can I say? It’s hard for me to sit there and endorse any of this bullshit.
So what did you say when he asked you to speak at the RNC?
I was in my car. I felt kind of awful because I said to him, “Donald, first of all, I don’t feel comfortable speaking at political rallies. I don’t want to sit there and do that.” I was thinking, “If I go up there, I’m going to talk about how much I love Clinton.” I wouldn’t burn him that way. But when he called, it was awkward because I respectfully declined. He said to me, “No. Talk to Beth. She’s going to want you to do it.” Beth was actually right next to me. Beth is a Hillary Clinton supporter too. Man, I hung up. I said, “Donald wanted me to talk to you about it.” I said, “It was really a tough conversation.”
I wrote him a note. I don’t have his email. I’m not on that level of personal relationship. I wrote him a note about how honored I was that he would think of me like that, but I could not do it. My head is not into what he’s doing politically.
Why do you think people still support him?
Look, I can’t explain what’s going on in the country. I don’t know what’s going on with Donald Trump supporters and stuff. There’s some part of me that believes Donald had the greatest life. If you’ve ever seen this Mar-a-Lago, it’s fantastic. Here was a guy who was happy. He loves being in Florida. He had a fun life. He had a helicopter. He has money. He had a gorgeous wife. It’s like, “What the fuck is he doing? Why is he doing this? I don’t even know why he would want this fucking job.”
You recently went on a tear about Wendy Williams when she criticized you for going “Hollywood.” You called her a “cunt,” ripped into her for about 30 minutes, but it didn’t appear on any of the rebroadcast. What happened?
I pulled it off.
Did you regret what you said?
I did. I really got caught up in the moment. I didn’t think it was my finest hour. Some of my fans might think so. But I was reacting to someone who was accusing me of … I don’t even know. I just didn’t like her fucking attitude. But afterward, it just left me with a queasy feeling. I got kind of caught up in commenting on it. At the end of the day, do I really give a shit that Wendy Williams was criticizing me? I kind of don’t. The idea of rebroadcasting it over and over again, it didn’t appeal to me.
When I do a radio show like this, I don’t really have a net. Most guys I envy, like Colbert or Fallon or Kimmel or Oprah, they do a show. They tape for an hour and a half, two hours, and they whittle it down for an hour show, maybe. They can actually spend five minutes reflecting. I’m live. Literally I’m a trapeze artist except I’m working without a net. I can fall. Sometimes I’ll listen to something: “OK, in the moment that was good. I don’t like it now.” I guess I’m completely naked in front of my audience. They know to tune into the show when I’m doing the actual broadcast because I might chop out 20 minutes.
I might take out an hour of me ranting on Wendy Williams.
Your old sidekick Artie Lange has been battling severe addiction issues. He’s been very critical of you in recent years and has called you terrible names. You haven’t responded to any of it. Are you hurt by what he’s said?
Look, here’s what I think: Artie was on the show for 10 years. He’s a fantastic comedian. There’s nobody who could have sat in like that. There’s such an intimate thing between Robin and myself on the air. Bringing Artie in was so great. He’s such a super talent. But I don’t have to chronicle for you that there’s a lot of stuff going on with Artie. And, yeah, it’s confusing to hear what Artie might say. It went from “Howard was the best thing that ever happened to me” to “Howard’s the biggest piece of shit.” That’s fair, though. Artie worked with me. He knows me.
If Artie thinks that, it’s sort of interesting that he thinks that. If fans want to hear that, they should. I might be the biggest piece of shit on the planet. It’s possible. That’s for anyone to decide. But as far as me not commenting on Artie, and I know people want me to, I feel it could lead to something that would harm Artie. I don’t want to. I don’t even want to talk about Artie. It’s not any disrespect to him. I think he’s a great talent. That’s how I think of Artie. I’m very dismayed about where he’s at. I do care, but for a whole bunch of reasons that relationship had to stop. So I leave it there. It’s funny, though, the same people in the forums back when Artie joined the show said, “The show sucks now with Artie. Gotta get Jackie back.” Then Artie leaves the show: “The show sucks worse because Artie isn’t there.”
I was like, “Man, I can’t satisfy the audience.” The only thing I’ve learned is I have to satisfy myself. Commenting on Artie or not, look, I’m so open and honest with the audience that there is a disappointment when I don’t talk about something. But I do think it’s also very important not to comment sometimes because there’s a dangerous situation there.
Do you think you’ll sign another five-year contract when this one runs out?
I don’t even know how to answer that. I can’t imagine. I mean, what would that look like? I don’t know the fucking answer. There’s a part of me that thinks I need to do this, that maybe this is what keeps me going. Maybe this is my mojo. I need to get my anger out on the air. I’m not giving you a definite answer, and there’s nothing more boring than a wishy-washy answer. But I just don’t know what I’m going to do.
What would you do with your time?
I sometimes go to painting class. I really love it. I love playing chess. I like being home with my wife. I would love to just maybe even go visit my daughters. I don’t know. It’s really perplexing, because I don’t know how much time I have left. How do you spend that time? There’s a part of me that thinks I never acknowledge how much I truly love doing radio. If you ask me, I think I hate doing the radio show every day. Even in therapy, “What part of you acknowledges that you really enjoy this, that this has been a great ride?” I’m trying to figure that out. I don’t know.
Can you see doing this into your seventies?
I don’t think so. Who the fuck knows? My father retired. My father was a workaholic. I shouldn’t say a workaholic. He had balance, but he loved working. And then he was forced to retire at 59 or 57, which sounds so young. He stayed home reading The New York Times and goes out to dinner with my mom and has been happy. He’s 96 years old, and he’s fucking happy. So who knows? Not many people get to have as exciting a job as I have.
I want to wrap up by running by you some dream guests fans would love to see on your last episode. Let’s start with your therapist.
Wow. I’ll tell you why I love this man. He would never come on here. That would be huge, but he does not take a Christmas card from me, wouldn’t take a gift. What he’s demonstrating is he’s willing to put aside his own narcissism so that I’ll heal. How fucking beautiful is that?
How about Don Imus?
I would talk to Imus. I ran into Imus on the street a few times. I just think Imus should have acknowledged the influence I had on his career more. People go, “Why don’t you acknowledge what influence he had on your career?” He didn’t really have any influence. I’m being honest. I would be the first one to say the influence he had on my career. Didn’t. But I think I changed his show. I know what his show was like when I came to NBC. So I just always thought, “Wow, maybe he could have admitted that I got him thinking differently in radio.” That’s my only beef with Imus. But I would talk to Imus and I would have him on the show, sure.
How about your daughters and ex-wife?
My ex-wife, never. Of course not, no. Nor would she want to be on the show. Be a hell of an interesting segment, wouldn’t it? But no. My daughters, I would have them on the air if they said, “Dad, hey, we’d love to come on to your last show and really talk.” I would love that, but I would also warn them. I’ve said to them ever since I got into therapy, “If I did anything right, I started to realize how much I valued their privacy, that they have a right to that.”
Having them on the air, nothing would be better radio, and pleasing, but it also can destroy the
specialness of the relationship. But I’m not opposed to it.
I’m so proud of them. In fact, people would be shocked. My daughters are involved in professions that are so inspiring and give back to society and the work they do. They blow my mind. I’m so fucking proud of them that it would just be me being a boring parent kvelling over my kids.
How about your former sidekicks Jackie Mart-ling, Billy West or even Artie?
I gave Jackie a radio show on here. Billy I’ve invited on many times. I love Billy West. Artie, I don’t know, maybe. I’m not opposed to it.
Are you able to envision the day you turn off your mic and walk out of here forever?
Yeah. I hope I don’t do something really lame like start crying, although my therapist would say, “That would be the ultimate, if you were able to cry and show that side of you to your audience.”
Johnny Carson cried at the very end.
He did. Maybe that means my therapy was complete. Who knows? It might happen. But I’m such a fucking hardass, that’s the goddamn problem. But we’re getting there. It’s a work in progress.