Want to read some really shocking stuff? Well, you won’t find it in Howard Stern’s new autobiography, Miss America. The long-haired, middle-aged radio jock wallows in his well-worn gutter, dredging up many of the same topics he piled into his 1993 mega-seller, Private Parts. Imagine if he’d confessed to a lifelong admiration for opera diva Maria Callas. Or maybe admitted that he gives half his money to PETA. Now, that would make some jaws drop. Instead, this predictable collection of R-rated rants, anecdotes, and radio transcripts offers more of the same old Stern. You’ll read about strippers, lesbians, people who piss Stern off (his bosses, lots of celebrities, the FCC), strippers, his less-than-impressive manhood. Oh, and strippers. Even the cover — a photo of Stern in makeup and a dress — seems like déjà vu in an era of mainstream drag-queen movies.
That said, there is some good news. Stern’s all-id-all-the-time shtick may be dusty (he’s been doing it since the early ’70s), and it may no longer shock, but at times it can still be pretty darn funny. Stern can out-exaggerate Dave Barry; he can make Lenny Bruce look mellow. And he’s at his sophomoric finest when taking aim at America’s royalty — its celebrities. If you can muddle through the eye-glazing first chapter on cybersex (where you learn — surprise! — that Stern likes to masturbate), you’ll find a delightfully bizarre tale about Michael Jackson, who secretly pleaded for the mike man’s help in fighting child molestation charges. According to Stern, the King of Pop wanted him to incite fans to take to the streets in protest. Stern repays Jackson by waxing vicious, writing that the out-of-touch singer wore makeup ”so thick you feel like you could take a hunk of it off and stucco a wall.”
As in Private Parts, Stern devotes an adoring section to Stuttering John, his lackey who shouts hilariously embarrassing questions at stars. (”What’s the best thing about dinner theater?” John asked Burt Reynolds. ”The dinner or the theater?”) And the tales of Sternheads who make prank calls to rival media outlets are brilliant in their prepubescent way. (On the Today show, one caller asked Ross Perot, ”Have you ever had the desire to mind-meld with Howard Stern’s penis?”) Even the chapter on Stern’s own insecurities — he admits he once suffered from an obsessive-compulsive disorder that, for instance, forced him to enter rooms right foot forward — is sharpest when he’s mocking other star confessions. (”Every celebrity book should have revelations,” he writes. ”Jerry Seinfeld revealed, well, that he didn’t like airplane food. So Jerry’s a little shallow.”)
But these inspired moments come less often than in Stern’s first literary explosion. In between, he fills the pages with attacks on regular joes, which, unlike the celebrity bashing, aren’t cruelly funny — just plain cruel. There’s scant excuse for the chapter on the shortcomings of his staff (his employees, that is). Do we really want to know that his head writer fails to wash after going to the bathroom? Or consider the collection of rejected Miss America cover photos. One features Stern posed à la Michelangelo’s David next to a caption reading ”Big Nose, Little Hose.” Cute, in a Beavis sort of way. But another called ”Tours of Doody” shows the radio host swathed in combat fatigues about to slap a cowering Vietnamese civilian. Not cute, in any way.
As we learned in his ’94 bid to be governor of New York, Stern does consider one topic taboo: his finances. So you won’t read any numbers in Miss America, but judging from the number of scruffy frat guys who swarmed Barnes & Noble for Private Parts, this book will give him another kingly payday. The size of his bank account, in fact, is one thing that probably is pretty shocking. B-