Howard Stern

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Howard Stern Comes Again is a collection of (mostly recent) interviews from the Howard Stern Show.

The last time I heard Stern was in 1998. My summer job was sealing asphalt and one guy loved Stern. He was a hard worker so I didn’t mind pairing up with him but I just didn’t get Stern. It was too early. This book of interviews is smart, funny, and insightful. Stern is contrite and kind. This might be the ultimate book where your mileage will vary but here’s a taste of a few lessons I learned.

The hedonic treadmill is real. Most every guest is rich. Stern is rich too. But money isn’t everything. The celebrities, the actors, the guitarists, the lead singers, and the comedians are also parents, brothers, wives, and friends. They still have problems in their lives, challenges with their health, and obstacles every day.

In what Stern calls my best interview ever, he asks Conan O’Brien about turning down a deal from Fox for twenty-million dollars. Conan replies, “I never made a decision in my career based on money. Not once.” For him, the value was in the body of work. Conan valued his portfolio more than another portico.

Each year there’s a new number. According to Nature, it’s $95,000. But the real number is something else. ‘Enough’ is only enough when it meets expectations. Like pouring water into a graduated cylinder, at a certain level, it’s all you need. Only we change. We adapt to the hedonic treadmill, up and down. The way to get off, as Conan noted, is to want something else.

Work, work, work, work. Stern writes in the introduction, “Nothing is casual. Everything requires work, research and thought.” Throughout the book, the interviewees comment on Stern’s preparedness. Stern may seem like someone who just rolls out of bed and does his show, but that’s how good he is. Prepare enough and anything looks easy.

Stern asks Madonna why celebrities aren’t friends with each other. “Because everybody is busy working,” she tells him.

Before commenting on how hard their jobs are, most interviewees point out they aren’t complaining. It’s easy to think that someone making millions of dollars a year should be breaking their back and busting their hump. They did, they do. Chris Rock said, “Malcolm Gladwell (and 10,000 hours) in the closest I come to religion.”

When Steve Martin ventured away from the warm safety of television writing to be a standup comedian he was scared. Instead of being a writer, magician, and comedian he would just be one. He hit the road because “The lonely road with nobody watching was the place to dig up my boldest – or dumbest – ideas and put them on stage.” Stern too writes that he was glad he got his reps in while he was small.

Years later Gladwell points out that his point wasn’t to set a benchmark but a stage. To get “10,000 hours” requires a lot of support.

Time is zero-sum. Both Bill Murray and Ed Sheeran say they’ve simplified their mobile/social usage. Murray said, “I only got a phone to text with my sons…I’m not a very organized guy Howard. I’m really not. I can’t take on any more.”

Ed Sheehan commented, “The worst thing in the world is being in the studio and you’re, like, midflow, bang bang bang, and you get a text and you go into your phone and that’s an hour of your time gone.” Sheeran deleted social apps, then, “If you don’t have any distractions – I was literally writing four or five songs a day ‘cause there was nothing else to do.”

A constant distraction decreases creativity and serendipity. This idea also fits well with Cal Newport’s career capital theory and the example of Brian Koppelman’s Career.

Fit. Jerry Seinfeld said, “I am not arrogant and stupid enough to think I did that. I know that I got caught in a perfect storm. Me and Larry fit together perfectly. And then the cast.”

“What I do is too hot for television,” wrote Stern, “I mean ‘hot’ in the way that Marshall McLuhan used the word. You got to be ‘cool’ on TV. You can’t heat things up too much. People get uncomfortable. When you see a guy growling and gritting his teeth and baring his fangs, it looks ugly. When you eliminate the video and just go with the audio, it becomes wonderful. It becomes refreshingly honest.”

Different forms have different norms. The best work is done when there’s a good fit. Michael Lewis noticed this about podcasting:

This doesn’t only apply to media. Good businesses have the right culture. Good marketing matches a business’s spirit. Good distribution depends on the product and the customer.

School of life. A lot of the guests had difficult periods of life. Stephen Colbert’s father and brothers died in a plane crash and after that school punishments become hollow. But, “Oh, I read every day. I read almost a book a day. But I just read whatever I wanted to.”

He didn’t care for school but books, books were grand. When I talk to young people I notice that often they dismiss both school and learning. Like train cars hitched to each other, if one’s bad then another is too.

That’s not the case.

Life is full of learning, and best when it is. Tom Cruise never went to film school but said, “Film school was every day I was making a movie.” Michael Lombardi got his Ph.D in football from Al Davis, Bill Walsh, and Bill Belichick. That’s a better education than any school could provide. Sanjay Bakshi said the Berkshire Hathaway letters are free, though he paid for the postage for the early ones while at the LSE and it was the best investment of his life.


Thanks for reading.

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