TAKEI MEET STERN, HOWARD MEET GEORGE
My love for Howard Stern dates back to an afternoon in the early 80s, when I was driving upstate to my college and turned the radio dial accidentally to WNBC. I heard a man discussing the differences between Jewish men's penises and Chinese men's penises and, when the shock wore off, found myself parking on the shoulder of the highway as laughter overwhelmed me. There is no longer anything shocking about the subject matter and I can't remember exactly what was said that I found so exhilaratingly funny. It must of been the whooshing of a long-closed door being opened--the complete subjugation of normal entertainment to wildly inappropriate and heedless hilarity. (Or, as a billboard put it when Stern was first syndicated to Los Angeles, 'Four Hours Of Sixth Grade Every Morning!')
Early Stern (or 'old-school Howard') remains, for me, the best Stern--anywhere from the NBC years through around 2000 (the departure of Jackie Martling being the significant factor in the cut off period). The show, as it has since evolved, is barely interesting to me anymore, with the dull cast of supporting characters and their no-longer-shocking-but-now-just-gross personas. The vaunted celebrity interviews are only as interesting as the guests and Stern's righteous embracement of the Second Amendment and refusal to comment in any meaningful way on his one-time friend (and still is I guess?) Donald Trump renders him toothless as well as weirdly in step with our current, shameful Congress.
But I digress. There is, fortunately, much early Howard on Youtube and I listen to some of it pretty much every morning. And this morning's discovery was a real find. Above is George Takei's first appearance on the show in 1990. It's before he was famous as anything but a 'Star Trek' co-star--his activism and such was still in the future as he had yet to 'come out'. And this is what is particularly fascinating about this episode. Stern is completely in the dark as to Takei's sexual preference and blindly keeps pursuing a path that Takei deftly keeps stepping away from. Stern is eager to know how many female Trekkies he's had sex with ('banged'--such an 80s word, right?) and can't figure out why he's not being more forthcoming about the plethora of willing females that his celebrity must allow him to sexually indulge in. It's a kind of fascinating train-wreck-in-reverse and something of a shocking reminder that the 1990s seems so far away, given that Takei seems to have gone public about his personal life in 2005, fifteen years after this appearance. (Did you know that he and his husband were the first couple to register to get a marriage license in West Hollywood? I didn't either but given his ten zillion Facebook followers I must be one of the last to have found this out). Takei's urbane fencing around the subject and Stern's inability to even remotely consider his possible homosexuality leave one a little stunned at how blind young Howard was; Takei, in retrospect, sounds something like Clifton Webb in 'Laura', a tastefully amused old-school queen who you'd love to sit around and sip Manhattan's with while deploring the state of the world. This isn't, of course, who the real Takei is, with his admirable optimism, leadership and outspoken activism. But I'd still love to sit around and have a Manhattan with him. As for Howard, I have a feeling he doesn't give you much in person, though he's apparently a very nice, low-keyish fellow. I have that on good authority as it came from my late friend John Avildsen, who was supposed to direct him in the movie version of 'Private Parts'...before 'ankling the project due to creative differences' as the trades would put it.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 10:14 AM