Author Profile: Fred Topel

Freelance journalist, Crave Online, Starpulse.com, Suicide Girls, About.com, Edge, Dish, Patch and more.

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Photo credit - Mark Seliger

Any interview with Howard Stern is really just going to be a performance by Howard Stern. The radio legend invited press to the Friars Club in New York to answer questions about becoming the new judge on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Whether he had bits prepared or winged it, the press conference certainly turned into another Howard Stern show.

That’s probably what the producers of America’s Got Talent are hoping for. Though trailers showed Stern turning a fire hose on talent acts, Stern is playing by the rules. As performers display their talent for the panel, he’ll either X them out or pass them through, either way giving his unique brand of advice and critique. At the Friars Club, Stern began the proceedings himself.

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Photo credit - Mark Seliger

HS: Hi, guys. Am I tired. First I was on Jimmy Fallon last night and then I was on the Today show this morning, and then I was over at The View with those yentas. So I was happy to come here today and answer any and all questions. Nothing is off limits, of course. And of course, I want to say Baba Booey to you all.

First of all, before I start, you know I never could trust NBC executives. Let's face it, I had a run-in the first time around in the ‘80s and they used to say horrible things about me. So I'm not even used to the fact that NBC executives are actually now in 2012 saying nice things about me. When Grant Tinker was in charge of NBC he said, "I will never allow Howard Stern to work in this company again, over my dead body." And now he's a dead body.

When NBC first asked me to actually be a judge on America's Got Talent, I was sure they'd made some kind of mistake. America's Got Talent is a family show. This is where family values are respected and I have been disrespecting family values for years, so none of it made any sense to me.

What I have tried to bring to the table was we've got to be honest, we've got to be direct and we've got to help the talent. This is one of the problems. You watch American Idol, you could throw up. Listen, J-Lo, I don't understand what she's doing there. Not every contestant can be wonderful. You've got to be up front with people. For one reason or another, all of these contestants have not reached superstardom. They want to know why. It's my job to tell them. If I sit there in a beautiful dress and just tell them they're wonderful, they're not going to get anywhere.

Q: Being on a family show, are you afraid of losing your edge?

HS: I'm at a point in my career, I've been around a long time now, over 35 years in broadcasting. I don't worry about much. I respect what America's Got Talent is. It is a family show. It is a show that I love. I've been watching it for years. I don't want to come in there and do The Howard Stern Show. I don't want to interrupt the flow of the show. I only want to make it better. If I go in there and I'm trying to turn into The Howard Stern Show where I'm being the way I am on the radio, it's not going to work. People are going to hate it. I would hate that if I was doing it. I don't think I'm losing my edge because I've always been about honesty, whether on the radio, whether I did a movie, whether I wrote a book. As long as you're honest, you don't lose your edge.

Q: Have you ended up being more of a hugger than you expected?

HS: I got to tell you, yes. I told this story already about the 7 year-old who I actually hugged on stage because he broke down and cried. He was a 7 year-old kid who rapped and I felt awful for him. Here I'm telling you what an honest judge I am, but I tell you I do have my faults. The kid's crying, I get down on my knees and I'm hugging him. Where the hell his parents were, I don't know. They don't even walk out. So suddenly I'm parenting this kid and he wants to know, is he going through to Vegas. Now, you know, I told you he wasn't good. I hit my X. I hug him and I said, "You're going to Vegas." I completely broke down. I did give him another chance. It was awful but other than that, I was very honest with people.

Q: What are some acts that you actually liked?

HS: At one of the auditions, a guy come out, his act is he gets kicked in the nuts, and I said, “What kind of eunuch is this? I’m here to find talent.” Well, the guy comes out with three guys, he takes off his pants, you could see he’s not wearing a cup. And they start to kick him in the balls. I am laughing like it’s The Three Stooges or Jackass and I go, “These guys are fabulous.” So I said to the guy, “Look, I’m going to put you through to the next round. You’re fabulous. Do you have children?” He had three children already. I said, “I don’t know how you are doing this. It’s hysterical, but…” And he said, “Howard, if you put me through, I will step it up.” So God knows, I think I may be able to get him to shoot his balls off. The guy walks out and he comes out with a big entourage, and he gets on his back on the floor, and he spreads his legs. And one of these guys takes a bowling ball, and as hard as he can he bowling balls right into this guy’s nuts. And he’s writhing in pain and I’m laughing. I know you don’t think it’s an act, but it’s an act. Then Nick Cannon comes out. He says, “Nick, kick me in my balls,” and Nick is on stage kicking this guy and people are hysterically laughing. And I said, “You know, you don’t get that kind of talent on just any show.”

Q: Have you had any discussions with NBC about what you can and can’t do?

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Photo credit - Mark Seliger

HS: NBC has given me little to no direction, which is unbelievable to me. I was waiting for some sort of notes. You always hear about pushy network executives doing notes. Finally about halfway through, I turned to one of the executives and I said, "Why am I not getting these notes that they talk about?" And they said, "Listen, you're Howard Stern. What are we going to tell you?" Personally, I think this bunch is insane. I think they're all going to lose their jobs. No, but it was a vote of confidence that they liked what I had to say.

Q: Did they at least ask you to stop criticizing Jay Leno?

HS: No one has approached me about my feelings for Jay Leno. They know my feelings on Jay run deep. I was on Jimmy Fallon last night badmouthing Jay and much to NBC’s credit, after I finished, I said, “Oh, those executives are going to get a hold of Jimmy Fallon and they’re going to delete everything I said about Jay.” They did not delete a word, and I must say I am very proud of them. I’m sure Jay was pissed, but I’ll tell you this, I admire that Jay didn’t have me killed and I admire that NBC didn’t have me killed, and that I think is great.

Q: This isn’t a step towards getting out of radio, is it?

HS: No, I’ve been slowing down with my radio career and I’ve been thinking that in three and a half years I’d retire, but I keep saying that and I keep re-signing, so I obviously don’t know myself well after four days a week of therapy for the last 15 years. I can say, “Oh, I hate radio, I’m not going to do it anymore,” and then I re-sign. So I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about.

Q: You made fun of J-Lo, what do you think about Britney Spears joining The X Factor?

HS: I think it’s a wonderful decision. Britney still thinks the earth is flat. I think that we are going to tune in to see if she can sort of function, right? As far as any real criticism, I think Simon and LA Reid will be doing that. I think Britney is going to stand there and eat a lollipop, and wear a sexy outfit. I don’t anticipate any great opinions from her. I think she’s going to sit there like J-Lo and [say], “You are wonderful, you are terrific, do you think I could get a perfume endorsement out of this? Do you think I could get to perform on the show?” I think that’s what it’s about, but I think it will be interesting. I will tune in to see what kind of train wreck she is, absolutely.

Q: Speaking of sexy outfits, you like the ladies. Would you let an attractive contestant stay on even if she’s not very talented?

HS: There were many times where I thought somebody had a visual presentation that was so powerful. Not just women, but men as well.     There was a guy who got up, I would say he was an okay singer. The guy had such an effect on the women in the audience. I remember disagreeing with my fellow judges on this. I said, “If I was a record company executive, I would put money into this guy over half of the better singers we saw because he does have the look.” Looks have something to do with it. This was a pop singer. We know that you know Justin Bieber ain’t no great singer. It’s his looks, he’s cute, and younger fans respond to him. Guys want to be like him, girls want to be his girlfriend, and yes, there was one woman I could think of too who made a beautiful visual presentation. You have to take that into account. If you don’t, you are being dishonest and I have to be honest. I’m sure some people might be offended by that, but this is my feeling about show business. It’s not all about pure talent. There are certain people who command a stage because they look good ,like me. You can’t take your eyes off me, right? Thank you.

Q: What was it like making out with Matt Lauer?

HS: I made out with Matt Lauer's forehead. I thought it would be offensive to me. It wasn't. I liked it. In light of President Obama with gay marriage, I think I'm ready to marry Matt Lauer. I also made out with Sherri Shepherd on The View and Barbara Walters was in my lap. We were getting it on.

Q: Who’s the better kisser?

HS: Well, first of all, look at me. Nobody kissed me back. I mean, when you have a face like this, it’s difficult to get a kiss back.

Q: Who has softer skin, Matt Lauer or Barbara Walters?

HS: Honestly, I wasn't thinking about that but I would say Matt was awfully soft. I mean, he's probably never done a hard day's work. I mean, he was so soft. Barbara's been in combat or something. She did combat reporting. I love Barbara. She was at my wedding. She stayed for two seconds and left. She was really sincere about being there. It was great. She brought a microphone to my wedding.

Q: You’ve been a big supporter of the gay and lesbian community, so what is your reaction to President Obama officially coming out and supporting gay marriage?

HS: My feelings are very clear on this. We all get one life to live here. It’s 2012, and for gay and lesbian couples who are in love, not to be able to be married is so absurd. I wish the President had actually gone further. I wish he had said that he was going to back some legislation on a national level, not on a state level. It feels like a political maneuver in the sense that I wish he would have been even stronger about it. But okay, this is a good first step. It’s a baby step. I wish we didn’t always have to take baby steps. When you read in history about Harry Truman and stuff, who would say things because he believed them, I would like the President to really get behind this and push it. There’s just too many people being bullied, too many people’s lives being wrecked. This is something that is long overdue. We all have gay and lesbian people in our families, and these are good people. These nutbags, like Santorum and Bachmann, who make these people and especially young gay kids feel miserable, shame on them. They’re quacks. I would never vote for them. I wouldn’t even listen to them because there but for the grace of God go they. They call themselves Christians. If you’re a Christian you don’t sit there and worry about what somebody else is doing, if they’re happy and they’re committed in a relationship. So this is wonderful news that the President has said it, long overdue and I think he’s got to do a lot more.

Our valuable member Fred Topel has been with us since Wednesday, 16 May 2012.

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