On Wednesday, Howard Stern tapped into his shock-jock persona and launched an expletive-filled rant against another media celebrity who dared suggest he has lost his edge and gone “Hollywood” in recent years.
“Jealous bitch. … You are nobody to me,” the 65-year-old Stern said, addressing Wendy Williams. “You’ll never be me, Wendy. You can pretend to be me, you can pretend to be like me, but you’re not. You don’t have my wit and you don’t have my talent. … You couldn’t have that career. You’re a fly.”
Williams provoked this tirade by talking about Stern’s upcoming book on her syndicated “Wendy Williams Show,” People reported. The book, “Howard Stern Comes Again,” marks the satellite radio host’s first title in more than 20 years.
Rather than praise a new work by a man she describes as one of her professional heroes, Williams implied that the book has a toned-down attitude that many of his longtime fans will find disappointing. She accused Stern of being “so Hollywood right now.”
“Howard, I love you, but since you’ve gone Hollywood, everything you say is so predictable,” Williams, 54, said. “Every story is going to be about, ‘Oh, I love this one, and then we went on their yacht.’ He’s a Hollywood insider, which sucks.”
“You started like me, being of the people. But at some point you sat behind the microphone for too long and now you are the people,” she added. “It hurts.”
While Stern took umbrage and accused Williams of being the one who has gone “Hollywood,” a number of fans agree that Williams has a point.
“He HAS lost his edge. For a long time now,” tweeted one fan.
“Wendy’s right! 80s 90s even early 2000s Howard would (loathe) the Howard of today. He’s gone Hollywood. Show’s not the same it once was,” tweeted another.
I am on Wendy’s side . I was a Howard Stern listener for 25 plus years. Stern has changed . Hollywood Howard !
— Dan Scovern (@dano329fl) March 14, 2019
From the 1980s to the past decade, Stern’s syndicated show was a nonstop circus of raunch that pushed the limits of taste with his embrace of pranksters, oddballs and strippers, according to a flattering 2016 New York Times profile titled, “Confessor. Feminist. Adult. What the Hell Happened to Howard Stern?”
Stern also was beloved for his brazen attacks on the powerful, especially Hollywood celebrities he saw as being arrogant, vapid, privileged or inauthentic.
Yes, the raunchy bits still happen on the show, and they have become more profane since Stern moved to SiriusXM radio in 2006 and was freed from FCC-mandated censorship, according to Ryan McCaffrey, executive editor for the gaming and entertainment website IGN, who described himself as a longtime fan.
But even a generous reading of Stern’s career arc over the past 10 years would say that his persona has become “warmer” and he doesn’t go on the attack as he once did, according to McCaffrey and New York Times writer David Segal.
As part of his on-air evolution, Stern has developed an interest in doing thoughtful, in-depth interviews with some of the celebrities he might have enjoyed skewering in the past. Those interviews often end up allowing even a divisive celebrity like Gwyneth Paltrow to open up in ways that allow her come across as relatable and authentic.
“Scattered among the gleefully vulgar mainstays are now long, starkly intimate live exchanges — character excavations that have made Mr. Stern one of the most deft and engrossing celebrity interviewers in the business and a sought-after stop for stars selling a movie or setting the record straight,” wrote Segal, who also described himself as a longtime fan.
Some of those interviews, including with Paltrow, Paul McCartney or Bill Murray, have made news after the stars opened up about their high-profile relationships with other famous people or revealed intriguing, previously unknown tidbits about their personal lives.
Segal quoted Stern as acknowledging that he’s changed things up.
“I couldn’t have done the show I’m doing now 20 years ago,” Stern said in a phone interview with Segal. “I’ve changed a lot. I’d be sort of pathetic if I’d reached this point in my life and I hadn’t. How else do you have longevity?”
Segal added that Stern’s evolution is due to a combination of age, therapy, a second marriage, mainstream acceptance and his ability to understand how to change with the times.
Speaking of changing with the times, other critics have noted that Stern has escaped much of the #MeToo-era backlash despite his history of trading sexist jokes on his show, including with Donald Trump. But they say that’s because he’s never been accused of sexual misconduct himself and, as the Times pointed out, some his best interviews have provided platforms for well-known celebrity feminists, including Amy Schumer, Lady Gaga and Sarah Silverman.
But as much as McCaffrey agreed that “change is good” for Stern’s personal and professional work/life balance, he suggested one way in which the King of All Media was being disingenuous during his rant against Williams.
Stern said, “I grew up a scumbag and I’m still treated like a scumbag,” while mentioning that he’s friends with Jimmy Kimmel.
As several entertainment sites have reported, Stern also has become friendly with a number of other A-listers in recent years, while amassing an estimated net worth of $650 million and an estate in the Hamptons.
Notably, he was the toastmaster at the 2015 wedding of Jennifer Aniston and her estranged husband Justin Theroux, Business Insider reported. At the wedding, held at Aniston’s lavish Bel Air estate, Stern and wife Beth mingled with other celebrity guests, including Kimmel, Jason Bateman, Orlando Bloom and Ellen DeGeneres.
The latter was once a frequent Stern target, according to fans on a Reddit thread, “Why do people say Howard Stern sold out.” McCaffrey added that fans have become disappointed with Stern “kowtowing to the A-list in order to be accepted by it.”
He has gone Hollywood, anyone who has followed him knows that. He can’t attack those people any longer because he is freinds with most of them. His reaction says it all, he attached her because he knows its the truth
— Steve DiCarlo (@dicarlo_steve) March 14, 2019
McCaffrey and the Reddit thread fans cite other factors for Stern’s show not being moment-by-moment “electric” as it once was.
They argue the show’s quality dipped when Stern also served as a judge on the family-friendly “America’s Got Talent” for four seasons. In addition, McCaffrey said Stern never filled the comedian sidekick spot left after the “profanely hilarious” Artie Lange was fired in 2010. Lange’s departure came amid a suicide attempt and his long battle with drug addiction.
To fill the gap left by Lange, Stern doubled down on his celebrity interviews and on his “wack pack,” his collection of regular callers and oddball personalities, McCaffrey wrote.
While the celebrity interviews have generally been successful, Stern’s reliance on the wack pack and his behind-the-scenes staff for comedy bits hasn’t worked as well, mostly because his staff members aren’t talented enough and the callers’ shtick “got old years ago,” McCaffrey added.
In this way, some fans would agree with Williams’ argument that Stern and his show have become “predictable.”
As always, Stern has attracted his loyalists in “Stern Nation” who still love his show and who enjoyed the way he ripped into Williams, even going after her personally by mentioning her two-month absence from her show and her husband’s rumored infidelity and alleged abusive nature.
They accused Williams of going after Stern to improve her own ratings and said she is nowhere near as famous, talented or relevant as he has been. If Stern was nasty to Williams, they said she had it coming.
You wanted “Old School Howard” again, well you sure as hell got that this morning! 😆
— ÐλRR¥Ł (@RiverRoadFlip) March 13, 2019
Don’t come for the king, Wendy.
— Angelina (@Angelina90) March 13, 2019