Radio’s greatest shock jock, Howard Stern, turned 60 last month. He celebrated the milestone with a four-hour star-studded gala in New York City over the weekend. Half celebrity roast, half interview extravaganza, and half freak show (if anyone is over-the-top enough to put three halves into a whole, it’s Stern), the party’s A-List celebrities included late night hosts (Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman), comedians (Sarah Silverman, Tracy Morgan, the 80-year-old Joan Rivers) and rock stars (John Fogerty, Jewel, Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler). As with all Stern galas, this one included lots of put-downs, inside jokes, exploitation, and frat-boy drooling over booze and breasts. It also included the usual Stern sidekicks, particularly mic-mate Robin Quivers and Stern’s wife, the former centerfold, Beth Ostrosky. Even embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made an appearance.
His obvious sex and potty humor, coupled with the need to fill 25 hours of airtime a week, often dilutes the King of All Media‘s material. But Stern is probably the best interviewer in the business—certainly in terms of getting celebrities to speak frankly about their personal lives. He’s elicited memorable admissions from Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, David Letterman and Charles Barkley, to name a few. And the improvised banter of Stern and Quivers while covering the news is as funny as Jon Stewart’s–and that’s without the crack writers baking the lines beforehand (or without as many writers, anyway). About twenty-years ago, a popular conservative columnist complained about the “Howard Sterning of American Culture,” suggesting that mainstream acceptance of Howard Stern fueled a trend toward meaner and more sexist media. It’s true that Stern enabled low-class phenomena like Maxim and Jerry Springer. But the other side of the Howard Sterning of American Culture revealed a public ready for honest dramas like Breaking Bad and the unsparing satire of The Onion, and a country that has so trivialized racial stereotypes that it has no trouble voting for a black president. Happy birthday, Howard. // Michael Adelberg