Private Parts

The best comment on Howard Stern’s
Private Parts came in the New Yorker cartoon that showed one
rueful movie-goer saying to the other:
“I think I hate liking Howard Stern
even more than I liked hating him.”
Here he presents himself, with the help of Betty (Brady Bunch) Thomas, as just a good old-fashioned, all-American success story: the man who, when
said it couldn’t be done, went ahead
and did it. But now, instead of discovering America or inventing the airplane or
flying the Atlantic, our hero is saying forbidden words on the air. Well,
it’s a sign of the times.

He is also rather like the early Woody Allen of Bananas and
Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex, because his film is a
procession of gags loosely tied together by their relation to the figure of the
paradoxically nebbishy hero. Although the film has a sort of plot in that it
purports to be a biopic about Stern, nearly all its energies go into a cinematic
re-creation of the radio gags which made Stern famous. In this it is rather a
disappointment. Miss Thomas boldly struck out in a new direction in The Brady
and created a model of what such a picture ought to be (given that it
has to be at all), but with Private Parts she has contented herself with
presenting the familiar Howard to a wider audience. Presumably
that’s the way Stern wanted it.

To be fair, the jokes seem to wear well. Although many of them were new to
me, I noticed that even long-time Stern devotees who must have heard them many
times before were thoroughly delighted with this version of the familiar
material. Also like the early Woody Allen (not so much the later one), the guy
is funny.

Stern’s innovation is to make his
family the subject of much of his humor even though it is not remarkable for
good or for ill. The ordinary sex life of himself and wife, in particular, is
constantly discussed. The wife, Alison, here played by Mary McCormack (Stern and
his sidekicks Robin Quivers and Fred Norris and Jackie Martling all play
themselves), must be remarkably patient. We also meet his parents, and it is
even more remarkable to reflect that he is still apparently on speaking terms
with his father, Ben Stern, who is represented as saying almost nothing to
Howard throughout his childhood except to tell him that he is a moron and to
shut up. Then, when the young Howard announces that he wants to go into radio
the father says, incredulously, “How
can you be on the radio? You never say

There is an excellent performance by Paul Giamatti as Kenny, the program
director at WNBC whom Stern called
Vomit” for constantly trying
(unsuccessfully) to rein him in. His tormenting of this man — which includes
getting his wife on the air and telling her that her husband needs more sex from
her because he is getting
and must be “backed
up” — is thoroughly amusing. So it
is when an apoplectic Kenny tells Howard:
“You are the
anti-Christ!” But that
doesn’t alter the fact that Kenny may
be right.

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