When we tuned in to Howard 100 on Wednesday of last week, we weren’t sure the show would even be new, with the show’s seemingly always expanding vacation breaks. When we heard that it was, we figured it was to be a one day work week, since Howard stopped doing new Thursday shows with his last contract. So when we tuned in Thursday we were doubly delighted, both at the prospect of a fresh show, and at the very interesting SNL cast member Fred Armisen, who guested, with a new season of Portlandia about to debut. Armisen meets both major criteria for an excellent guest. He’s funny and honest. It made for interesting radio to hear Armisen candidly discuss having to borrow money while in his 30’s from disappointed parents, his failed marriage to Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss (who told a magazine recently that Armisen’s greatest impression and least employed one is that of a “normal person”), his relationship with Lorne Michaels, and how he is a life long Stern fan who, as a boy, would listen to the show in the mornings with his South American mom.
Better still was Armisen’s willingness to do the Wrap Up Show, which, let’s face it, is greatly enhanced by any outside help it can get. When Armisen was asked to weigh in on Ronnie’s practice of hopping up on the sink and washing his asshole, his genuine discomfort was priceless. The holidays are a great time to hear recounted by Howard, whether he is complaining about his Christmas gifts (always classic), or describing his disdain for travel and ill ease when on vacation (also classic). So when Armisen discussed a row boat he had gotten Lorne Michaels as a present which started Howard on a ‘Howard is unappreciated by the staff who’d be nothing without him’ rant, it gave us Howard at his best: angry Howard. It was also great to hear Armisen back Howard’s belief that going to Italy is stupid, saying that essentially Howard is right when he says that people go away to a foreign place and immediately begin to watch foreign TV while they plan where they can get their familiar tasting coffee, longing for the comforts of home, like of course, “good toilets.”
The show seems to always hum when celebrity guests are fans of the show, which was also the case on Friday–the rarest of indulgences–when super fan Natalie Maines and long time guest Dave Attell, visited the program. It seems like it was centuries ago when Howard did a Friday show, and that Robin was absent, who often lends a much needed soft balance, actually enhanced the program, for our money.
In part that is a real credit to these guests, Stern show veterans, who don’t need the buffer that Robin sometimes provides to the reticent. Natalie Maines, who we do not appreciate as an artist, is an absolutely compelling guest, both because of free speech issues and because she is geeked up on the show. Natalie Maines is a true lesson in the cautionary nature of free speech, vilified for criticizing perhaps the nation’s worst ever president, and though the Dixie Chicks were right and only exercising their 1st amendment right, it’s also true they have never recovered, and will never recover.
Now obviously it isn’t very smart to disrespect a Republican, Texan president when you are essentially a countrified novelty act, alienating a lot of your fan base. We doubt, for instance, that Eddie Veder or Dave Grohl would have suffered similarly had they have made similar remarks. The thing about Natalie Maines that one must always respect is her willingness to speak the truth, which remains undiminished despite her career travails. It was outstanding to hear her criticisms of Lisa G, who we have absolutely no use for, and which were nothing if not true. Lisa G is awful. She is a dried up, chaste spinster, a hack, annoying and overly opportunistic but who lacks the talent to justify it. Shuli’s and some other staffers’ bitterness at Lisa for cashing in on the show with her tea party/cookie party nonsense is totally warranted. At least the block parties and other comedy tours offer some entertainment value. We have to say that we have appreciated, in Howard’s quest for brevity, the consolidation of the show’s daily timeline, insofar as it has diminished Lisa’s boring bit. Consequently, we have been pleased by John Leiberman’s expanding role because he is a good sport who is good for the show, and funny, which Lisa is not. Does anyone recall Lisa with that put on bit where she considered sleeping with Ronnie? Absurd. First off, Lisa is an old maid. Secondly, Ronnie? Perhaps the most unattractive person at all of Sirius–impish, old, foul mouthed, uncouth and grotesque. When Natalie Maines called out Lisa for trying to get Back Office Radio off the air, Lisa, on the spot, said something to the effect of, ‘well, they make fun of me.’ Maine’s response summed up Lisa’s sorry existence perfectly. She said, “why don’t you take it like a man?”
BTW, Back Office Radio is actually very entertaining, especially as it comes on a day of the week when there’s no other live programming. And say what you want about Will or Jason, who we normally don’t love but who has grown on us, they are not opportunistic. They are happy to be there, and as Jason described last week when challenged to put down his pipe, loathe to disappoint Howard. You don’t see them trying to capitalize on Howard’s name every which way, or combining shameless money grabs with cheap pandering, like the nonsense about having Howard take the picture for the cover of a book. Was anything at all more transparent? In truth, we feel that Howard probably feels a bit sorry for Lisa, and so he is willing to let slide some things that he won’t tolerate from others.
After Artie’s departure, we had felt that the show was foundering a little bit, as Howard and Robin regrouped and readjusted to a show that had one less significant contributor. We worried a bit for the show’s long term prospects, but soon we saw that it was foolish to doubt Howard, and that the show was as good as always. Though in our opinion, the more is usually the merrier when we are talking about adding funny people to the mix. We always like when a person we approve of is sitting in, like for example, Jimmy Kimmel, and so we look forward to those few days a year. As we also do, of course, with the great George Tekkai, and the often great David Arquette, who brings in an interesting dynamic by his inability to not know when to shut up. We thought that when Shuli sat in for those days this fall that he was funny and wasn’t overbearing, and wondered if he wasn’t maybe on tap to be a low cost replacement in Artie’s chair. We guess the chemistry was lacking though, because Shuli hasn’t been back.
Of course, we absolutely love Sour Shoes. His appearances as in house musical talent have been stellar. Not just his musical talent either, but the voices and quirks, as well as the very interesting history/background, which Howard loves to probe. The guy basically comes upon nominal contact with a female, has not been on a date since the 90’s, and lapses into baby talk or Bababooey talk while flipping burgers at Wendy’s. What could be better? Sour Shoes would provide a lot of bang for minimal buck, which is obviously important to Sirius, which frankly, has seemed to skimp on talent and on the Stern Show, which is why we suspect that Howard is really down to 3 days a week. Howard was adamant last year that he had not and would not accept a pay cut, and technically, a reduced schedule at the same rate does not constitute one. We can also tell that the entire show really appreciates Sour Shoes’ presence there. To hear Fred be so complimentary of Sour Shoes, or Sal just gush about him, really tells us that he is not only valued but has the right chemistry for the gig. It’s a shame that Sirius has created acrimony with Howard, denying him his bonus, denying Fred and his daughter access to the One Direction concert, when obviously Fred is not the type to make untoward demands of his employers. Gary recently talked about how when they all got to Sirius, there was a lot of good will, promise, and optimism, and that “now it’s long gone.” We really hope Howard is there for a long time to come, but also feel that Howard and his people, that talent in general, needs to be respected, honored, and paid accordingly, and we’ve seen a trend away from that, with Howard being a prime example of management’s lack of respect for talent (another obvious example would be the very despicable NHL lockout).
Below is a link to the uber talented Sour Shoes in another radio appearance, this time with Mike Francesa. Take a look:
Friday’s other guest, Dave Attell, one of the flat out funniest dark comics anywhere, would be an amazing, if higher profile and more expensive option. It was great to hear Attell, whom we’ve always loved, and it was also excellent to hear Attell and Howard talk, uninterrupted by Robin, who does not need to play buffer for a comedic genius like Attell. As great as Howard is mad, he is also great when he takes a fatherly tone with people, in a sort of advisory capacity, as he often does with Sal, as he did with Jason about cannabis, and as he did with Attell regarding his career and finances. We have to apologize to Attell, as even as big fans of his, we were unaware of his Dave’s Old Porn, which we’ve now quickly sought to become acquainted with. Whether Attell is joking about his masturbation frequency or methods (‘on an old IBM mission control’), discussing his discomfort with first class flying, citing a “certain level of douchebaggery” among first class travelers, or just being candid about his life and the state of comedy, we were enthralled. As huge Doug Stanhope fans, we were very interested to hear Attell tell us that Stanhope, and another favorite, Louis CK, are the best in the business. We also thought it extremely humble of Attell, a comedy lifer, to critique his own comedy, saying that he’s definitely “not great, could be better.” It too was nice to hear him say nice things about Kathy Griffin, another favorite of ours.
We know that Attell would be a perfect fit on the show in a permanent role, and in fact, would enhance an already great product tremendously. With Attell traveling with Artie (“The Anti Social Comedy Tour”) though, and so humble and careful not to offend fellow comics, we aren’t sure how comfortable he’d be with what could be perceived by some as taking Artie’s job, though he’d have to be comfortable with the pay, especially since he is losing money on Showtime. And let’s face it. Artie has obviously moved on with another national radio show, and it would be very petty of him to stand in the away of Attell, who, frankly is a much better comic than Artie, no disrespect, whether off the cuff or as a standup. Especially since Artie has no one to blame but himself that he no longer works on the greatest radio show in history.
We’ll conclude with a kind word for Jason and his bid to go straight for a month without herb. Your predicament has inspired me to do the same, and I too, will have a party when my time is through.