It’s not like I have a great reason. I’m not a huge radio guy. He seems a bit irksome. I’ve never been big into the, “You have great tits” sort of banter. Blah, blah. Again, no great reason. Just never jumped on the train.
Over the past week, however, I’ve come to (for me) a shocking conclusion: Howard Stern is the best on-air interviewer I’ve ever heard (or seen). I mean this with 100-percent sincerity. He destroys everyone on Real Sports and 60 Minutes—and they’re all quite good. I love Michael Kay’s word on CenterStage, but he tosses many softballs and sometimes lacks in follow-ups. I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Oprah’s interviewing stylings (too much about herself), though she’s a 10-time All-Star compared to Mike (Interrupt Everyone) Francesa, who is, truly, one of the two worst interviewers I’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing (the other being Piers Morgan). Come to think of it, the Bad List is significantly easier to fill than the great list. For every Maggie Gray (as underrated as they come), there are 1,000 Sean Hannitys and Lawrence O’Donnells—loud, obnoxious dolts who use the interview as a method to make clear their own personal viewpoints.
While sitting at my laptop one recent day, I YouTubed “Howard Stern” and interviews—then started listening to his hour-long sitdown with Jason Bateman. Which was, well, fucking awesome. Funny. Insightful. Educational.
Then, I turned on his Q&A with Jay-Z from a couple of years ago … which was even better. I mean, Stern’s questions are fantastic. Hell, listen …
What are the keys? First and foremost, research. Stern actually took the time to read the hip-hop star’s book, which means who knows whereof he speaks and isn’t merely going off of talking points supplied by a publicist. Second (and probably equally important), he listens. Really, truly listens. If Jay-Z (or Bateman. Or anyone) tells Stern something unique and cool and noteworthy, Stern stays with it. Stays on it. Zooms in. He doesn’t allow good information to pass by, merely because he has other questions that need to be addressed. Third, he’s empathetic. Bateman and Jay-Z are from different worlds, with different backgrounds, different problems, different issues. Yet Stern—even in his own unique mannerism—doesn’t demean, or mock. He acknowledges their words. Probes. Digs.
I know this is nothing new, and Stern loyalists will read my post and say, “Um, duh?” But I get the idea that his reputation as a goof (for lack of a better word) takes away from an appreciation of his interviewing skills.
Which are significant.