Howard Stern’s “King of All Media” shtick got real in 1997.
The shock jock’s “Private Parts” debuted in first place in stateside theaters, and the comedy’s soundtrack similarly bowed atop the record charts.
It gave Stern a triumphant moment after years of media attacks, firings and related embarrassments.
Stern was truly King, and for much more than just a day.
Looking back at the film and Stern’s legacy inspires nostalgia and sadness. Stern left his wife, Alison, two years after the film’s release despite the movie’s framing of their marriage as loving and vital to his career. He moved to satellite radio nine years later, leaving terrestrial radio restrictions in the dust.
And, of course, Stern eventually lost the irreverent spirit that catapulted him to fame. He kissed up to the same celebrity class he once bemoaned, became agoraphobic during the COVID-19 pandemic and stood down as free speech came under assault.
The movie has aged beautifully, in no small part thanks to Betty Thomas’ direction. The “Hill Street Blues” alum took a rag-tag group of non-actors, particularly Stern, and molded them into a tight, credible unit.
Stern looks slightly overmatched a time or two, but otherwise proves to be a solid actor with the comedy instincts radio fans knew all too well. It’s an earnest performance that shocked many at the time.
With today being the 25th anniversary of the release of the Howard Stern movie ‘Private Parts,’ here’s a history of people starring in their own biopic: https://t.co/dedZbYx0tu pic.twitter.com/olvETafhop
— Film School Rejects (@rejectnation) March 7, 2022
The film’s structure is cheeky and fitting with Stern’s improv approach. We see show producer Garry Dell’abate coordinating title cards to separate various chapters of Stern’s career. Other segments follow a former D.C. radio executive (future star Allison Janney) describing Stern’s boorish on-air behavior with disgust.
It works. All of it. “Private Parts” is one of the ’90s best comedies, constructed from purposeful chaos.
That’s not the revelation that matters in 2023.
The film’s content will likely be shocking to those unfamiliar with Stern or immersed in today’s snowflake culture. The on-screen Stern jokes about killing babies in Vietnam, his wife’s miscarriage and other taboo topics.
The radio star ogles women incessantly, complains about his sexless marriage and coaxes beautiful women to strip in his studio.
Thomas’ camera doesn’t belittle those Id-like moments. It celebrates them.
They defined his appeal, his bond with his loyal flock. He said what everyone was thinking, from the jokes we’re not allowed to tell to the impulses we know not to pursue.
Stern did it for us.
And, if you loathed his R-rated observations, you could always turn off the radio. That simple truth exists today, but it’s rarely evoked in our Cancel Culture age.
20 years ago today, July 8, 2003 David Lee Roth released his 6th and most recent solo album, ‘Diamond Dave’.
Performing “Ice Cream Man” on the Howard Stern Show in September 2002. pic.twitter.com/CHjuAw4Z94
— Boston Radio Watch®️ (@bostonradio) July 8, 2023
“Private Parts” couldn’t exist today. Nor could the Stern of the mid-90s. He might thrive as a podcaster, where some of the cultural forces that censor raw talent are kept at partial bay.
The entertainment mainstream wouldn’t accept his high jinks no matter how successful he proved. If ABC could fire Roseanne Barr over one awful Tweet, acknowledging it would cost her and the network millions, then Stern would get canned after his first problematic moment.
No more “Private Parts.”
Back then, his boffo ratings gave him all the cover he needed.
Stern’s legacy has been damaged by his creative decline, but the media will never be the same thanks to his innovations. Listen to any radio show today and you’ll hear hosts banter with the various producers and crew members just like Stern did decades ago.
He broke down the stuffy barriers in a tightly controlled medium, and it’s likely some of today’s top talkers grew up listening to his unexpurgated rants.
“Private Parts” serves as a hilarious time capsule of a culture willing to let creative giants thrive. Watching it today is both fun and frustrating, the latter because the next Howard Stern may self-censor before he or she can be the next media “King.”