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Those who would dismiss the show as toilet talk and racist humor miss the point. If it's about stereotypes, it's also about poking fun at those who created them; it's about sex, but it's also about a guy who rarely has any. Stern's the brilliant idiot of talk radio -- the smartest 15-year-old in the world, as one pop-culture critic refers to him. Unlike most call-in shows, this one's all about the host and his "wack pack," the friends and freaks he stuffs into the studio every morning from 6 to 10 a.m. -- the celebrities (William Shatner once went willingly into the Homo Room), the deviants (one regular guest is a porn star who set the world's gangbang record -- and Stern still has to ask whether she'd sleep with him?), and the defective hangers-on with speech impediments who are there to amuse the host.
Stern is a superstar not because he panders to the lowest common denominator -- indeed, various Arbitron ratings studies have shown that his demographics skew toward older, upper-middle-class audiences with incomes exceeding $70,000 and homes worth $300,000. He is a phenomenon because he comes off as an average guy sitting in your bedroom, your car, your office each morning. He's a paroxysm of frustration for those who listen to the show only on the surface, a shrewd commentator for those who dig beneath that surface, the last angry comic for those who'd lump him in with Lenny Bruce and Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks. He hates everybody, mostly himself.
Private Parts is not Howard Stern's first big-screen appearance. Indeed, he had a bit part in a 1984 film called Ryder, P.I., a no-budget detective spoof in which Stern played a wacky newscaster.
Stern almost made his feature debut four years ago with The Adventures of Fartman, based on the flatulence-propelled superhero he created for the radio and who, later, made a much-ballyhooed appearance on the MTV Music Video Awards show -- much to the chagrin of a viewing audience ill-prepared for the sight of Stern's milk-white, flabby ass. (Appropriately enough, the film Private Parts begins with a re-creation of this rather auspicious occasion in Stern's life.) But Stern and New Line Cinema, which was prepared to make Fartman, couldn't agree on licensing rights -- they figured, with all seriousness, that Fartman dolls would fly off shelves -- so Stern walked.
Then in stepped Ivan Reitman, director of Ghostbusters, Twins, Stripes, and myriad other well-received and ultraprofitable comedies. Reitman is a longtime Stern fan and perhaps the only Hollywood player not immediately repulsed by him. The director says he told Stern as far back as 1991 he should make a film about his life; Reitman might even direct, he suggested, giving Stern the sort of instant legitimacy he could never receive belching into that microphone every morning.
"I thought he was an original voice," Reitman says. "I pitched him. I said, 'I think it should be a biographical film, I think you should star as yourself, I think it should be almost documentary in feel.' It just took awhile for that to happen."
Indeed, as Reitman went off to make Dave, the presidential comedy with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, Stern turned away from filmmaking and began writing (with Larry "Ratso" Sloman) his first book. Stern actually tried to get Reitman to direct or produce The Adventures of Fartman, but the director passed.
Reitman considered buying Private Parts when no other studio wanted to touch it. Stern's 1994 New Year's Eve special nearly ruined his bankability in Hollywood: Crass, boorish, and surprisingly juvenile for a man who had learned to turn the outlandish and trenchant into high lowbrow art.
"There was a fear I would be somewhat ostracized, thought of strangely" for working with Stern after the New Year's special, Reitman says. "Having just made Dave and Twins and Ghostbusters -- these sort of grand traditional Hollywood films -- what the hell was I doing working with this outcast?"
After the publication of Private Parts, Stern entered into a deal with Rysher Entertainment Inc. to make a film version of his autobiography; at one point, John Avildsen had been signed on to direct, perhaps because Stern liked the idea of Rocky's director bringing his own underdog story to the screen. But Avildsen eventually backed off the project, perhaps because Stern kept rejecting script after script.
Eventually, Reitman got back involved and brought in longtime collaborator Len Blum, who penned Meatballs and Stripes, to write the script; he also brought in The Brady Bunch Movie and The Late Shift director Betty Thomas, the former Hill Street Blues star who proved she had a deft, affectionate, irreverent touch with pop-culture icons from Greg Brady to David Letterman. Stern would fit right in.
In the end, Private Parts is less about the famous Howard Stern and more about a gawky young man who stumbled through myriad radio jobs until he found his voice -- or, more accurately, his roar. He's portrayed as a nerd who becomes enamored of radio at a young age, a fumbler who can't get laid because of his awkward height and goofy looks, a clumsy DJ who can't even keep the needle on the record. It's a love story, boy meets Marconi -- and gets the girl to boot.