Howard Stern fans breathed a sigh of relief this week when it was announced that the self-proclaimed King of All Media had re-signed with Sirius XM for another five years, promising more great celebrity interviews, Wack Pack hijinks and high-quality phony phone calls well into 2020. Hey now! What better way to celebrate the big news than by counting down 11 memorable show moments and recurring gags from the past year — from that unprecedented Madonna interview to Tan Mom and Sal Governale's tortured love affair.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. The Tan Mom and Sal saga
Note to celeb super-fan Natalie Maines: Tan Mom (née Patricia Krentcil) is Wack Pack, and this year more than ever the notorious (albeit vindicated) 2012 tabloid magnet became an essential part of the show's on-air hijinks. From her bull-in-a-china shop appearance at Jimmy Kimmel's “birthday party” to that in-studio sparring session with her latest boxing opponent Kayla Vas, 2015 was a pretty good year for aficionados of the gravelly-voiced sex symbol. But perhaps her greatest accomplishment this year was that on-again, off-again “love affair” with resident phony phone caller Sal Governale — an increasingly one-sided relationship that became one of the show's most entertaining recurring storylines. Guilt-ridden confession: I cannot get enough of this woman. I do not feel at all good about this.
2. Howard's “ISIS hotline” sketch
Howard has never gotten the proper credit for being a first-order satirist, and this year's extended “ISIS hotline” sketch is further proof not only of his formidable improvisational skills but his deft satirical mind. In the sketch — a takeoff on the since-debunked news item that the terrorist organization kept a “terrorist helpdesk” members could call to solicit advice about sowing chaos — Howard took on multiple roles, playing both the outsourced Indian representative (!) manning the phones as well as an assortment of callers casually seeking advice on suicide-bombing and “decapitating Jews,” among other lighthearted activities. A complete riot from start to finish.
3. Bobo Free Summer
Bobo's inflated sense of self-importance, terrible phone calls and unbearably hammy Periscope series make him an almost-too-easy target of ridicule, and this year haters of the frequent caller and long-running show personality were granted an early Christmas gift: a total show ban, handily dubbed the “Bobo Free Summer.” His offense: selling out the show by accepting a challenge — from a plant posing as a “General Hospital” casting director — to mention the soap's title five times on air in order to land a role. Needless to say, Bobo took the bait and was subsequently castigated and banned. While I personally enjoy the toupee-wearing superfan and consider him an essential show presence, his harsh sentence was well-earned.
4. Robin sings
Robin has always harbored a fantasy of becoming a professional singer, and this year she finally realized her dream after being given the opportunity to cover some of the biggest pop hits of all time in studio, from Whitney Houston's “I Will Always Love You” to this year's chart-topping Adele single “Hello.” The shrill, off-key results were only slightly more bearable than Mariann from Brooklyn's voice, but as a comic bit, it was side-splittingly funny. More of this in 2016, please.
5. Jeff's lump + Periscope show
The caller Jeff has consistently pegged as comedian Eric Andre (a claim Howard has repeatedly denied) has thus far gone unidentified — but whoever he is, his quick-witted retorts to Jeff's increasingly-dull phone calls made his recurring ambushes one of the year's most welcome recurring bits.
6. Sal gets hypnotized
After striking gold with hypnotist Scott Schmaren in 2014, the show brought him back this year to re-hypnotize Ronnie “the Limo Driver” Mund and Sal “I'm a turtle” Governale, and the results didn't disappoint. While Ronnie's hypnosis session was a scream, Sal inadvertently stole the show yet again when, under Schmaren's spell, he became convinced that his penis had disappeared from his body. His epic meltdown was genuinely jarring on air, but Fred took the edge off by turning it into one of the year's most replayable sound drops.
7. JD's dirty sheet fiasco
The show's mumbly-mouthed, webcam girl-obsessed researcher has become a fan favorite since his on-air introduction, and this year he accidentally delivered yet again by revealing that he hadn't washed his bedsheets for an entire year. Ugh. Luckily, the show's loyal horde of song parody maestros turned the disgusting revelation into something danceable.
8. The rise of Mick the Nerd
If I were handing it out, this year's Wack Pack crown would undoubtedly go to the irrepressible Tan Mom, but Mick the Nerd — discovered by Wolfie at a recent comic book convention — made an impression with his nasal monotone and deep knowledge of obscure geek-culture franchises. We were all disappointed that meeting J.J. Abrams didn't excite him more, but then again, his distinct lack of emotionality is a part of his charm.
9. The Madonna interview
Howard's Madonna interview may not have been the year's best — the chemistry between the King of All Media and the Queen of Pop never quite clicked the way I wanted it to — but it was nevertheless a historic moment in show history. It bears mentioning, too, that her sit-down elicited a few truly compelling anecdotes, including the little-known fact that she once dated late rapper Tupac Shakur. Madonna in Studio 69? I never thought I'd see the day.
10. Ronnie's horrific holiday sex tips
4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas — once again this year, Ronnie the Limo Driver ruined all of our favorite holidays with his disgusting, hysterical, vomit-inducing holiday sex tips. The most appalling of 2015 were those in his Halloween series, which featured a truly disturbing use of the term “mummy juice.” Pass the barf bag.
11. Michael Rapaport's fantasy football insanity
I don't get fantasy football and I don't get Michael Rapaport's “I'll f- you in the a-” aggression; his ultra-confrontational style has resulted in some borderline-scary displays of masculine energy over the past year. But love him or hate him, there's no denying he was a loud, inescapable presence in the “Stern”-verse in 2015.