January 23, 2013

Private Parts (1997)
Starring Howard Stern, Mary McCormack, and Paul Giamatti

Comments:    Howard Stern joined the panel on America's Got Talent in the summer of 2012, and my first and immediate reaction was "Oh sweet, Howard's back."  You see, I have always been a big Howard Stern fan.  I listened to his morning radio show just about every single day of my life in the 1990's.  I bought both of his books.  I even quit a job once in college because they wouldn't let us listen to the Stern show on the radio in the back of the warehouse.  Heck, I even agonized over not watching Saturday Night Live anymore when he put his own nighttime show up against it on Saturdays starting in 1994.  Yes, you heard me right.  The guy (me) who has never missed an episode of Saturday Night Live since 1984, and I actually considered not watching it anymore because Howard Stern had a competing show on Saturday for a while.

I wouldn't have done that for just anyone.  I would only have done that for one of my comedy idols.

Well Howard sort of disappeared from mainstream pop culture around 2004 or so.   That was the year that he got sick of the FCC breathing down his neck, and he left mainstream radio and decided to go to Sirius XM.  And, well, that is the year that he kind of disappeared.  Yes, I know he still has millions of listeners on Sirius, and I know he is still a big deal to his diehard fans.  But the minute he bolted to satellite was the year that he lost most of his clout in mainstream America.  I honestly haven't heard his voice on a radio in nearly a decade.

Anyway, what I am getting at is that in 2012 he joined America's Got Talent.  And my first reaction was "Oh sweet, Howard's back."  And of course everyone who hates Howard (believe me there are a lot of people who hate him), well their first thought was "Oh crap, we have to deal with this asshole again."

And then there were lots of young people I have talked to, and their first reaction was "Who is this Howard Stern guy?"

I was quite amazed at the reaction when Howard Stern came back to TV.   And it wasn't the cheering that amazed me, or the booing (with Stern you have to always expect to see both).  No, what amazed me was that so many people didn't seem to realize who he was.  And what a big deal it was that was coming to prime time TV.  In fact, when I asked a lot of younger people who knew him from America's Got Talent what they thought of him, I don't think I talked to one person under the age of 25 who even knew that there had actually been a movie about him.

Wow, I thought when I realized this.  Has Howard Stern really been out of the mainstream that long?  Has he been hiding on satellite so long that there is an entire generation out there that doesn't realize what a big deal he used to be?

I was amazed when I found this out.  And I vowed that day that if I ever sat down and made a list of the most forgotten and underappreciated movies in movie history, one of the first ones I would write about would be Private Parts.

Private Parts came out in the summer of 1997, and to this day it is probably the most memorable movie I have ever seen in a theater.  And the reason it was so memorable wasn't because the movie was great (even though it was).  No, the reason I will never forget that evening in 1997 is because the entire theater that night was fucking INSANE.  

I saw Private Parts on opening night.  And that was a mistake.  Because the entire theater was just wall to wall with Howard Stern fanatics.  And, well, Howard Stern fanatics are not known for being particularly well behaved.  So the entire night was people cheering whenever Howard showed up on screen.  And cheering whenever Robin (his sidekick) showed up on screen.  And cheering whenever Baba Booey (his producer) showed up on screen.  And screaming "FUCK JACKIE" whenever Jackie the Joke Man showed up on screen.  It was just crazy.  You couldn't hear 80% of the movie because the audience was so loud and they drowned everything out.  I actually had to go watch it again a couple of weeks later so the audience would be less interactive and you could actually hear the dialogue.

Yes, this is how crazy Howard Stern fans were back when the guy was at his peak.  At one point he really was the King of all Media.

F Jackie

Howard Stern wrote his autobiography in 1993.  It was called "Private Parts" (he writes in the book that he wanted to call it "Howard Stern's Penis" but the publisher nixed it.  So "Howard Stern's Private Parts" was as close as he could get.)   And because he really did have about a bazillion listeners back then, it was an immediate hit.  Man, that book was just a monster.  If you want to read a funny book you should check it out.

From Wikipedia:   Upon its release, Private Parts quickly became the fastest-selling title in publisher Simon & Schuster's history. The sales were supported by Stern's book signing tour of various cities across the United States, with the largest crowd attendances ever... Private Parts spent a total of twenty weeks on the Times Best Seller list, hitting the number one spot after a week of its release

Well since the book was such a big hit, it was immediately announced that Paramount was going to make a movie out of it.  Yes, it was going to be Howard Stern's motion picture debut.  And of course everyone expected that it was going to turn out to be a vulgar raunchy juvenile piece of crap.  Which, even Stern diehards will admit, most of his stuff generally is.

Also, boobs

Well much to everyone's surprise, the movie was NOT a piece of crap.  In fact a lot of people at the time called it one of the best comedies of the 90's.  Heck even my wife (who generally hates Howard Stern) loved the movie.  And you can go down the IMDB and read review after review where people say the exact same thing.  The best reviews all say some variant of "Well I can't stand Howard Stern.  I hate him.  I hate everything he has ever done.  But his movie was great."

Believe me, I didn't see it coming either.  But Private Parts is a fantastic movie and it is a shame that so many people nowadays don't even seem to know it exists.

There isn't much to say about the movie itself.  I mean, it is the story of the rise of Howard Stern.  From his humble beginnings as a 6'6" dork who looks like Big Bird and who gets yelled at a lot by his dad, to the guy who basically controlled New York radio for most of the 80's and 90's.  If you actually sit down and watch the movie it is actually a cool little story.  Very few people have had the rags to riches career path that Howard Stern has had.

One of the best things about the movie is that Howard isn't afraid to show you what a dork he used to be

Howard Stern actually plays himself in the movie, and it is quite remarkable how good he is at playing himself.  I mean, you think that would be easy to do, because it sounds simple, but a lot of people can't play a believable version of themself.  It is much harder than you think it is.  But Howard Stern does it, in his first (and I believe only) movie appearance.

Nice 'stache

Howard isn't the only person who plays himself, of course.  All of the members of his radio team play themselves.  And they all do a great job (in particular his writer Fred Norris, who steals the movie any time he opens his mouth.)

But the real star of the movie isn't Howard Stern.  Nope.  You would think that it would be, since it is his movie and all, but he is only the second best character in the movie.

No, the real star of Private Parts is Kenny "Pig Vomit" Rushton.  Howard Stern's producer at NBC.  As played by a young Paul Giamatti.  

Pig Vomit

Private Parts wasn't Paul Giamatti's first movie, but it was the first movie where people really started to notice who he was.  And if you sit down and watch Private Parts it is easy to see why.  Paul Giamatti completely owns every scene he is in.  In fact, this movie is the reason he is such a famous actor today.  It all started with his war with Howard Stern in Private Parts.

Seriously, if you watch this movie, just wait for any scene where Howard and Pig Vomit have to deal with one another.  Now that is comedy gold.  I defy even people who hate Howard Stern with a passion not to be amused by the Pig Vomit scenes.

"You have spoiled the sanctity of my home!  You are the motherfucking antichrist!"

In the end, Private Parts is an autobiography.  It is the story of Howard Stern.  And how the biggest dork in Long Island somehow turned into a radio god.  It is a really good story.

However, it is also a love story.  Yes, a lot of people seem to forget that, since most people haven't seen this movie in years.  But if you go back and rewatch Private Parts you will be surprised by how sweet and how charming it is.  It actually wasn't as raunchy as you think it was.  A good chunk of the movie (I would say about 40%) is dedicated to how Howard met his wife Alison.  And how they stayed together through the years through all of the craziness.

Howard and his wife Alison (Mary McCormack)

Is Private Parts funny?  Of course it is.  There are some really funny scenes in this movie.  And most of them are nowhere as dirty or as tasteless as you think they will be.  It was probably a really big help that this movie was directed by a female (Betty Thomas).

Of course there are SOME tasteless scenes.  I mean, come on, it wouldn't be a Howard Stern movie without a little raunchiness.  The scene where a woman has an orgasm because a subwoofer certainly comes to mind.  

In the end though, Private Parts is just as sweet as it is funny.  And that is the aspect of the movie that I think really resonated with people.  I remember when it came out in 1997, I'm not sure there was a critic alive who claimed to dislike this movie.  They all said some variant of the same thing:  "Well I'll be damned how he did it, but somehow Howard Stern actually made a cute little love story.  Yes, I am as surprised as you are."

In fact here is the very first paragraph from Roger Ebert's 1997 review:

Howard Stern has been accused of a lot of things, but he has never been accused of being dumb. With ``Private Parts,'' his surprisingly sweet new movie, he makes a canny career move: Here is radio's bad boy walking the finest of lines between enough and too much.

This is one of those endearing little underdog stories that you can't help but like

In 1996, it was announced that Howard Stern was going to make a movie.  And I should know, because I listened to his radio show.  He talked about it every day.  For nearly a year, he would never shut up about his movie and how hard they were working on it, and how good it was turning out to be.  And in particular, he would rave about this amazing actor named Paul Giamatti that they had discovered, and how funny he was and how everybody was going to love him.

Like I said, this was every day on Howard's radio show.  Every single day.  He would rave about Private Parts.  For almost a year.

Then one day Howard announced that the movie was finished and that they had put together some test screenings.  And then he announced that the scores in the test screenings were unbelievably high.  In fact at one point he bragged that the test scores for Private Parts WERE THE HIGHEST OF ANY MOVIE IN PARAMOUNT HISTORY.

Of course people heard him brag about this on the air and they just rolled their eyes.

Yeah, sure.  Sure Howard, I'm sure your little Private Parts movie is amazing and I'm sure it is getting these unbelievable scores.  Yes I am sure that mainstream American is ready to embrace a Howard Stern movie.  Whatever.

Well look what we knew.  Turns out he was right.

Whether you like Howard Stern or you hate him, it really doesn't matter in the end.  When it came out in the theaters nearly everyone loved Private Parts.  This is one fantastic movie that really should be remembered better than it is.

"I hate Howard Stern.  What a pig."

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Private Parts:

What can I say? A great story, very well told. - 16 December 2006
I was astonished.

I just wanted to see a couple of emerging fave actors work, so I rented this, 9 years after it came out.

I was completely surprised. Stern is a fantastic film actor.

I guess this is a testimony to the power of fine production. I was expecting to have to wallow through an indulgent ego-fest. I wound up being moved. Good acting, good story, good production, a lot of soul.

It's also a little bit of a nostalgia rush for the boomers.

If you like a rockem-sockem cavalcade of wild humor and delightful conflict, check it out.

Don't really like the guy but love the movie. - 6 May 2002
The ratings that I see on Private Parts really do the movie an injustice. As of now I see the ratings are at 6.5, but I have to tell you that I'd give it a 9.

Stern is not GLORIFYING himself here. He's just telling a story as to how he got to where he is and in many cases criticizes himself. The movie is by no means egotistical which is what I TOTALLY expected to find. Instead it leads you through a tale of Poverty to Success.

Great Job Howard. I may not like you much, but you really pulled this one off.

This could have been so bad: instead, it's a masterpiece -  24 January 2007
I SO enjoyed this movie.

I watched this movie without realizing until close to the end that Howard Stern was playing himself.

I was a radio announcer myself, during the period when Stern got going. This movie has the 'feel' of reality to it. I recognized so many of the people I worked with in this movie. Every radio station has some of them. The studios of the period were just like this.

Of course, this movie was severely compressed in time and space. Radio is like warfare: lengthy periods of utter boredom punctuated by periods of pure panic. We don't need to see the slow bits. Each hour of on-air radio presentation requires something like three hours of preparation: we don't see the hard work that goes into such a show.

We do see a very funny and entertaining movie. Don't forget, I was in the industry at the time this all happened: and this one feels 'real' to me.

Many autobiographical pieces by "stars" turn into awful sycophantic schmaltz-fests. This one didn't. It could have been awful. Most of this kind are. This one... is excellent.

And if you've never worked in broadcasting -- it's still very funny!

Marvelous feature with shockingly original screenplay and approach - 12 August 2001
I detest Howard Stern and viewed this film under protest. Surprisingly, I found it to be my favorite American film in some time.

Whilst the movie is based upon biographical material and many of the principal characters play themselves, director Betty Thomas does a marvelous job of creating a fresh feel of taking us behind the scenes. Equally surprising is that Stern allows his warts and ego to be on full display. Private Parts, in its own way, is a far more trenchant essay on the state of the American entertainment industry than The Player or Network.

Surprisingly engaging love story! - 18 December 2004
I should first confess that I find Howard Stern's radio and TV shows to be redundant, banal and permanently locked in male adolescence. Having been a male adolescent at one point in my life, I can tell you with authority that it's the stupidest part of any man's life, by far.

And yet, I found Private Parts to be a surprisingly uplifting and touching love story, and in some parts, extremely funny -- even clever. It's a well-made story of a young man trying to find his way in the world, supported by a loving wife who stands by him, no matter what.

Some have said that this film contains a lot of inaccurate information about who did what when -- forget all that, and just watch the movie as a story. It's a shame that Howard Stern's real life isn't *exactly* like this film's plot -- but anyone with more than a half-functioning adolescent brain knew that before they walked into the film, didn't they? It's a movie, folks, not a documentary.

There are some great scenes in this movie -- this was the first film in which I got to see Paul Giamatti act, and he's perfect. Howard Stern and his sidekicks all acquit themselves well as actors, although I can't imagine any of them ever playing any role other than themselves.

Bottom line: this is a fun and surprisingly touching movie.

Stern is good -  9 April 2012
As a long term listener of Howard Stern I was satisfied with the adaptation of the book to the big screen. Betty Thomas was smart enough to allow Howard be himself. It works because Stern is not really acting. Having heard the actual tapes of his father berating him as a kid, seeing Richard Portnow as Ben, was dead on accurate and funny as hell.

The other highlight is Paul Giamatti as the program director called pig vomit, who is hired to control Stern's free wheeling and often vulgar on air persona. At one point the self proclaimed king of all media is subjected to a lecture on the proper way of announcing wnbc with a prolonged and exaggerated W "NNNNNNNBC;" it is exactly as it happened because I actually heard the broadcast and the constant battles between Howie and the management at the now defunct radio station.

Previous to the WNBC job, we see the struggle from college radio to Briarcliff, NY to Hartford, Ct. to Detroit and the last stop before the Big Apple is Washington, D.C. It is a ride filled with odd ball characters, nude women and people behaving badly, all for the ratings, and it works due to Stern's ability to communicate at the level of a regular guy. The film is well made and should be entertaining even for non listeners.

Terrific and very funny biopic - 7 September 2010
Howard Stern has only ever been a vaguely familiar figure here in the UK. When Private Parts first came out I knew who he was and had seen a short segment about him on TV. My opinion of him was not good. From the small amount of information I had, he seemed like a completely unlikeable malicious idiot with an annoying haircut. So I certainly had some preconceptions about the man before seeing this film. After seeing it, I had to admit that, like most things in life, the truth is much more complex. In actual fact I came away from Private Parts liking and respecting Mr Stern quite a bit. Quite a turn-around.

Sometimes with a biopic it's good to have very little knowledge of the subject. The trajectory of the story is then more surprising to you. This was true for me with Private Parts, as I had no real clue about Howard Stern's rise to fame. However, what surprised me the most was Stern's character. He was not afraid to paint himself as pathetic, and the honesty of this approach is the key to why it's such a compelling film. Some people have commented that this movie is self-serving and that Stern portrays himself as some kind of misunderstood innocent. While I can't definitively say if this is true or not, my gut feeling is that he depicts himself in a fairly honest way. Many times he shows himself to be seriously uncool and pathetic. And because his whole shtick is about not holding back and saying what he thinks, you can't help but feel that this ethos must apply to the movie too, and this is most probably what he is like.

The film is often very funny, and I can't really often say this for most comedies. It mixes standard biopic drama with some inventive comedy moments that recall the style of Woody Allen; although an admittedly lower-brow Woody Allen with a fair smattering of naked women. But still, it's in that general ball-park. Stern is very good as, well, Stern. I think it's quite a reasonable achievement to be fair as it's actually not always that easy playing yourself. Take a look at a few of the cameo appearances in some of the episodes of Extras for proof of this bizarre truth. Anyway, he is a compelling central character, whose underlying personality seems to be very decent. Paul Giamatti is the other actor who stands out. His portrayal of Pig Vomit is hilarious.

This is a great comic biopic. You certainly do not need to be familiar with its lead character to enjoy it, as it's a very well delivered and funny story. The humour never feels forced either, it just flows into the narrative. I am surprised I like Private Parts so much. It really changed my view of Howard Stern. Except I still think he has an annoying haircut.

My favorite trivia about Private Parts:

* Julia Louis-Dreyfus was originally cast as Alison, but backed out to spend time with her family.

* Jeff Goldblum was originally considered to play Howard.

* The character of Kenny 'Pig Vomit' Rushton is based on Kevin Metheny, the WNBC radio program director at the time. In real life, Howard called him 'Pig Virus', not 'Pig Vomit'. Pig Vomit was the name of the group that did Howard's opening theme song for his radio show at the time.

* Philip Seymour Hoffman was considered for the role of Kenny 'Pig Vomit' Rushton.

* Mary McCormack originally did not want accept the role of Alison because of Stern's controversial reputation. She accepted the chance to audition only because she wanted to meet director Betty Thomas. When McCormack told Thomas that she was refusing the role, Thomas encouraged McCormack to listen to Stern's radio show and meet him in person. McCormack became a fan of the show and accepted the role.

* According to Howard Stern, he at first believed that he would be able to improvise throughout the movie as he does on his radio show and did not memorize his lines. Producer Ivan Reitman had to pull Stern aside and explained to him that he needed to learn his lines as scripted.

* Howard Stern, Robin Quivers, and Fred Norris were still doing their morning radio show five days a week during production on the film. Every morning, they would go immediately to the set after the show.

* If there is one downer about watching Private Parts, it is the knowledge that Howard and his wife Alison split up about ten years later.  It is kind of tough to watch it as a love story when you know things eventually didn't work out between them and they got divorced.  Oh well.  It is still a good love story.

* My favorite scene in Private Parts:

Any scene with Paul Giamatti is hilarious.  If for no other reason you should give Private Parts a chance specifically for him.  The best scene is where he tries to "break" Howard by torturing him with the call letters.  Everyone loves that scene.  No Howard, it's "W NNNNNNNNN B C."

Private Parts at the IMDB

Private Parts at Wikipedia

Back to 200 Movies That Deserve More Love