I ended up getting a subscription yesterday so that I could listen to that entire Ben Affleck interview with Howard Stern (which was two hours and 15 minutes and took up a significant part of my day, OMG) – and I think I’m going to end up keeping it, because every time I listen to a Howard Stern interview top to bottom, I always come away from it all pumped up about how great he is at his job.
For starters, and to his advantage, Howard gets more time than almost anyone else. Celebrities know, when they agree to a Howard interview, that they have to park themselves there for a while, with no conversational restrictions. This is Howard, he’s wealthier and more influential than almost everyone he interviews; no publicist is telling him what he can and can’t ask. Not that Howard goes straight to salacious every time – at least not anymore; Howard Stern has been around a long time, and in his “shock jock” days, yes, all he wanted was to get dirty, just for dirty’s sake. As he told the NY Times in 2019, “I had interviewed every porn star about every orifice” and “I am the poster boy for doing everything offensive. I’ve done insane things.” But also, in that same interview, after so many years of that, Howard “couldn’t be that guy anymore”.
That may be one of the reasons so many celebrities reveal so much about themselves when they’re talking to him – because it’s quite obvious that the person asking them questions hasn’t been perfect, has said and done “insane things”, and is actually interested in having a conversation and learning something from their interview. At the same time, Howard’s priority in the interview is weighted heavier on the listener, which is also a key to his success.
Unlike, for example, Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett, who also often get an hour or more with celebrities for their podcast, and their show is very entertaining for what it is, but Howard isn’t friends with the celebrities who come on his show – nor does he want to be. He’s courteous, he approaches the discussion with integrity and curiosity and respect, of course, and he’s forthcoming with his admiration for them, but he also doesn’t have to have dinner with them right after, or be in a movie with them the following month, or run into them at an award show next year. Which means he can go places in an interview without having to worry about sensitivities and/or consequences and he can also push on an idea or pull a thread that he wants to follow, sometimes obsessively.
There were moments in this interview with Ben Affleck where Howard went righhhhht up to the line of discomfort. He may have even crossed it by a hair in the questions he was asking and the statements he was making about Ben’s father, this was the thing Howard didn’t seem like he could let go of. And that may be a pattern for him because my friend Lolo told me this morning that Howard was also similarly obsessed with Neil Young’s relationship with his father on a recent episode. Howard, apparently, is per Lolo, a “Subject Matter Expert on bad fathers”. So it’s another example of our lens – we all have our lens, our worldviews, through which we process and filter other stories. For Howard, clearly, it’s a father thing. And where that applied to Ben Affleck, it was almost relentless the way he kept pressing Ben on what a loser his father was (I don’t want to use this word, but I’m telling you, Howard was HARSH on Ben’s dad), and how much damage he inflicted on his children. I’m still not sure how I feel about Howard’s technique here but it was definitely something to see (or hear), because there’s almost no one in this business who has that kind of latitude. And he gets away with it not only on reputation but also…preparation.
Howard Stern is not winging it. After all this time, he studies as thoroughly – maybe even more – than he ever has. It’s obvious in every one of his interviews, and in this one with Ben, that he reads and watches and memorises everything he can before his guests arrive, and his recall is spectacular. Again, with Ben’s dad, it’s like he could have written a biography on Tim Affleck. But he also knew smaller details about Ben’s career, here and there he would casually drop in a factoid to get Ben going on something else (the Robin Williams part was one of the highlights of this interview and it came from Howard’s impressive recall). We’re dealing here with a master at the celebrity interview, a gift to all of us who consume pop culture, someone who cares deeply about his work, after decades at the top, and millions of dollars, still approaching the work with commitment and effort and thought.
So it’s not surprising that Howard was disappointed and he said as much yesterday on his show. He talked about the backlash on Ben from what amounted to less than 20 seconds during an interview that spanned two hours and 15 minutes, and how frustrating it is for him because the way Ben’s comments have been, according to Howard, mischaracterised in the media undermines what he considered an insightful, honest, and rare and complete celebrity interview by reducing it to one comment taken out of context. For Howard, it would feel like a professional insult.
This is why I wanted to listen to all of it before writing about it. I mean, in theory, that’s how it’s supposed to work, right? I know that’s not possible for everyone. I know that I’m in a position where I can get a subscription as a professional necessity and you may not be able to. And also that you may not have two hours and 15 minutes to spend on Ben Affleck and whether or not he was a dick in how he spoke about his ex-wife. If that’s the case, and you’ve come here for my take on it, I appreciate that. Please know that I’m working on it, it’s going to take some time for me to put my thoughts in order since there was SO MUCH that was covered in this interview (did I mention it’s over two hours long???) so I might have to do it in reverse order and get to Ben’s statement on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last night before getting to a much longer post on the actual substance of his entire discussion with Howard Stern, who always shows his work.
Yours in gossip,