I have written previously in this space about my unabashed adoration of Howard Stern, but even casual fans know that the King of All Media's skillful long-form interviewing style is one of his most enduring qualities. He conducts hard-hitting interrogations that feel like casual conversations, leading normally guarded celebrities to offer revelations and opinions they would probably never utter in another forum. This year alone, he has helped draw out newsworthy bites from a number of big stars, and with 2015 more than half over, I thought I'd recap the wildest, most revealing quotes that have come out of Studio 69 in the past six months and change (with attendant clips).
Here we go…
1. Jason Alexander tells the real story behind Susan's “Seinfeld” demise
Date: June 3
Behind-the-scenes dish on famous TV shows never gets old, and Alexander's tidbit about actress Heidi Swedberg (who played George's ill-fated fiancee Susan) was particularly juicy. After telling Howard that he liked his co-star personally, Alexander said that he simply “couldn't figure out how to play off” the actress, and that the decision to kill the character off (by licking too many cheap wedding envelopes) came after Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus voiced their own frustrations over sharing scenes with her:
“I kept saying, 'I'm going out of my mind you guys, you're killing me. I can't understand how to play off of this girl. I'm sure that the stuff is not working, it can't be!'…I was the only actor doing scenes with her! And then finally — they didn't know how the season was gonna end, was George gonna marry her? Was she gonna leave him? What was gonna happen? So finally they do an episode where Elaine and Jerry have a lot of material with her. They do the week…and they go, 'you know what? It's fucking impossible. It's impossible.' And Julia actually said, 'I know, it's just, don't you wanna just kill her?' And Larry went, 'kebang!'”
Long story short: the soundbite received so much press (some of it slamming Alexander for being mean-spirited) that the actor ultimately issued a prolonged explanation and apology to his former co-star, writing in part: “…in telling this story, it sounds like we are putting a heavy burden on Heidi. I, personally, am not. Heidi would always ask if there was anything in the scenes she could do or if I had any thoughts. She was generous and gracious and I am so mad at myself for retelling this story in any way that would diminish her.”
2. Robert Downey Jr. brutally slams the Channel 4 reporter who baited him
Date: April 28
A term like “syphilitic parasite” is bound to get people talking, and that's exactly what the “Avengers” star called Channel 4 reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who compelled Downey to walk out of an interview after he continued to harp on the actor's checkered past.
“I”m one of the guys who is always assuming the social, kind of decorum is in play, and that we”re promoting a superhero movie — a lot of kids are going to see it — and this has nothing to do with your creepy, dark agenda,” Downey told Howard. “I just realized, too, that I”m a 50-year-old guy, I use fancy words on ‘The Howard Stern Show,” and yet I”m completely unevolved when it comes down to simple boundaries. Like, ‘you know what? You”re weirding me out. You are a bottom-feeding muckraker.' …What I have to do in the future is just have to give myself permission to say, 'that is more than likely a syphilitic parasite, and I need to distance myself from this clown.' Otherwise, I'm probably gonna put hands on somebody, and then there's a real story.”
Other memorable moments from the sit-down: RDJ's story about making peace with ex-girlfriend Sarah Jessica Parker, and the actor's admission that he dropped out of “Gravity” because he was too claustrophobic.
3. Channing Tatum hated “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”
Date: June 23
Look, we all hate “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” But it's somewhat rare for a star of Tatum's magnitude to come out so harshly against one of their own projects. At first seeming shocked/amused when Howard described the film as a major turning point in his career (debatable), Tatum quickly made his true feelings known:
“Look, I”ll be honest. I fucking hate that movie,” Tatum said. He continued later: “The script wasn't any good. And I was like, I don't wanna do something that…I thought was one, bad, and two, I just didn't know if I wanted to be G.I. Joe.”
Tatum later backpedaled slightly (“I'm super lucky and blessed to have been given that film,” he said), but capped it by noting that he contractually had to star in the movie after signing a three-picture deal with the studio: “[I had] no option [not to do the movie],” he noted. “'You're doing this, or we're gonna sue you.'”
Not a bad reason.
4. Louis C.K. apologized to Sarah Palin at “SNL 40”
Date: April 15
After writing a number of inflammatory tweets about the former Vice Presidential candidate in 2010, C.K. told Howard that a face-to-face encounter with Palin at the “SNL 40” after-party resulted in a very human (and shockingly sweet) moment between the two polar-opposite celebrities.
“I was at the after-party and I felt somebody tug my elbow, and it was her,” C.K. said. “And she says, 'Hey, I think you”re terrific! I think you”re really funny and my nephew told me that I have to say hi to you, that you”re the one guy I have to meet.' And something came over me emotionally and I said, “well, I owe you an apology.” I”ve never in a million years apologized for anything I”ve said. Fuck anybody else who”s offended. I don”t give a shit. But here”s the person right in front of me. And I”m not an insult guy. I don”t go after people. It”s not a thing I do. So I kind of stumbled into the thing with her. I said 'look, I didn”t know that this was going to have such a big reach, but I said some bad things about you.' She said, 'well, you”re a vile person.' She said that, and it kind of made me laugh. It was hip on her part.”
C.K. went on to say that he would go fishing with Palin in Alaska “in a heartbeat,” which sounds like a very time-consuming (and potentially disastrous) form of overcompensation.
5. Madonna dated Tupac
Date: March 11
Hardcore Madonna fans may have already known that the singer dated rapper Tupac Shakur in the early '90s, but the internet practically exploded when the pop queen casually mentioned the love affair during her newsmaking appearance on the show back in March:
“I don't know, I was in a weird mood that day,” she told Howard when he asked about her notorious 1994 David Letterman appearance. “I was dating Tupac Shakur at the time, and the thing is he got me all riled up about life in general. So when I went on the show I was feeling very gangster.”
6. Conan O'Brien pranked Bill Cosby when he was a student at Harvard
Date: February 25
Correctly noting that even the biggest stars will show up just about anywhere if the prospect of an award is dangled in front of them, O'Brien revealed that during his Harvard Lampoon days, he and several of his fellow students got Bill Cosby to visit the campus by literally inventing a trophy.
“We invented an award that didn't exist,” said O'Brien, who went on to offer such hilarious details as a) picking up Cosby from the airport in his dad's junky station wagon with the words “Spruce Point Inn” painted on the side; and b) giving Cosby a “slightly altered” bowling trophy as his prize. Then again, nothing could top the hoax Cosby played on the American public for over four decades, as O'Brien himself noted: “I think his pranks since then have been better.”
7. Gwyneth Paltrow didn't feel good enough for Brad Pitt
Date: January 14
A couple observations about this clip: a) Gwyneth Paltrow seems perplexed by the suggestion that she and Brad Pitt were a beautiful couple; b) Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't think she was “good enough” for Brad Pitt. Do we really believe that she thinks these things? Whatever the case, it's almost jarring to hear the actress we all envied in the mid 1990s talk about feeling insecure in her own skin.
“You ended that relationship,” said Howard.
“That's not true! That's totally not true!” protested Paltrow, who admitted later: “I think I was a kid, and I wasn't ready, and, you know, he was too good for me. …I honestly do think I just was too young and I didn't know what I was doing.”
8. David Crosby apologizes to Neil Young and Daryl Hannah
Date: May 18
Howard has a special rapport with classic rock musicians, and CSNY member David Crosby, for his part, is so comfortable in Studio 69 that, during a May appearance on the show, he came out with a show-stoppingly heartfelt apology to former bandmate Neil Young and his girlfriend Daryl Hannah, whom he had previously called a “purely poisonous predator” after news broke that Young had left his wife of nearly 40 years to be with the actress:
“Daryl, if you're out there, I apologize. Where do I get off criticizing you? There are people I can criticize: politicians, pond scum. Not other artists that have gone through a hard life, same as me. She hasn't had it easy either. …I was worried that he was going to be taken advantage of. But the truth is that's not my place to judge. That's the bottom line. It's not my place to judge other human beings like that. That was judgmental and stupid and careless and I regret it a lot.”
9. Brad Garrett was brutally frozen out by Bill Cosby after performing stand-up on a Cosby-hosted episode of “The Tonight Show”
Date: May 5
Before America's Favorite Dad became America's Most Famous Alleged Serial Rapist, former “Everybody Loves Raymond” star Brad Garrett was on the receiving end of a truly bizarre, uncomfortable and illuminating interaction with Bill Cosby as a 24-year-old comedian. After Cosby invited Garrett to fly to Los Angeles with him on the “The Tonight Show's” private jet (both were booked to appear, Cosby as guest-host and Garrett as a stand-up act), things went from awkward to cringeworthy after Garrett — desperate when his set began to bomb — resorted to the dead-on Cosby impression the elder comedian had earlier warned him not to use.
“Three minutes in, death, my set,” Garrett said. “It's beyond crickets. …I go into something really hacky, like 'what if Cosby was a pilot'? [does Cosby impression] And I look over, and he's looking down and he's just going through the blue cards. …[The audience] goes crazy.”
The worst part? Cosby didn't say “a word” during the entire plane ride home — and the silence continued until the very last moment, when Garrett made one last desperate overture of appreciation.
“[We] Walk off the plane, the two cars come, he's got a limo, they send like a Chevy Malibu for me or whatever,” said Garrett. “…And I went 'Mr. Cosby, thank you so much.' [And he said] 'Uh-huh.' [Got] in the [car], and that was [it].”
10. Jim Breuer wasn't happy about that Rolling Stone “SNL” cast member ranking. At all.
Date: May 20
“I lost all respect for Rolling Stone,” the man formerly known as Goat Boy told Howard after the subject of the magazine's infamous “SNL 40” cast rankings was broached. “I didn”t care about the list. It”s what that guy wrote about people. Like, there were cast members like, 'Oh this douchebag.' Like why would you — people are just trying to make a living, and what kind of douche — where are you at in your life — that gives you the right to stand there and go, 'Number 134, this guy, I wish he would die.'”
For the record, Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield's summation of Breuer (who unbelievably finished 139 out of 141) was the following: “Like Jay Mohr, except more of a 'This asshole again? No, that one' type.”
So you can understand the anger.