Rachel Maddow Visits Howard Stern
March 29, 2012 6 Comments
Yesterday, less than 48 hours after visiting David Letterman, Rachel Maddow dropped by the Sirius Satellite studios to chat with Howard Stern. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a couple weeks, since Howard first mentioned that Rachel would be coming in at some point. Heck, I’ve been waiting for years to see my favorite progressive pundit meet my favorite entertainment interviewer, and I was hoping it would go well.
The visit was a success, as Howard kept the topics moving, from Rachel’s coming out story to her political views. For the most part, he let her do her thing, which is to talk with extraordinary insight and clarity. Each of them knows their strengths.
MADDOW: You have to know what you’re talking about in order to talk for a living, but you have to know what you’re talking about, too.
STERN: Ah, I fake it. You know. If I run into trouble I fart into the microphone.
Much of the controversy of early Stern surrounded his use of the airwaves to talk about human sexuality. It’s no longer a shock when he does it, but obviously he was going to ask Maddow about her discovery that she was a lesbian. For the brainy Maddow, the process seems to have been in part intellectual.
MADDOW: I figured it out through rational deduction. I decided that that must be what it is. I was thinking about it and decided it….I really didn’t figure it out until I was sixteen or seventeen.
STERN: That’s wild to me. But maybe that’s like me with OCD, and I’m not comparing the two. I’m saying that there are certain realizations that come to you in life and they probably were always there, but you just don’t realize it.
MADDOW: You don’t put a name to it. You don’t think hard enough about it to understand what it is.
STERN: Were you distraught and scared when you learned you were gay?
MADDOW: I was relieved that I had figured something out and sort of made everything make sense, and I was worried that I was going to have a hard life, and I was also very happy. I thought, “Oh, this means that I’m never going to be living at home with my parents when I’m thirty. Awesome. I will have to leave.”
Maddow made the choice to go to Stanford rather than live at home for a year to rehab an injury and go to play volleyball at a school whose team wasn’t as good at Stanford’s. Coming out to her parents did not happen in a way that made her proud.
MADDOW: It wasn’t that clear to me by the end of high school. I figured it out in college and I started dating girls in college….My problem was that I was so cocky and full of myself that I decided that I was going to do an interview with the newspaper, the campus newspaper — and I only went to college like thirty miles away from where I grew up — and so I did an interview with the campus paper and I said “Don’t run it until after the weekend, ’cause I’m going to go home this weekend and come out with my parents.” And of course they ran it and somebody mailed it to my parents and that’s how they found out, which is not nice.
It was Stern sidekick Robin Quivers who got the crux of Rachel’s realization of her homosexuality…
QUIVERS: Did it make perfect sense?
MADDOW: That’s what it was. That’s what was important to me. It was like, yes, I have had this hypothesis about what might be true about me. Yes, it turns out this thing is true about me. Okay, case closed.
…while Howard pressed Rachel on why her parents were upset to learn that that she was gay…
MADDOW: I think they were hurt that I was gonna have a hard life. They’re very Catholic and so they were worried that I was doing a sinful thing and it means I was going to go to hell, but also I think they were upset with me that they had raised somebody so callous and nasty that I would do something so rude as to disrespect them enough to not tell them, but tell the newspaper.
When it comes to weighing whether or not to come out, Rachel provided some pretty pertinent advice.
MADDOW: Here’s the great news that I have for people who are deciding whether or not to come out, especially if you’re a young person deciding whether you want to live a closeted life or an out life. If you come out, gay people will find you. If you are in the closet, it is harder to find other gay people.
Howard then used the issue of being gay to pivot to politics and the issue of gay rights.
STERN: Doesn’t it anger you when you see guys like Rick Santorum so happy to bash gays and gay marriage and talk about how they’re sinning. In this day and age don’t you find this remarkable, that this asshole is running around the country encouraging people to feel shitty about themselves, and Michele Bachmann’s running around with her husband saying we gotta convert gay people. I mean, what are we doing?
MADDOW: The comfort that I take in that is that they look ridiculous.
STERN: They do.
MADDOW: They really look like a living, embarrassing artifact of a way that people used to think.
STERN: But yet when people in Louisiana vote for Rick Santorum, aren’t you shocked that there’s two people that would vote for this guy? I am. I am outraged by it.
MADDOW: I think that the Republican Party has gone a little bit nuts. Since George W. Bush I don’t really think they know who they are, but I don’t think that they have gone nuts in a way that would make them pick Rick Santorum.
When Howard brought up her personal sexual practices, Rachel demonstrated the best way to deal with it for Stern guests who don’t feel comfortable talking about their sex lives in public. She politely declined to talk about it. Howard himself has often mentioned that himself, that guests aren’t required to answer the questions, but of course it helps that Rachel is an expert broadcaster who feels very comfortable with not going into areas where she is uncomfortable. She also has a sense of humor about it all, as she demonstrated when the topic turned to porn.
STERN: Do you read Playboy or any of those kind of things or are you too intellectual?
MADDOW: No, I don’t. I just don’t get around to it.
STERN: You won’t look at pornography?
MADDOW: No, not really. I don’t really have much time.
QUIVERS: You’re acting like you would if you have the time.
MADDOW: I’m not saying that I wouldn’t.
STERN: You’re too busy for porn?
MADDOW: That sounds like an epitaph. That will actually be on my gravestone. Rachel Maddow, born 1973, dead whenever. Too busy for porn.
Part of the interest that the two showed in each other was, understandably, one of fellow broadcasters, so Stern quizzed her about her scheduling and her approach to the TV show when it comes to the practicalities. Maddow summed up what they’re trying to do during their daily preparations.
MADDOW: What we’re doing is we’re trying to understand what the universe of news is for the day and what should therefore be on our show….It’s like, what’s important to say, who have we booked, and what is something about which we can make good TV.
It was sweet to hear the two of them compliment each other. Here’s how Howard started the whole interview off…
STERN: I admire your intelligence. You know, I watch your show and I go, “Gee, if I had that kind of intelligence I wouldn’t have to be doing this.”
…while here’s Rachel once it becomes clear that the interview is coming near a close…
MADDOW: I go on Meet the Press and I, like, won an Emmy and I have my own TV show and all this stuff. The people I grew up with and the people I know from way back — my oldest friends in the world — nobody cares about any of that. All anybody cares about is that I’m here right now.
…and the two of them dancing together…
MADDOW: I have listened to you on and off over the course of my lifetime. You are a central cultural feature of my entire generation. Everybody who I grew up with only cares what you think no matter what anybody else in the world thinks of me, and the fact that you like me really means a lot to me.
STERN: I do like you and you make a lot of sense and you’re an intelligent woman and you’re not knee-jerk. You have interesting opinions. I don’t always know what’s going to come out of your mouth. That’s why you’re a good broadcaster.
So Stern admires Maddow for her intelligence and Maddow speaks to Stern’s cultural importance. That seems like a fair assessment to me.
There’s more to hear in the interview, such as stories about Rachel moving to western Massachusetts, meeting her girlfriend, and how she got started in radio, plus some political insights into war, which is of course the subject of Rachel’s book Drift. It was an appearance that I suspect will be interesting to both those who know her life very well, and those who are new to admiring Maddow.