Howard Stern Is Offensive on America’s Got Talent

Offensively sappy.

I have never watched America’s Got Talent before, but I tuned in this week just to see the show’s newest judge, shock jock Howard Stern. Here’s the short take: Stern has gone softer than the Pillsbury Doughboy.

The show promoted the longtime radio personality as a bad boy, complete with a video montage set to the Rolling Stones hit “Sympathy for the Devil.” But he’s mostly a cheerleader.

The Stern on America’s Got Talent is a far cry from the shock jock whose bits like “Lesbian Dial-a-Date” pushed the boundaries of radio. When Stern first aired in Philadelphia on 94 WYSP in 1986, he was original and edgy. The humor was often biting. After toppling the unfunny Morning Zoo radio host John DeBella in the ratings four years later, Stern held a mock funeral in Philly.

For 20 years, Stern dominated the shock jock format. Yes, he was bawdy and sophomoric, but it was great radio with hilarious bits and provocative interviews. The show was entertaining and honest. Of course, Stern can be narcissistic. He became unbearable while making and promoting a movie about his own career.

While Stern calls himself the “King of All Media,” he is clearly the King of All Self-Promoters. But when Stern moved to subscription-based satellite radio in 2006, I and millions of others stopped listening. (Paying for cable TV is bad enough, but I draw the line at radio.)

Plus, his act had gotten old. Even still, I was looking forward to seeing Stern on TV—unlike the Parents Television Council, which protested Stern’s hiring and urged advertisers to boycott the show. Obviously, Stern would have to be much more restrained for network TV, but I didn’t think he would turn into such a wuss.

Stern was hugging, dancing and heaping praise on lots of B-list acts. The low point came when he voted to advance a guy dressed as a janitor who played a flute-like broom. That act has no shot at winning.

Granted, Stern is older (58) and, dare we say, he may have even matured. (Perhaps years of therapy has made him kinder and gentler.) But when did Stern become so warm and fuzzy?

The Washington Post said Stern has become a “beloved uncle.” One dance group wasn’t much better than some of the performers in the New York subway. But Stern loved them. “This is going to sound sappy, but we are the greatest country in the world,” he said. “We have the most creative people.” Ugh.

Stern did have a few funny lines. The best was when he and the show’s other judges, Howie Mandel and Sharon Osborne, got stuck in an elevator backstage along with Mandel’s 80-year-old mother. Stern became unnerved and appeared ready to push past Mandel’s mother when the door finally opened.

Mandel joked: “You trampled my mother.” Stern replied: “She’s lived long enough. If I die, it’s important to the show. Your mother’s expendable.”

Other than that is was mostly valentines from Stern. Perhaps, for a reported $20 million a year, Stern will play nice in order to please the nervous bosses at NBC, or Comcast. (WNBC fired Stern in 1985.) Or just maybe deep down, Stern was always a nice guy and his radio personality has always been more shtick and bravado.

Either way, watching the AGT Howard Stern is like watching Muhammad Ali at the end of his boxing career. He no longer stings like a bee.