How do you honor a guest your show banned without explanation?
Howard Stern had to thread that needle this week after the passing of famed funnyman Gilbert Gottfried. The beloved comic, 67, once appeared on “The Howard Stern Show” regularly to crack wise about the latest headlines and more.
Several media accounts put the number of Gottfried appearances at 122, a number Stern himself confirmed. Except that number stopped several years ago, and there’s no official reason as to why.
Stern can be tight-lipped when it suits him. Gottfried didn’t publicly mention it, although he continued to appear on other shows and podcasts over the last few years. Others noticed, though, including someone who once resided in Stern’s inner circle.
You read right! I just started a Twitter Jihad with none other than Gilbert Gottfried! PS: I actually love Gilbert but we both have been banned from the Howard Stern Show and we aren’t moving tickets like we used too. So I came up w this brilliant marketing plan!!
— Artie Lange (@artiequitter) May 29, 2018
Stern paid an odd tribute to Gottfried on the April 13 edition of “The Howard Stern Show,” heard on SiriusXM. He hailed the comic’s obvious genius and contributions to the show.
“There’s a reason I had him on 143 times … he was always funny.” (He later corrected that number)
Yet when a caller pressed Stern on why Gottfried hadn’t appeared on the program for some time, the host deflected the question.
It gets worse.
Stern vaguely confirmed the comedian’s absence from his show before making Gottfried’s death about … him.
“I tried so many times to put him in different things because I was convinced Gilbert could be the greatest superstar on the planet if he would just take a little direction,” Stern said. “But Gilbert was not up for it.”
Stern said Gottfried never played by the rules, ignored conventional wisdom and couldn’t corral his comic impulses to climb the industry ladder like other stars.
The radio star noted all of the above with frustration.
“He was the most talented human being on the planet, but I also felt like he just marched to the beat of his own drum,” Stern said.
That’s why Gottfried’s comic legacy will only grow over time, while Stern’s shrinks at an alarming rate.
Stern was once as outrageous, and legendary, as Gottfried. He, too, played by his own rules, forced the culture to bend to his comic vision and earned iconic status along the way.
Then, slowly, Stern sold out. He raged against freedom, followed the progressive playbook on COVID-19 and stopped fighting for uncensored speech like he did in the 1990s.
His attacks on President Donald Trump, and more specifically his base, earned him all the praise the press refused to give him during his rise to glory. The self-described King of All Media noticed, of course.
Stern’s disappointment that Gottfried didn’t follow his blueprint is more than revealing.
The old Stern used to marvel at comedian Sam Kinison, cheering his off-stage antics and willingness to do or say just about anything. They were chums, at least on air, and Stern opened up his microphone to Kinison whenever possible.
Stern knew a rebel when he saw one, and those kindred spirits always had a place on his show. Stern 2.0 would have banned Kinison, too, no doubt.
Stern fans could have enjoyed years of Gottfried appearances. It would have made the last two years, much of it spent in various states of lockdown, more tolerable.
Instead, the radio star cast him out, lest his irreverent spirit highlight just how much the host had changed over time.