Interview with "Stuttering" John Melendez of Howard Stern Show and The Tonight Show - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

John Melendez

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. You can 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 did that.

Suzanne: I'm calling from The TV MegaSite...

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 myself.

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 students.

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 the book?

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, that's why-

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 the show.

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 back.

Suzanne: Okay.

John: All right.

Suzanne: Thanks.

John: bye.

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 book?

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.

Suzanne: Wow.

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 know?

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.

John: No, I've gotten a lot better. A lot of people who stutter, they get better with age.

Suzanne: Oh, I see.

John: 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.

John: 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.

John: And 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.

Suzanne: That's a shame. That's so unprofessional. In show business, people come and go all the time. What a ridiculous way to act.

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 ... his childness.

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 is.

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?

John: Well, 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 interviews again.

Suzanne: Oh, really?

John: So that is the next thing.

Suzanne: For the Oscars, or ...

John: Like all the things that I was doing in the past.

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 fun.

John: Yes. Yeah. I mean, I think the world needs a Stuttering John at this point.

Suzanne: 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 there.

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.

Suzanne: Yeah. So is there anything else that you'd like to say to your fans?

John: Just thank you for supporting me and thank you for buying this book, and I'm glad you enjoy it.

Suzanne: Great.

Here's the audio - part one and part two - of our call. 


Easy For You To Say book coverEasy 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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