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Interview with comedian
"Stuttering" John Melendez of "The Howard Stern Show"
(syndicated, on E! and on radio) and "The Tonight Show with
Jay Leno" on NBC 12/19/18
I really enjoyed speaking with
John Melendez....I've followed him on TV and social
media for years. Normally, publicists email me about
interviewing an actor or other celebrity, but this time,
there was no publicist involved. As John's Facebook friend,
I saw that he had a new book out, so I bought it. I thought
I'd take a shot at asking him if I could interview him. I've
tried this before on social media, and it only occasionally
works. This time, I was happy to get an affirmative from
him, and we set up the call. I'm glad it worked out
because he's very funny. I look forward to reading his book.
buy it here for Christmas or for afterwards (if you get
an Amazon gift card for the holidays, spend it on that!).
When I phoned John, he answered with
a silly British accent, so he started by explaining why he
Suzanne: I'm calling from The
John: Oh yeah that's right. I always put on different accents for telemarketers.
Suzanne: Oh. That's a good idea. Yeah, so I'm looking forward to reading your
book. I bought it but it hasn't come yet.
John: Oh, you should read it. It's a very entertaining read if I do say so
Suzanne: Yeah, I looked up parts of it on Amazon. It looks real well-written and
I'm looking forward to it.
John: Yeah, just pay not attention to the grammatical errors and spelling errors
that my ... my incredible publishing company sent the wrong copy.
Suzanne: Oh no.
John: Sent the wrong copy to print, after all the fixes were done. They sent the
one before the fixes.
Suzanne: Oh no. Well, I'm sure it's entertaining anyway. When my husband and I
used to live in Long Island when we were going to school, and we used to listen
to Howard Stern on WNBC and then when they had the Summer Show we watched that
and also a little bit on E. So, long time fan of that show and you. You used to
make us laugh all the time.
John: Where did you grow up in Long Island?
Suzanne: Well, we grew up in California but he went to Stony Brook for his PhD
and I went there for my BA, so we lived in that area for four years.
John: Oh okay. Oh cool.
Suzanne: Yeah, so. Yeah we liked it except we were poor but ... poor starving
John: Yeah, well that's usually the case isn't it?
Suzanne: Yeah. Well, that area is kind of hard to live in, if you don't have any
money, because it's all rich Long Island people.
John: No, I know, I know. I stormed that dorm once. We went on a little lark out
to the Stony Brook dorm.
Suzanne: Oh yeah?
John: Yeah, to try and pick up chicks.
Suzanne: Did you manage to do that?
John: Not from Stony Brook. We were too poor.
Suzanne: Oh. Right. Yeah, so I've been on your Facebook feed there for a long
time, so every time I ... if I'm with my husband I'll show him your latest post.
They always make us laugh. And if it's particularly funny I'll email it to him,
so you're still making me laugh.
John: Yeah, my favorite one is if you don't buy my book, I'm unfriending you.
Suzanne: Yeah I like that one. That was good. That was good. I was like, "Well I
better buy it then." No. No. I bought it because you said, "I'm only one book
away from selling out," and so I sort of said, "Well, I better buy a book now if
I'm going to buy one."
John: Yeah, no, it's good, because I think the [inaudible] was on it. I
mean, who knows. I don't have the Howard Stern Show to promote it, because
Howard doesn't want to touch this with a 10-foot pole. It doesn't exactly put
him in the best of lights, but I mean, he should've thought of that when he was
treating us all like shit, you know?
Suzanne: Yeah, we were surprised to hear about that, because we always thought
that, because I guess we always read or heard that he's a character on the show
and he acts like a jerk on the show, but in real life he's really nice, but I
guess that's not the case.
John: No, no. It's actually ... in fact people say to me, "Is Howard a good guy
off the air?" And I say, "He's a great guy off the air," And they go, "Oh, so on
the air's an act?" And I go, "No, off the air's all an act."
Suzanne: Wow. That's too bad, but you know, what are you going to do?
John: No, I don't care. Look, I'm not ... I mean, I'm grateful to him for giving
me my start, so I'm not like ... The book is not just like I Hate Howard book,
it just does point out how awful both he and [the producer] were in
dealing with us, financially and contractually.
Suzanne: Yeah, so, what made you decide to write the book?
John: Oh, I had been meaning to do it for years. I just ... When I was on the
Tonight Show, I was writing like crazy for Jay, and I didn't really have the
time, so as soon as I left, in 2000-, or as soon as Jay left in 2014, I started
to write it, and then it took me a year or two to get all the stories, and to do
it while I'm working at different shows and on the road doing stand-up, so it
took a while, then I had to find a publisher. So the whole process takes time.
Suzanne: Cool, yeah. I figured. So, what was your biggest challenge in writing
John: You know, it's not ... There wasn't much of a challenge. It's just, really
I write it like I speak. It's just very ... You'll see when you get it, it's
just very ... like you're talking to me. And that's how I write the book, so I
guess the biggest challenge was dealing with having to go back and forth with
some words and letters due to my OCD.
Suzanne: So, you just wrote it, you didn't organize it particularly or ...
John: I'm sorry, say that again, you broke up.
Suzanne: You just wrote it? You didn't figure out how you were going to organize
it, that kind of thing?
John: No, well, yeah. That was tough, because we do go back in time at some
point, but no, it just basically it was stream of consciousness, I just wrote it
like I would tell you a story about my life. It's like I wrote it, Forrest Gump
sitting on the park bench, you know.
Suzanne: And I notice that ... I think I read somewhere that you said that every
story that you wrote in there was verifiable about Howard Stern. So was that
difficult at all, trying to find other people to corroborate what you said, to
make sure you didn't get sued?
John: Oh, no, not at all [crosstalk] there were [inaudible]
who gave me the picture on [inaudible]-
Suzanne: I'm sorry, now you're breaking up-
John: ... standing in front of a screen, telling his staff to set up fake
Twitter accounts to solicit guests. I mean, I have so many moles over there,
Suzanne: Oh, I see.
John: ... Yeah, there's a lot of people who share the same sentiment. When you
read the book you'll see all the people Howard shafted, including all the
[inaudible] guys and Jackie and there's just a long list of people that got the short end of the stick when it came to
Suzanne: So, you haven't heard from Howard at all since the book came out, or
heard his reaction?
John: No, he's not going to reach out to me. Like I said, we called the
show, and we called him on the podcast and my manager and my podcast cohost
called him [inaudible] phone number [inaudible], "I represent
John Melendez, can we have him on the show?" Gary hung up immediately.
Suzanne: I'm sorry, could I ask you just to tell that again, because I'm having
real trouble hearing you.
John: Oh, okay.
Suzanne: There's some distortion.
John: Is it [inaudible] right?
Suzanne: I'm sorry, I can't hear you again.
John: Oh, you know what. I tell you what, I'm at the drugstore. Let me call you
John: All right.
John: [Later] Yeah, so where were we?
Suzanne: Okay, so let's see. I was asking you if you'd heard
anything from Howard Stern, or heard his reaction about the
John: No. I'm not going to hear anything. The
last thing I was telling you was when my manager and I
called Gary on my podcast, and my manager, as soon as he
said, kid, they talked about Adelphi for a few
minutes, because my manager also went to Adelphi like Gary,
and then said, "Look, I represent John Melendez, and we'd
like to see if we can get him on the show," and Gary just
hung up the phone.
John: So, I
mean it's just indicative of how they feel about me now.
Look, I'm only one of ... current or former Stern show cast
members who have actually written a very candid, realistic
look at what it was like to work for Howard and my analysis
of all the main characters on the show, as well as some of
the guests. So it's very informative and entertaining for a
Stern person, and the same, I do the same thing for the Jay
Leno fans. So, and then, I also spend time on Chelsea
Handler and Jimmy Kimmel and Ozzy Osbourne, and all ... so
it's like, even if you're just an entertainment fan, it
gives you an inside look of what life was like as the
announcer and staff writer of Jay, and how it was to be an
intern and then staff member of the Howard Stern Show, you
John: So, and it's also about my childhood. I
had a physically abusive dad. I went through a lot of
anxiety and probably which, you know, was the impetus of my
stuttering. So, it does have a motivational feel to it,
saying, here is a stutterer, an abused stutterer, who
suffers from really bad OCD, who ends up becoming the
announcer on the Tonight Show, the greatest talk show in
history. I mean, so it has a nice arc to it as well.
Suzanne: So, you don't stutter much now.
I've gotten a lot better. A lot of people who stutter, they
get better with age.
Suzanne: Oh, I see.
There are certain consonants that do give me trouble, like
Rs and Vs, Ms. But the thing is, is that when you're a
stutterer, you become a walking thesaurus. So if I can't say
"great" I'll say "amazing". And you come up with replacement
words just at the drop of a dime, which really gets the
brain always moving. I don't anticipate suffering from
Alzheimer's any time soon.
Suzanne: So, have you
heard anything about the book, reactions from anyone you
know, that is surprised, or shocks, or was different than
what you had just anticipated?
John: No, I'm actually
really happy ... I'm incredibly happy about the response I'm
getting from those who have read it. The reviews from people
who actually bought it are very positive, most of them are
five star reviews. The only thing that pulls me down to a
four star is the haters out there who haven't even bought it
but yet they'll write something like, "Yeah, this should be
a coloring book," and just trash me, and they haven't even
bought it. I think it's a flaw of Amazon to allow people to
write a review when they haven't even purchased the book.
But it is what it is. The ones that have read it, 99% of
them are incredibly positive about it, so it's a very good
feeling to know that you worked so hard on something and
that you really ... you wanted to tell the truth and give
them the juicy backstage details, if you will. And I did, I
wrote it to please, and I wrote it to tell a story, and I'm
really happy with the outcome.
Suzanne: Good. Well,
what is your favorite part of the book if you have one?
John: You know, I guess to be, to actually become the
announcer of the Tonight Show was such a ... When you read
the book you're going to see how long of a process it was,
from me being on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, with
Bruce Jenner and Melissa Rivers, and me getting the national
attention from that show, and that getting me to fulfill one
of my greatest dreams, was to be a guest on the Tonight
Show, and my wife greeted me in Australia when I got out of
the jungle from Australia, and told me the great news that I
was booked on the Tonight Show the next day, was just so
exhilarating. And then to have them ... I did so well on
that show, I always equated to being at the right place at
the right time, doing the right thing.
John: It is is
like, exactly what Eminem sings about Lose Yourself, and
that's what I did. And I did such a great appearance that
they offered me a job right after the spot, but it took a
year for me to prove that I wouldn't stutter on the
announces, and to prove that I'd be a funny correspondent.
And then, Rick Ludwin, the guy at the Tonight Show was
against me. He was one of the higher-ups, he was against me
even though he was a Stern fan. And it took a lot of prayer
and everything for me to get that job, and then probably one
of my best moments is to walk into Tom Chiusano's office,
the general manager of K-ROCK, this was a guy who is
literally dying of cancer, who was going through chemo, and
I asked him for $50,000 a year in salary after working at
the Howard Stern Show for 10 years, and he point blank said
to me, "John, I'll die of cancer before I pay you $50,000."
John: So this is was a guy who had a program director
who, when I was in their office and they were telling me
that I'm nothing without Howard and that Howard created me,
and I had to correct them and say, "No, no guys. Years and
years of bad parenting created me." But I mean, the day I
walked into Tom's office and told him that I'm giving my two
weeks notice, and to have him say, "Why?" And I said,
"Because I'm going to be the new announcer on the Tonight
Show," and have him just creep up in his seat, look at me
and say, "No way." It was such like the Rocky moment for me,
of making it to the top of the stairs and jumping up and
down. I was like, "Yes way, Tom. I'm leaving for greener
pastures. Thanks for the horrible salaries, the no stock,
the no anything." And I've managed to get out.
So, look, coincidentally, my vocal coach, who I got when I
was going to do the announce, the Tonight Show required me
going to an announcer, vocal coach which I did. She has the
best analogy, and it's based on fact, and it's when you put
a bunch of crabs in a bucket, eventually one crab tries to
crawl out, but as he does, the other crabs pull him back in.
And to me, it's a metaphor for leaving the Stern Show,
because a lot of them were mad at me, and I think they're
mad because A) what does it say about them that they
couldn't get out, and B) they're jealous that I did get out.
So I think it's the same kind of thing.
Mary Dell'Abate, Gary Dell'Abate, the executive producer's
wife, said it best to me when we were on the phone in Gary's
office and she was on speaker, and she said, "John, we are
so jealous of you." And, which is indicative of how, I
think, a lot of the staff felt, Fred included, that because
of my hustle and because of my perseverance, not to mention
my talent and of course my modesty, that I actually got out,
and I think it, as much as some of them might have been
happy for me, I think the feeling was more of jealousy, and
I think that still remains to this day.
That's a shame. That's so unprofessional. In show business,
people come and go all the time. What a ridiculous way to
John: Well yeah, well that's just how ... I
mean, that's how Howard had set that whole thing up. I mean,
Howard ... Howard could've been happy for me, but instead,
he spent the first year of my Tonight Show tenure with
goofing and ranting harshly on Jay. And it was a shame for
me. It made it very uncomfortable. I had to turn down ever
doing the Stern Show again, Gary would call and ask and I
would say no, because I thought it was a slap in Jay's face,
and I remember once, we were in the rehearsal ... in the
studio, on the side of the stage, and I said to Jay, I said,
"I'm so sorry about all this Howard stuff," and Jay put his
hand on my shoulder and said, "John, I don't give a fuck."
And it was so nice to hear that from him, because I was
feeling so guilty, and it was all because of Howard's ...
John: It's just ... he could've been
happy for me. I didn't leave to go on his competitor, or I
didn't go to another radio show. I went for a late night TV
show, while Howard's a morning radio show. There's no direct
competition, there's no conflict of interest. And yet,
instead of Howard being happy for me, like in ... really it
could've been a feather in Howard's cap. It could've been
like, "Look, I gave him his start and look what he's
become," but instead, Howard can't ... instead of being
happy for somebody, he's such a megalomaniac, he's got to
make it a negative, and that's the sad part, and that's ...
And I call him out for it in the book. I mean, it's just ...
indicative of his personality, I mean, that's just who he
Suzanne: Yeah, I think that does come through on
his radio show. You think, "Oh, that's just an act," but I
guess it's not.
John: No, no. But the real Howard is
the guy on the air, and because then he can be the bully
that he always wanted to be. Then he can say harsh things
that he always wanted to. Off the air he's a coward. He
couldn't say that. He was the bullied kid who ... the
awkward kid, so now the microphone has given him a pair of
muscles, and unfortunately to a lot us, a lot of the cast
members and staff members it was to our chagrin because we
got the brunt of his anger.
Suzanne: Right, right. So
did you enjoy writing the book, and do you think you might
want to write another book sometime?
John: Yeah, I'm
working on another now-
Suzanne: Oh good.
John: ... it's not about the Stern Show. I mean, it's not
about any of this stuff. It's more of a ... I don't want to
even say, because somebody will steal it, but it's an idea
I've had for a while and I'm going to probably ... That'll
be the next one, I think.
Suzanne: Good, good. I'll
look forward to that. And what else is coming up for you? Do
you have any TV, movie or-
John: I got so much going
on it's not funny.
Suzanne: Well, what can you tell
us about that we can look for?
everything. I got a ... It's an internet TV show on the
Green V Lite network, which is a cannabis network, but it's
not a bunch of stoners. It's the healthy use of cannabis,
like CBDs and healthy for kids, and [inaudible 00:13:10] and
it's also helpful for animals, believe it or not. And now
that the farm bill passed, we can start using hemp to make
paper, because hemp is now legal, where it wasn't. It was
still criminalized. But now we can actually make paper and
fuel and so many things out of hemp. So I'm doing that. That
launches in January. At the same time we're about to sign a
deal with Wherever TV, which is ... They are going to
televise my podcast, and I'm going to do the red carpet
Suzanne: Oh, really?
So that is the next thing.
Suzanne: For the Oscars,
John: Like all the things that I was doing in
Suzanne: Oh, okay.
John: I mean like
all the ... The movie premieres, I'm going to start ... Not
only, I guess, I don't want ... I guess harassing is too
harsh of a term, but it'll be the goofy questions, asking
this breed of celebrities like I did for Howard, but it'll
also be confronting politicians and calling them out for
their bullshit, you know?
Suzanne: Oh, that'll be
John: Yes. Yeah. I mean, I think the world needs
a Stuttering John at this point.
Yeah. Any stand-up things or book
signings, stuff like that?
John: Yeah, yeah. I'm
going to be at the Laugh Factory at the Tropicana in Las
Vegas, December 26th to January 2nd, with Carl LaBove, but
I'm always on the road, so I do stand-up all the time.
Something I'm very proud of.
Suzanne: Yeah, get them
to update your website, because it still has November in
John: I know, I know. I got to get all that
together. It's just I have so much going on at once,
especially now with the holidays going on.
Yeah. So is there anything else that you'd like to say to
John: Just thank you for supporting me and
thank you for buying this book, and I'm glad you enjoy it.
Here's the audio - part one and
- of our call.
For You To Say is "Stuttering" John Melendez's memoir of
his childhood being bullied in school for his stutter; his
years as an on-air personality with The Howard Stern Show;
and his subsequent ten-year career as a writer and on-air
announcer for Jay Leno's Tonight Show. It details his
famously acerbic relationships with celebrities he
interviewed/insulted (Raquel Welch once punched him in the
face). In the book, Howard Stern emerges as a surprisingly
mean, stingy, and megalomaniacal boss―and Jay Leno as a
seeming sufferer from OCD.
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