Stolen from msnbc.msn.com:
Howard Sternís Sirius question is answered
Whether radio is worth around 43 cents a day was resolutely answered on Sept. 21, 2006, 256 days after “The Howard Stern Show” made its move to subscription-based Sirius Satellite Radio. Thatís the day the show’s comedy writer/sidekick Artie Lange copped to snorting smack.
Langeís spontaneous heroin admission wasnít the most shocking or outrageous event on ďThe Howard Stern ShowĒ since its Jan. 9, 2006, Sirius premiere. Out of range from the Federal Communication Commissionís jurisdiction, the ďStern ShowĒ is now free from the astronomical indecency fines that haunted its last years on terrestrial radio. Puerile and sexually charged bits now rock the content with impunity.
During the first Sirius year, comedy writer Richard Christy had his genitals waxed on air, his howls and shrieks delighting the Stern cast and audience. Porn star Jenna Jameson inaugurated the in-studio Sybian, a saddle-like sex toy since utilized by many female guests ó including Blue Iris, a geriatric sex star in her own right. And ďStern ShowĒ wack packers ďCrazyĒ Alice and ďElegantĒ Elliot Offen phoned in their weekly football picks, spewing expletives and insults with every call.
Compared to such antics, Langeís confession is tame. His substance abuse problems were never a secret. Hilarious anecdotes such as scoring cocaine in full pig makeup while on the cast of Foxís ďMadTV,Ē or his accidental hookup with a prostitute, are ďStern ShowĒ staples, repeatedly referenced since Lange replaced Jackie Martling on Sternís cast in 2001. But Langeís confession to recent heroin use while in Sternís employ, seemingly a surprise to even Stern, was different.
Very little is sacred on ďThe Howard Stern Show.Ē Every in-house conflict or personal issue warrants full audience disclosure. No doubt many that followed Stern to Sirius are there for Jameson and her peers or the in-depth discussions on bodily functions. But to echo pretty much every highfalutin Stern proponent ever Ė itís this intangible community that makes the ďStern ShowĒ great. Itís what copycat shock jocks canít duplicate. Allowed to bloom beyond terrestrial confines, ďThe Howard Stern ShowĒ is arguably the best radio on the airwaves and possibly the best itís ever been.
Lange’s slip comes during a segment in which three homeless men compete for the saddest life story. The winner gets a lap dance from a couple of strippers. Itís a fairly standard bit. Stern and cast question the contestants. Lange is particularly empathetic to a 21-year-old heroin addict. The kidís got a $120-a-day habit. On occasion, the kid has turned to prostitution. His parents have given up on him and heís very worried about his future.
Lange asks if the kid has tried Subutext, a prescription drug that stops heroin cravings. Yeah, the kid says, until he lost his insurance. And then Lange comes out with it: ďIf you guys agree not to grill me on it, I actually have those pills … .Ē
Lange reveals the pill bottle. Co-host Robin Quivers sums up the studioís surprise: ďWait a minute!Ē and ďWhat the hell are you doing?Ē
Lange: ďItís a long story, letís not get into it.Ē
Stern: ďMaybe you need the lap dance.Ē
There’s laughter. The subject is momentarily dropped. The pills are not shared. The game continues. The winner (not the heroin addict) receives his lap dance. Hilarity ensues. Break.
Stern: ďIím still trying to figure out how Artie has those heroin pills.”
Quivers: ďAnd weíre going to get to the bottom of that.Ē
And they do. ďI remember you said this to me one time,Ē Lange says to Stern. ďYou know how something pops in your head and you want to be honest because you know itís so entertaining and interesting and then you just blurt something out Ö .Ē Lange spills it all. How he fell back into the habit while doing a stand-up tour; the shows he missed in 2005; the withdrawal sickness; and the toll it took on his family and girlfriend.
There are moments Lange chokes, falls silent, or mumbles itís something he shouldnít have said. Quivers asks how they can help. Stern says heíll share a worse revelation: Now that heís 52, his pants are constantly urine-stained from dribbles. Sound guy Fred Norris plays Steppenwolfís ďThe Pusher.Ē Stern groans, saying itís like the time he overdosed on acid and his friend kept playing the Grateful Dead. They try to make Lange laugh. They tell him it only matters that heís OK now. And they never stop asking questions.
Humanity among the fart jokes
Langeís story wasnít crass or pornographic. It also wasnít anything youíre likely to hear on radio or most other entertainment forums. Between contrived reality TV and soulless celebrities unable to admit their flaws even as they issue fake apologies, popular culture is starved for humanity. Seriously, kids. Langeís confession, even the running joke itís become on the ďStern Show,Ē is real. Itís human.
Itís true, Sternís audience is about a third of what he commanded on terrestrial radio. Whether the majority can ever wrap their heads around paying for something theyíre used to getting for free remains to be seen. Itís still early in the day for satellite radio. But any questions or criticisms surrounding Sternís decision to move are now moot. No matter the loss, no matter the cost, the creative freedom is worth it.
Again, to echo the highfalutin, itís not about the cuss words or the poopy talk. Itís the freedom to swear, or rather not prescreen every syllable before itís said, thatís blown Stern’s show wide open. Between the vomit fetishists and unbleeped fart jokes, real life has room to spread out and tell its story. And thatís interesting and entertaining.
Helen Popkin listens to Howard on her Sirius boombox from her Bronx home.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive