Gary Dell’ Abate has spent the last 27 years producing Howard Stern’s radio program — Baba Booey! — a three-ring circus of calculated chaos that now reigns on Sirius — Baba Booey!! — Satellite Radio. Over the years, he’s taken part — Baba Booey!!! Fine! Over the years, Baba Booey has taken part in all sorts of shenanigans and grown accustomed to having his personal life — and dental hygiene — dissected by Stern and his court. But with the New York Times best-seller They Call Me Baba Booey, Dell’ Abate (and cowriter Chad Millman) have pulled back the curtain on his own complex childhood in Long Island, where his clinically depressed mother was prone to clobbering antagonistic neighbors with shrubs. Some fans expecting a Private Parts-esque expose of racists, strippers and carnival freaks might be disappointed, but others will be pleasantly surprised by the earnest and thoughtful telling of growing up Booey. If anyone was raised to handle the insanity of Howard Stern’s jackals, it’s Gary Dell’ Abate.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Who did you set out to write the book for?
GARY DELL’ ABATE: I was always targeting it towards the fans. There’s a lot of stuff in there that I think the fans will appreciate, but it’s not a behind-the-scenes-of-the-show book. I guess my angle was, I’ve been on the show for 27 years. If you think you know me and you like me, now you’ll really get to know me.
The book is much more personal and sober than I would’ve expected, delving into your upbringing in a very chaotic middle-class household. Was that always the plan?
I was playing with a lot of different ideas. I had been pitching around a different kind of book, a much lighter book. I’m known as the music guy on the show, so maybe a Baba Booey’s Book of Music Lists, Essays, Arguments etc etc, something like that. I talked to a book agent who I know very well, and he said, “Well, you might be able to sell that, but really, What’s your story?” And I said, “Well I don’t have a story.” And he’s like “Everybody’s got a story.” And so I went home that night and thought about it, and I called him the next day, and I said, “You want to know my story? Here’s my story.” And he goes, “That’s a great story.” I go, “Yeah, there’s one problem; I don’t really want to tell that story.” It was highly personal. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there, because I didn’t want to portray my mother in a negative way. I spoke to my wife, and she was like, “Well, hold on for a second: it’s your story too, and there’s a way to tell it without hurting people.” Then I spoke to my brother about it, and I spoke to my mom about it. It took me about a month in a half just to get there in my head.
Has your mother read the book?
She has trouble visually, but I read her portions of the book, and it’s actually opened up a dialog between us that we probably would not have had. Probably one of the more interesting moments was when I read her some of the book and she asked me, “Do you think I was a bad mother?” And I said, “No, Ma, because you were battling mental illness. If you were drinking or gambling or taking pills or any of that stuff, I could say that you were selfish. But how can you blame someone for mental illness?” And that was a really cool conversation to have because I would’ve never had that conversation with my mother if it weren’t for the book. And I probably would’ve always wondered [about those things]—and she would’ve wondered.
The book does an excellent job of showing how your homelife and your peers in Uniondale served as the perfect training ground for being a part of the Howard Stern family. Has that always been obvious to you?
I think I say in the book that my shrink sort of saw that. But my homelife could be chaotic at times and working here can be chaotic. It’s a different kind of chaos. You know, you’re doing a live show. Nothing’s really carved in stone when you’re working live, so you always have to be ready for anything. And I always felt like walking in the door of my mother’s house, I always had to be ready for any mood.
You don’t even really delve into your partnership with Howard until page 216. Did you see the book also as a way for you to separate yourself from it and kind of establish your own voice?
That might be what’s happening, but I definitely didn’t look at it that way. Again, I was writing it with a fan in mind. I never said to myself, “Oh, Oprah’s going to pick this book for her list.” I sort of knew who I was writing it for. But I’ve been getting a lot of feedback. A lot of people come up to me and they sort of whisper, “My God, I had the same mother as you.” So they sort of identify with me. I think everyone’s dealt with some sort of dysfunctionality in their life. I was just surprised at how many people.
You work at a place that isn’t exactly conducive to secrets or even privacy? Was the gang aware that you were writing the book?
I told them about the book. There were things I might tell them off the air, so they were [already] aware of a lot of stuff in the book. But there might have been some stuff in there they didn’t know — maybe they were surprised to learn that I was a bedwetter until the third grade. I mean, I hadn’t told them everything, but you get the idea.
Have they busted your balls at all since it’s been published?
They’ve been goofing on me more about my music lists that are in there. Like, “Who cares about what kind of music you like; it’s boring.” That’s what Howard’s been saying.
Your mother’s illness made me think of Artie Lange’s difficulties. Have you been in contact with him??
Artie and I have been speaking semi-regularly, probably every six weeks or two months. I spoke to him three or four weeks ago, and he’s going to do the things he needs to do every day. He’s doing his very best to get better.
Can you envision him returning to the show?
I don’t even know if we’re in a position to make that decision right now because he’s still trying to get his own thing together.
You touch on it in the book, but was there singular moment when you embraced Baba Booey as yourself, and in fact, something larger than yourself?
I’m not going to rewrite history — I did not like it at the beginning. I can’t tell you the exact moment, but there was a period three or four or five months later where it sort of grew on me, and I was like, “You know what, this isn’t so bad.”
Not counting the famous pop-cultural shout-outs, like to Peter Jennings during the O.J. Simpson Ford Bronco chase, but what’s the strangest place you’ve gotten a Baba Booey shoutout?
I’m not very religious but I went to church a couple of times after 9/11. There was this woman wearing this very matronly dress and when she handed me the program whatever, she leaned in and just said, “Big fan, big fan. Baba Booey.” I just thought that was really funny because she did not look the part at all. Just shows you, the fans are everywhere.
One of my favorite stories of yours didn’t make the book and actually involved your given name. I’m a Baltimore Orioles fan and—
The Syd Thrift story? I love that.
They’ve been bad now for so long and that story kind of encapsulates their impotence.
That made it in to Sports Illustrated, as part of a story about how dysfunctional the Baltimore Orioles organization was. I love that one. Have you ever heard the actual call? Syd Thrift actually says, ‘Oh yeah, [Gary Dell’ Abate] is one of our big prospects. He’s coming along.’
That’s my awkward segue into baseball, and I have to ask because it’s on the back cover of your book. Does it make you dry-heave a bit that your infamous first-pitch is so boldly advertised?
Well, no, because I put it there. The book company thought it would be funny, and I have a sense of humor about it. It’s funny, because when people bring it up, like you just did, it’s like they’re asking about a dead relative.
Have you really not touched a baseball since?
No, I’ve been laying low. I’m still laying low.
If the Mets called you this year, would you try it again?
I’m just not ready. One of the guys with the Mets said, “Hey, we’ll get you [back] out here.” And I’m just like, I might have to wait another year. My wife is vehemently against it.
In the book, you also get back in touch with your ex-girlfriend Nancy, and she shared her thoughts on the Tape you sent her when you were heartbroken years ago. Was she someone you had been in touch with over the years, or did you approach her out of the blue after you decided to write the book?
I’d been in touch with her sporadically over the years. We have a very good mutual friend—in fact, I think my wife even sat next to her at some baby shower. So she’s sort of been on the periphery of my group of friends, so it wasn’t a completely out-of-the-blue call. But it was really nice of her. She said she would be interviewed but I didn’t know what she was going to say. But no matter what she said, I was going to put it in the book. So, I was very happy with what she said. But it could’ve just as easily have been: “Gary was the biggest f—ing loser. What a wimp. He should turn in his manhood card now.” I was relieved to see that she said nice things.
If you could take one thing back, would it be The Tape or The Pitch?
Every day is a different answer. But probably The Pitch. The Tape was confined to the Stern universe. The Pitch just went viral. If you go to YouTube and type in “Baba Booey Pitch,” the first two [results] that come up have received like 1.1 million hits. I could kill somebody live on TV and I couldn’t get 1.1 million people to watch it. I couldn’t those kind of views again if I tried.
You write that when you first started with Howard, Steve Martin’s rep was extremely condescending to you when you tried to book his client. Has that attitude changed over the years as Howard’s popularity grew?
That was probably during my first three weeks on the show, and I think I’ve probably gained more confidence. I’m better at it now. Most people, if I get to work on them enough, I can generally talk them into coming on the show. I’m not the best-looking guy at the bar so I can’t pick you up with my looks. I have to sit and talk to you. But if you let me talk to you long enough, I can get you.
Your book started out No. 6 on the best-seller list, and now it’s hanging tough at 16. Does that give you any additional credibility at the office?
They could care less. I think they’re happy for me but they’re like, “Okay Mr. Best-Selling Author, now it’s time to get coffee for Dr. Drew.”