Published Jun 15, 2020Being no stranger to controversy, Howard Stern is once again making headlines — this time over his use of blackface and the N-word back in the early '90s. Believe it or not, it all stems from President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., who called out Stern over the weekend for the Sirius XM host's past behaviour. Now, Stern has issued an impassioned response, both denouncing his past behaviour and firing back at the Trumps.
On Friday (June 12), Trump Jr. made the tweet below, calling attention to a 1993 incident where Stern donned blackface for a pay-per-view New Year's Eve special called "New Year's Rotten Eve Pageant." The clip was first posted by filmmaker Tariq Nasheed, and it was interspersed with Stern's recent appearance on The View during which the radio host claimed he'd never used the racial slur.
The clip highlighted by Trump Jr. — who has been aggressively warring with Stern recently — saw the radio host parodying Ted Danson's infamous blackface performance from earlier that year, with Sherman Hemsley playing the actor's girlfriend at the time, Whoopi Goldberg.
Stern now addressed the resurfaced incident this morning on his radio show, both expressing regret for mocking Danson and Goldberg at the time, saying it was a "fucking crazy" time in his life and that past behaviours such as this one made him "cringe." The radio personality also claimed that he's now evolved — something that cannot be said of the Trumps, according to Stern.
Yikes!— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 12, 2020
NSFW: Howard Stern says N-word too many times during awful blackface impression that should have Libs yelling "CANCEL!" https://t.co/b9XJg2krnS
"The shit I did was fucking crazy," Stern said during this morning's show, as per Deadline. "I'll be the first to admit. I won't go back and watch those old shows; it's like, who is that guy. But that was my shtick, that's what I did and I own it. I don't think I got embraced by Nazi groups and hate groups. They seemed to think I was against them too. Everybody had a bone to pick with me."
Stern then went on to explain that such stunts at the time came from a pressure to succeed in showbiz.
"It was something in me, a drive you wouldn't believe. As a young man, I wanted to succeed on the radio and I wanted to go fucking crazy," he said. "Emotionally it was costing me a lot. The FCC was after me, the right wing was after me, I had the Ku Klux Klan after me, threatening my life. All kinds of crazy stories. I could do 17 movies on my life, how crazy it was. I was fined millions of dollars by the federal government, for sex.
"Not for race, because if you talked about race, they never cared. Look, that was the show. I went into therapy and said, what is this? Do I always have to be the guy pulling my pants down? Can I find a way to do the show where I can be a lot happier? Over the years, I did change the show. A lot of people who did like that humour, where I was completely pulling my pants off, those people are pissed off at me now. They think I'm a sellout and I'm not doing a good show anymore. I got soft. I came to realize in therapy, if I'm going to be with my kids, and have a successful marriage, I can't be insane completely 24 hours a day. I have to figure out a better way to communicate. So I evolved and changed."
Stern then turned his attention directly on the resurfaced blackface incident:
The big headline is this, and this is my fear in all of this. I was able to change my approach, able to change my life and change how I communicated. If I had to do it all over again, would I lampoon Ted Danson, a white guy in blackface? Yeah, I was lampooning him and saying, I'm going to shine a light on this. But would I go about it the same way now? Probably not. Not probably, I wouldn't. At the same point, I will say, it fucking distresses me that Donald Trump Jr, and Donald, themselves won't go into psychotherapy and change. Why not change the way you're approaching things because, wearing a mask is not a bad thing. Telling people the actual size of the crowd at your inauguration is okay. Attacking me during the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter is absolutely fucking crazy, concentrating on me. You want to concentrate on me and bully me, and expose me, with all the TV shows I've done? They're all out there. There's nothing new here. We all know. I was the craziest motherfucker on radio.
There will never be another show crazier than mine. There will never be another show, ever, that was as fucking wacky as my show. So crazy, I think I might have been insane. A psychiatrist puts it that I was craving too much attention. Like maybe I could knock it down 20 percent and still live my life and have an audience. Which was right. There it is. I'm not a hater. I'm excited about being on the radio as most of those who listen on the radio know.
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. Watching [George Floyd] choked to death, as I've said before, it's sickening and appalling and I think real change might be in the air. It has nothing to do with me; it's these guys hitting the streets and saying we've had enough. I'm excited about real change that is coming…I'm excited about the changes I've made in my approach to radio. But Jesus Christ, anybody who wants….I would suggest the people who are listening now have heard my shows over the past 40 years.
Stern also used the opportunity to fire back at the Trumps even more directly.
"Dude, if you're the president of the United States and you want to worry about me, go ahead," he said. "I don't think I have much influence honestly. And breaking news: Howard Stern was absolutely insane and out of his mind. I would take on anything and say anything and do anything."
Howard Stern's longtime radio partner Robin Quivers, who is Black, also addressed the controversy. She said the following:
I have long been a proponent of free speech and a long time ago I made a vow to myself that one word was never going to keep me out of a room. I don't care about that word, don't care about being called an Uncle Tom, because I know who I am and what I stand for. I was showing all that time, that it didn't mean anything about you. It maybe meant something about the people who were playing around with it, but it didn't mean anything about you and it doesn't mean anything about you.
I have listened to Stern since he first got to New York in the 1980s, and he certainly has evolved from the moment he described, when it was anything goes. And you can feel the influence of his psychotherapy sessions in the long interviews he does with artists. Some humor on the SiriusXM show still crosses the line, clearly, but he has long been a voice for inclusion and for women's rights and the LGBTQ cause.
Not that all the rough edges have been gone since he got to SiriusXM. For a long time, the show ran an interstitial clip of a segment where a racist white man, a frequent caller to the show, taped a paid phone sex call. The worker, who was clearly African American, was trying to do her job and didn't flinch as this cretin called her every disparaging racial insult he could think of, and you imagine here was this woman, maybe with kids at home, who had to endure this indignity to make a living. And then Stern would come back on the air and do these enlightened interviews with Rosie O'Donnell, Dave Chappelle or Whoopi Goldberg or Chris Rock and I never understood why Stern or any of his producers would think for a moment that this interstitial was ever funny. I haven't heard that bit in a long time, so maybe the show continues to evolve. Certainly this growing feud between Stern and the Trumps will continue to evolve as election season ramps up. But clearly, Stern isn't going to die of embarrassment over the retroactive shaming ploy.