The war of words between Howard Stern and his former friend, President Donald Trump, and the president’s son Donald Jr escalated last weekend when Junior retweeted a conservative missive that the SiriusXM broadcaster appeared in blackface and used the N-word multiple times in a pay-per-view New Year’s Eve special — in 1993.
Trump Jr has been jabbing at Stern since the radio host has spoken critically of his father’s slow response to the pandemic, and his polarizing comments in the wake of the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests. Stern in turn has jabbed back that Junior has had everything handed to him by his famous father, and has no notable accomplishments on his own. Then, Trump Jr retweeted the clip of the performance.
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The clip was first posted by filmmaker Tariq Nasheed, and it was interspersed with Stern’s recent appearance on The View, where he claimed during the appearance that he’d never used the racial slur. In the clip, Stern was reportedly playing the part of Ted Danson, with Sherman Hemsley playing Whoopi Goldberg, Danson’s girlfriend at the time. It was picked up by the unabashedly pro-Trump newspaper New York Post.
Stern addressed the retroactive controversy this morning on his show. He expressed some regret for lampooning Goldberg and Danson’s decision to dress in blackface for a Friar’s Club roast, but said that he has evolved. He charged that the Trumps have not.
“The sh*t I did was f*cking crazy,” Stern said. “I’ll be the first to admit. I won’t go back and watch those old shows; it’s like, who is that guy. But that was my shtick, that’s what I did and I own it. I don’t think I got embraced by Nazi groups and hate groups. They seemed to think I was against them too. Everybody had a bone to pick with me.
“It was something in me, a drive you wouldn’t believe. As a young man, I wanted to succeed on the radio and I wanted to go f*cking crazy. Emotionally it was costing me a lot. The FCC was after me, the right wing was after me, I had the Ku Klux Klan after me, threatening my life. All kinds of crazy stories. I could do 17 movies on my life, how crazy it was. I was fined millions of dollars by the federal government, for sex. Not for race, because if you talked about race, they never cared. Look, that was the show. I went into therapy and said, what is this? Do I always have to be the guy pulling my pants down? Can I find a way to do the show where I can be a lot happier? Over the years, I did change the show. A lot of people who did like that humor, where I was completely pulling my pants off, those people are pissed off at me now. They think I’m a sellout and I’m not doing a good show anymore. I got soft. I came to realize in therapy, if I’m going to be with my kids, and have a successful marriage, I can’t be insane completely 24 hours a day. I have to figure out a better way to communicate. So I evolved and changed.
“The big headline is this, and this is my fear in all of this,” Stern continued. “I was able to change my approach, able to change my life and change how I communicated. If I had to do it all over again, would I lampoon Ted Danson, a white guy in blackface? Yeah, I was lampooning him and saying, I’m going to shine a light on this. But would I go about it the same way now? Probably not. Not probably, I wouldn’t. At the same point, I will say, it f*cking distresses me that Donald Trump Jr, and Donald, themselves won’t go into psychotherapy and change. Why not change the way you’re approaching things because, wearing a mask is not a bad thing. Telling people the actual size of the crowd at your inauguration is okay. Attacking me during the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter is absolutely f*cking crazy, concentrating on me. You want to concentrate on me and bully me, and expose me, with all the TV shows I’ve done? They’re all out there. There’s nothing new here. We all know. I was the craziest motherf*cker on radio. There will never be another show crazier than mine. There will never be another show, ever, that was as f*cking wacky as my show. So crazy, I think I might have been insane. A psychiatrist puts it that I was craving too much attention. Like maybe I could knock it down 20% and still live my life and have an audience. Which was right. There it is. I’m not a hater. I’m excited about being on the radio as most of those who listen on the radio know. I’m excited about gay rights, telling you not to beat up gay people. I’m excited about the changes that are coming out of Black Lives Matter. Watching [George Floyd] choked to death, as I’ve said before, it’s sickening and appalling and I think real change might be in the air. It has nothing to do with me; it’s these guys hitting the streets and saying we’ve had enough. I’m excited about real change that is coming…I’m excited about the changes I’ve made in my approach to radio. But Jesus Christ, anybody who wants….I would suggest the people who are listening now have heard my shows over the past 40 years.
“I never go back and look at that stuff,” Stern said. “I cringe when I look at myself 30 or 40 years ago, and that was 27 years ago, I go, I can’t stand it. Am I a bad guy? I don’t think so. Donald Trump didn’t think so, he was on my show 27 times. Donnie Junior did the show. On TV he said, I’m really disappointed in Howard, he’s changed, that I’ve gone Hollywood. Which is it? Do you want me to get in blackface and make fun of Ted Danson? I have changed. They leak TV shows that have been on TV to the press. I remember how badly Donald Jr wanted to take a picture with me.
“Dude, if you’re the president of the United States and you want to worry about me, go ahead,” Stern said. “I don’t think I have much influence honestly. And breaking news: Howard Stern was absolutely insane and out of his mind. I would take on anything and say anything and do anything. All the old shows prove it. I’ve heard a rumor they’re working on leaking out the movie Private Parts. I own everything I did. I never did it behind the scenes, I did it right in front of your face. Always. Tried to make a point, sometimes, sometimes not. If you solve the pandemic, then we can go and review all my old shows. I paid a fortune to fix me, it ain’t easy. I would do anything. By the way if you did some more digging you would find I was fired by a ton of radio stations for a lot of different reasons.”
Said longtime radio partner Robin Quivers: “I have long been a proponent of free speech and a long time ago I made a vow to myself that one word was never going to keep me out of a room. I don’t care about that word, don’t care about being called an Uncle Tom, because I know who I am and what I stand for. I was showing all that time, that it didn’t mean anything about you. It maybe meant something about the people who were playing around with it, but it didn’t mean anything about you and it doesn’t mean anything about you.”
I have listened to Stern since he first got to New York in the 1980s, and he certainly has evolved from the moment he described, when it was anything goes. And you can feel the influence of his psychotherapy sessions in the long interviews he does with artists. Some humor on the SiriusXM show still crosses the line, clearly, but he has long been a voice for inclusion and for women’s rights and the LGBTQ cause.
Not that all the rough edges have been gone since he got to SiriusXM. For a long time, the show ran an interstitial clip of a segment where a racist white man, a frequent caller to the show, taped a paid phone sex call. The worker, who was clearly African American, was trying to do her job and didn’t flinch as this cretin called her every disparaging racial insult he could think of, and you imagine here was this woman, maybe with kids at home, who had to endure this indignity to make a living. And then Stern would come back on the air and do these enlightened interviews with Rosie O’Donnell, Dave Chappelle or Whoopi Goldberg or Chris Rock and I never understood why Stern or any of his producers would think for a moment that this interstitial was ever funny. I haven’t heard that bit in a long time, so maybe the show continues to evolve. Certainly this growing feud between Stern and the Trumps will continue to evolve as election season ramps up. But clearly, Stern isn’t going to die of embarrassment over the retroactive shaming ploy.
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