The decade's most triggering comedy
Longtime Howard Stern listeners grimaced when the shock jock cried, “F*** their freedom” to anyone who didn’t take the COVID vaccine. Radio’s legendary bad boy took the government’s side, casting liberty in the circular file.
Fans figured the man who famously fought the FCC to tell fart jokes on his terms couldn’t sink any lower. Think again.
Stern recently came out of the closet as woke, a descriptor that completes his transformation from radio rebel to progressive scold.
“To me, the opposite of woke is being asleep …and if woke means I can’t get behind [former President Trump], which is what I think it means, or that I support people who want to be transgender, or I’m for the vaccine — dude, call me woke as you f—ing want … I am woke, motherf—er. And I love it.”
It’s a stunning about-face given his decades of raucous radio and ability to capture the Id of the nation. And he had no other option, at least if he wanted to keep cashing those sweet SiriusXM checks.
Stern’s transformation didn’t happen overnight. The talk show titan slowly let go of his sexually outrageous banter, a shift that coincided with growing older. Even hardcore Stern fans might flinch at the 60-something star (he’s 69 now) ogling girls young enough to be his granddaughter.
Everyone grows up. Even the so-called King of All Media (a name he gave himself, and it more or less stuck).
He mended fences with longtime frenemies like Rosie O’Donnell and Kathie Lee Gifford and shared how extensive therapy allowed him to evolve.
The broadcaster doubled down on his signature interviews, leaning into satellite radio’s ability to broadcast indefinitely without a commercial break.
The new, improved Howie had some perks, including a second look from the mainstream media.
Reporters loathed Stern for years, incorrectly predicting his career implosion and framing stories about him in the most negative light possible. He raged against the press portrait on air, but he seemed to draw strength from his enemies.
It was Stern against the world, and his listeners had his back.
Except Stern started to like it when the media reconsidered his work and legacy. He earned sympathetic notices after opening up about both therapy and a cancer scare. The press even feted him when he produced a tome of his best celebrity interviews, “Howard Stern Comes Again.”
He began hobnobbing with celebrities, not berating them from his SiriusXM perch.
Other elements of his broadcast persona morphed as well. His politically ambiguous nature shifted to the Left, becoming both predictable and erratic. He fawned over both Hillary Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, figures with closets chock full of skeletons.
The old, straight-shooting Stern became a watered-down Rachel Maddow, subservient to liberal power. Suffice it to say he rages against former President Donald Trump, despite the fact that he once regularly invited him into his studio for ribald chats.
The worst part of Stern 2.0? The man who fought for free speech suddenly went silent as Cancel Culture roared into the public’s consciousness. Few were better positioned to address the issue, at least on paper.
Stern had his satellite radio perch, which gave him more freedom than most broadcasters have. He knew the cultural landscape well, having fought to say what he wanted, when he wanted during the 1990s.
And few talk show hosts knew the comedic mindset better than Stern. He worked for decades alongside comic firecrackers like Artie Lange and Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling. Plus, every significant comedian passed through Stern’s studio over the years, including Jerry Seinfeld, Conan O’Brien, and more.
There’s a catch, though.
Stern’s radio career teems with “problematic” material. Skit after skit. Song parody after song parody. Stern dressed in blackface, used racially insensitive words (even the “n-word”), and embraced minority stereotypes for yuks.
Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.
And that doesn’t hint at his decades of objectifying women, aggressively coaxing them to remove their clothes in-studio and reveal their most intimate feelings.
All of it on air to titillate the listener and, to use the Left’s language, strip women of their agency. Literally and figuratively.
The mob swiftly came for stars with far less offensive legacies.
Kevin Hart lost the Oscar hosting gig for a single monologue deemed homophobic. “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon did an on-air struggle session after his 20-year-old blackface sketch resurfaced following the George Floyd protests.
Stern trumps them all.
Any single sketch could get him canceled, let alone an entire career full of inappropriate material.
The woke mob knocked on Stern’s studio door three years ago, weeks after Floyd’s death. Stern confessed to his thought crimes, claimed he renounced his old material and, shrewdly, blamed Donald Trump, Jr. for pushing the old material to the surface.
Next, he brought up his new, woke bona fides.
“I’m not a hater … I’m excited about gay rights, telling you not to beat up gay people. I’m excited about the changes that are coming out of Black Lives Matter. I think real change might be in the air,” he said before one more odd Trump attack. “If you solve the pandemic, then we can review all my old shows.”
And it worked.
The mob moved on to other targets. They haven’t gone after him since, and likely never will. The woke mob turns on fellow wokesters last.
Stern still could resist the woke siren song, the cultural movement that essentially devalues his legacy. He could renounce traditional media and go rogue, broadcasting via freer speech platforms like Rumble or follow Joe Rogan to the podcasting realm.
He’d make much less money there, though, and the media’s love for him would evaporate in a New York minute.
Stern made a calculated choice and went woke instead, shattering his legend in the process.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.