Chris Nashawaty
November 20, 1998 AT 05:00 AM EST

It’s somehow your duty as a journalist to read Jerry Springer the riot act. Upon meeting him, you tick down the laundry list of charges painting him as one of the devil’s cloven-hoofed minions. You argue that his show is a satanic opiate knocking America into a morality coma so he can lead it down to the fiery depths of hell. That Oprah calls his show ”foul.” You even suggest he has no definable talent — what he’s got is enough restraint to stand back while his guests turn his talk-show set into a brawling, pimp-slapping Shangri-la.

Springer doesn’t squirm. He doesn’t protest. He doesn’t throw a chair at you. He just flashes you a conspiratorial smile as if to say ”It’s okay…you can admit it: You dig the show, right?” And without a moment’s hesitation, he pleads guilty on all counts.

”I don’t have any talent,” says 54-year-old Springer. ”There’s no reason a shlub like me should be a success. A dolt could do what I do. But I’ve never made apologies for the show. I know it’s a total circus. It’s not a talk show, there’s no talking.” You sink back into your seat, defeated. How can you knock Jerry Springer when Jerry Springer is so comfortable with Jerry Springer? He continues, ”Look, if I’m Satan, then we’re all okay — because then Satan ain’t that bad.”

Springer digs into a brimming bowl of peanut-cashew medley in L.A.’s swank Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel. Tonight, the joint’s hosting a glitzy Democratic fund-raiser starring Hillary Clinton. Bigwigs clad in tuxedos and sequined evening wear are here to discuss ”the politics of meaning.” But as Springer bounds through the lobby, the smart set swarms him, and the collective IQ of the room drops like a stone as they cry ”Jerry!” Suddenly, it feels like the only person left in America who hasn’t seen Springer’s show is the First Lady (c’mon, you know her husband has).

All of this is no doubt a bountiful omen for Springer’s first starring role in Ringmaster (Nov. 25). Anyone could guess that a healthy chunk of the daytime carny barker’s nearly 8 million viewers will probably turn out. But with these swells on board, heck, it could be the next Private Parts. Not that Springer’s film is anything like Howard Stern’s outrageous biopic. ”I’d never do a movie like that,” he says. ”That’s way too personal.” But with his top-rated TV show, his chart-busting arsenal of too-hot-for-TV videos (more than a half-million copies sold), a country-music CD (not quite as many copies sold), and a just-released behind-the-scenes tome (titled Ringmaster!), Springer’s making a fevered bid to become the newly crowned King of All Media — even if it backfires and sends him back to being the court jester of one.

Ringmaster showcases two feuding, dysfunctional families appearing on The Jerry Show (a fictionalized version of The Jerry Springer Show). But Springer says you can expect the same sort of lowbrow, dog-and-pony-show antics. ”Normally, I’d say that for theatrical purposes we exaggerated,” he laughs. ”But how can you exaggerate what we do?” In other words, Ringmaster is not Springer’s Beloved. ”Hopefully, it’s my Dumb and Dumber,” he cracks, adding ”Siskel and Ebert are going to wish they had a third thumb so they could stick it right up my a– .” Maybe they’ll just shrug and utter Jerry’s mantra: ”It’s a crazy world…have fun with it.”

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