For his 60th birthday party, the King of Morning Radio held court for four hours Friday night in Midtown Manhattan, presiding over an entertainment feast that included the Clown Princes and Princesses of Late-Night TV and many other jesters and entertainers who came to pay tribute to Howard Stern.
The Super Bowl may be Sunday on FOX, but the Super Bowl of pop-culture mash-ups happened Friday night on SiriusXM (and streamed online, as well), with a replay to air on the satellite radio network Monday morning.
Substitute the Wack Pack for the Brat Pack, and add an actual cavalcade of stars to that eclectic coterie. Stern’s birthday bash flew in friend Jimmy Kimmel to emcee the event — which boasted onstage appearances by Kimmel’s late-night rivals David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon, with a turn, too, by Seth Meyers; cable talk-show hosts Chelsea Handler and Andy Cohen also paid respects from the audience. Joan Rivers, Jeffrey Ross, Louis C.K. and Lena Dunham also toasted and roasted the host of honor, while Sarah Silverman serenaded him with help from Natalie Maines. The Black Keys, John Mayer, Adam Levine, Jewel, John Fogarty, Dave Grohl, Steven Tyler and Slash performed along with house band Train. Veteran broadcasters such as Barbara Walters and Larry King were there, as were relative newcomers such as Maria Menounos. Plus Robert Downey Jr., David Spade, Whitney Cummings, Katie Couric, Heidi Klum, Whoopi Goldberg, Dr. Drew, Jenny McCarthy, Rosie O’Donnell, Bryan Cranston, Tracy Morgan and much, much more both in the room at the Hammerstein Ballroom and via recorded messages. You can relive some of the images via the SiriusXM Howard Stern birthday bash page.
For all of the false bravado of MTV’s The Real World suggesting that they were going to stop being polite and start getting real, it has been Stern’s honest pursuit of the truth that has made him the most formidable interview in the business.
Get past the “shock jock” antics of yesteryear or even the shocking circus-like freaks and geeks who populate the periphery of the show. Get past all of that and you’ll see why any celebrity who visits Howard Stern’s studio will answer any and every question he throws at them, and why they keep coming back for more.
That’s why the guy who once stunk up the stage as Fartman is now a judge on America’s Got Talent.
And that’s why, Friday night, as the late-night TV wars get ready for a new round of battling for our viewing pleasure, the hosts of all three network shows stood up and sat down for Stern. He may call Kimmel his friend and drink shots with Fallon, but the icing on Howard Stern’s birthday cake Friday night was an extended interview with Letterman.
Stern thanked Letterman for being “the first person to put me on network television, and I am forever grateful for you doing that. It was probably the highlight of my life. And you really took a shot with me.”
Letterman also forgave Stern again for offending him and his wife previously. “We know you’re just being silly about things.” Speaking of which, they first debriefed each other about the last time Stern visited Late Show with David Letterman, and got into it about Brad Grey of Paramount Pictures, whom Letterman hasn’t met (and still hasn’t, despite Grey’s office reaching out to him after the episode aired).
“I’ve spoken to Jay Leno once in the last four or five years.”
To which the crowd booed. “See how this crowd is on your side? I am not speaking to Jay, by the way. I want you all to know that.” To which the crowd cheered. “And I will never do that. I will be forever loyal to Dave.”
Letterman: “Let me just say, and I can’t be too specific…that years and years ago, 30 years ago…(Ed Note: We think he means closer to 20 years ago for the 1990s, and not 1984, but I guess that’s not too specific, so proceed)… things were done, which I felt were unfair to me by him. And then other things continued to be done to me, which I felt were unfair. At a certain point, as you go through your life, you think, ‘Really? How much longer can I carry this with me?'”
So: “I called him when it was announced he was leaving The Tonight Show for the second time.”
Are you sad he’s leaving? Stern asked. Letterman: “I wouldn’t say sad. I mean, there’s nothing to be sad about. He’s had a tremendous career there.”
“I had personal feelings. I just felt as I got older, it wasn’t a factor. So, what do I care?”
Letterman also talked about friendships old and new, and leaving his first job in TV back in Indiana to go to Hollywood.
Stern wondered if Letterman’s unhappiest career move was just that, going to L.A. and being a stand-up comedian. To which Letterman agreed:
“It was very difficult, because I’m not comfortable doing it. I don’t consider myself to be a stand-up comedian. And people who do it have a different kind of genetic make-up. People who thrive on it. People who do it for all different venues and go anywhere, and succeed under circumstances — like here, for a stand-up comedian this must be a nightmare.”
Stern pressed on. So why do it, then? Letterman:
“Because I realized, having moved to California, if I was going to make good on the move to California, you had to get on The Tonight Show. To get on The Tonight Show, you had to be a stand-up comedian. So I would construct five-minute hunks of stand-up comedy. And I would have one ready, and then I would go on The Tonight Show. And by the time I was hosting The Tonight Show, I was out of stand-up comedy material…I don’t know if I was a sensation. They just thought, ‘Oh, here’s a guy we haven’t run into the ground yet, let’s try him!'”
Letterman did road gigs, but it relied heavily on crowd work to fill time. But back to The Tonight Show, and Letterman talked about becoming a part of that world, and Johnny Carson’s orbit through that. Playing tennis with Carson once, and then watching as Carson plays drums for you. And then holding no resentments against Carson for one of his guys laying down lots of rules for what Letterman could do on the initial run of Late Night on NBC.
And to everyone in the audience who couldn’t sit silent, Kimmel had a message for you: “Shut up you rapists, Dave and Howard are talking!”
We also are reminded that Letterman in his younger days wrote jokes for Bob Hope. “You quit your job and move to California. You have no money and you get a job writing jokes for Bob Hope, you’re going to be excited about that!” And writing jokes for Jimmie J.J. Walker, too. Dyn-O-Mite! Therapy. Meditation. Larry “Bud” Melman. Oprah. And George W. Bush. Did they cover all the bases in 27 minutes?
Listen for yourselves!