Howard Stern is a rare pop cultural phenomenon: He’s both thrilling and boring. I love that he’s around, and I love that he continues to revolutionize radio by seizing the format’s immediacy and whipping around vulgar candor. To some, he’s better than caffeine. But when all is said and done, Howard Stern’s point of view is pretty damn palatable and un-astounding, right? If I remember correctly, he’s a fart joke connoisseur and a conscientious loudmouth. Would it break your heart to suggest that farts are finitely funny? And that TV, comedy, and the internet are full of conscientious loudmouths now? While Howard Stern will always be the King of All Media, his mighty fiefdom has many bankable heirs.
That brings us to America’s Got Talent, the utterly ridiculous NBC talent competition that Howard Stern is suddenly co-judging. With Piers Morgan out of the picture, Stern is left — with an astounding paycheck — to act as the most stone-faced barrister on the panel, or at least the most willingly negative. And yet, he wasn’t negative during last night’s premiere: He was downright chipper, noting several times how much fun he was having and remarking upon one contestant, “We are the greatest country in the world. We have the most creative people.” That’s a far cry from the strippers and bastardly call-ins of his radio gig.
While I’d give Stern kudos for addressing his impatience with dance acts (“Sometimes when the dance acts come on, I hit the fast-forward and I just don’t get it.”) and proclaiming his love for his “X” button (“I like massaging it”), I still want to give him a few pointers. Here are five that came to mind.
1. Don’t lose that lip — or you’ll turn into Steven Tyler (figuratively, literally)
It’s a little disconcerting that during the audition period, the only time when competing acts are worthy of mockery, Stern chose to remain diplomatic. It’s not like he’ll have more opportunities later to eviscerate an un-coordinated dancer or a bizarre bird lady. This should be Stern’s time to shine, and unfortunately he’s seeming as perky and sidemouth-smirky as Steven Tyler. You may not remember this, but when Tyler and Jennifer Lopez took over Idol, they were universally praised for being honest and fun during auditions. As the season progressed and the recurring acts kept being competent, the bemused Tyler had much less to say and became something of a shill. I hope that doesn’t happen to Stern, who has less expertise about America’s Got Talent‘s miscellaneous performers than Tyler does about Idol‘s balladeers.
2. Get specific
Naturally, there were exactly two kinds of “talent” on display last night: “totally talented” and “not talented at all.” The judges had no problem sorting the awesome from the abysmal (with a strange moment of delusion from Howie Mandel, who didn’t “X” the bleating bird lady), but their criticisms could’ve been more specific. Sharon Osbourne did a fine job detailing the “crispness” and “precision” of a clogging troupe’s routine, but Stern rarely had anything more substantial to say during the entire two-hour premiere than, “This has been the most touching moment for me” when commenting on a father-daughter duo’s act.
3. Mock Howie Mandel more
Though Mandel joined AGT during its fifth season, he’s still a twisted oddball who seems worthy of a psychological evaluation and a new inhaler. He remains the weirdest thing about this show, and I’m including the self-impaling clown in that estimate. If Howard Stern doesn’t spend more time mocking Mandel’s hyper-stimulated zeal, I worry that I’ll never see the Howard I once loved on-screen — the compulsive sh*t-caller. Yes, AGT is about positivity, but it’s also not about restraint. Let it out, Howard.
4. Continue sticking up for the hokey categories
Let’s throw in some positive reinforcement: I loved when Howard told a competing magician that he believed a magician could and should be able to win America’s Got Talent. To the world that isn’t intimately familiar with AGT‘s psycho carnival of delights, acts like musicians can seem old-fashioned or staid. When Stern reinforced his belief in magicians, it somehow made the entire competition exciting. Though the wide swath of talents is actually a burden that prevents the panelists from articulately discussing each performance (You won’t see anything resembling the mastery of So You Think You Can Dance‘s judges here.), Stern’s vocal championing of a “sideshow” type legitimized the weird competition at hand. I believed in magicians too, suddenly!
5. Remember the great sardonic hosts and copy them.
I have five different game show hosts who Stern should remember when considering the presence he wants to have on the panel. 1) Ken Ober, of Remote Control: Embrace the show’s mania, but allow yourself to be dour too, when need be. Misanthropy works! David Letterman would approve. 2) Joan Rivers, of Fashion Police: Stick to mean one-liners every once in awhile. Ultimately, nailing punchlines makes everyone like you more, regardless of how cruel your gags are. 3) Howard Stern, of The Howard Stern Show: He’s a firebrand who says what he wants, calls people idiots, and can’t stop talking. That bravado could break through AGT‘s choppy editing style, demand extra screen time, and make the whole show’s critical side more real and funny. Copy that guy the most, Howard.
How do you think Howie did on America’s Got Talent? Fine? Good? Boring? Like me, are you waiting for an imminent Robin Quivers cameo?