Jackie Martling has been a stand-up comedian for over 30 years. He’s best known for being a full time member of the Howard Stern Show from 1986 – 2001 where he regularly wrote bits for the show and fed Howard lines. In 2001, Jackie left the show over a contract dispute which is still an occasional topic of conversation on the show. His move to walk away from the Stern show, a dream job fpr any working comedian, has always been somewhat of a mystery. He was making great money to be on the greatest radio show of all time, yet he still felt the need to leave.
The “Joke Man” provides us with a great deal of insight as to why he left the show. He also comments on Howard and Robin’s recent outrage over Jackie booking fellow comedian Pat Cooper on Jackie’s own show, Jackie’s Joke Hunt on Howard 101 (Sirius XM radio), one of Stern’s channels. They took issue with Jackie booking the past Stern show guest because he made disparaging remarks about the Stern show and reportedly damaged Stern show property.
I talked to Jackie to see what is was like being on the show, to better understand why he left, and to see if there are any lingering effects from his decision. As a long time Stern show fan, I can assure you that whether you’re a Jackie, Artie, or even a Benjy person, you may cackle a little bit in your heart after reading this.
How did you first get on the Howard Stern Show?
By 1982 I had three comedy albums out and I sent them to Howard Stern because somebody suggested I do that. He had just gotten fired from Washington DC. It was August of 1982 and I was working at Garvins in Washington DC and the owner said, “Wow, this guy just got fired from here, and he’s going to WNBC in New York, you should hook up with him.” So he told me his name and I sent my albums blindly to Howard Stern, care of WNBC, just like I had sent jokes to Rodney Dangerfield in 1978 blind and hooked up with him. And a couple months later Howard called me up and said, “Hey, we think you’re really funny, why don’t you come in and hang out on the air.” I went in and hung out on the air and it was funny, I walked in and it was Fred, Robin, and Howard, the same gang that was there the last day I was there. At the end of the day, they said, “Wow, you’re really fun, come back next week.” So I was there one day a week for three years, and then we went to mornings, then we went to fucking Pluto.
What was your role on the show?
Well, the three years I was working one day a week, I just was slowly but surely handing him stuff. We played “Stump the Joke Man,” or it was called “Stump the Comedian,” and people would call in. We didn’t get enough good calls from listeners, so I started giving jokes to Fred and he would call in as a Jewish grandmother and that was always hysterical. But slowly but surely, I was giving stuff to Howard and it was funny. He used to do this helicopter reporter, this black helicopter reporter called “Mama Luca Bubudai and one time I came in and had some ideas for Mama Luca and he looked at me like, “I don’t need your help.” He didn’t say that, but he kind of looked at me funny. Then a couple days later I was listening to the show and I heard my jokes that I had given him and then next time I went in there I handed him some more and kind of smiled and he kind of smiled.
And slowly but surely I was passing him little ideas and when we went to mornings, he called me up. I was on the road and he said, “We’re going to mornings, I want you to come in two days a week and do your thing with the notes. At one point, I just stopped doing scraps of paper and I picked up a stack of 8X10 paper and got some sharpies and sat there and was actually writing the ideas and handing them to him. So when we went to mornings, he wanted me to do my thing with the notes two days a week, and within a month, or maybe two months, I was there five days a week because he was funnier when I was there.
The way I look at it, he’s driving the car and I’m reading the road map. You know, I got the time to sit there and think of crazy, funny things because he’s carrying the ball. Two minds are better than one, plus once I was passing notes, it freed up a conduit so if Fred had an idea he could hand it to me and I could hand it to Howard. So now he had three guys going. Imagine Howard, Robin, and me are sitting there talking, you know I’m a funny guy, if I have something funny to add to the conversation, instead of saying it, I would write it down and give it to him. Once in a while I would say it myself, but he could work it in so seamlessly that nobody had any idea for a long, long time. We didn’t talk about it, but we didn’t not talk about it. It was a very grey area. And then when people found out the extent of it, they were very, very surprised. Because people would say, “God, I can’t believe the crap Howard says to you.” I would say, “Yeah, but half of it I wrote.”
People just couldn’t wrap their fucking brains around it. But he’s very, very funny and so is Fred, so I’d come home and Nancy, my wife would say, “Oh that was so funny when you said the cat jumped over the barnyard, that was the best thing you wrote today.” And I’d go, “Well I didn’t write that, Howard said that on his own. I mean that didn’t happen all the time. And they’d go “Oh, but you laughed at that.” I laughed as hard if something was funny. Of course I thought a lot of what I wrote was funny, but I thought a lot of what Fred wrote and Howard wrote was funny, too. I didn’t judge by who wrote it. I judged by what kind of laugh it deserved. I was very fair about it. But was I roaring at my own stuff? Yes, because a lot of it was funny. But if it hadn’t been funny, I wouldn’t have been sitting there getting paid to do it. The reason it was a muddy area is because I had a real good laugh and they really liked to fuck with me, so that almost warranted me being there. Meanwhile, my main thing was making him funny. People didn’t know that.
How much of the goofing on Gary (Baba Booey) did you contribute to?
You know, it was kind of everybody. It was unfair and it was weird. I remember, I used to sit there and he’d come in and he’d talk to Howard and he’d lean over and talk into my microphone and I remember there was one specific time very early on when I said, “Did anybody notice Gary’s breath is kind of wild?” We just really got going. There were a lot of times when Gary would come in and try to get Howard’s attention and try to talk to him and then I would just start the ball rolling.
I wouldn’t even do that much. It’s almost like I would remind Howard, “You know, we really should be fucking with Gary.” He’d come in and talk all serious and leave and I’d say to Howard, “God, look at that ass.” Then we’d be off and running for like 45 minutes. It was just fun, you know. I instigated a lot of that crap, all in fun. I love the guy. I would give Robin a hard time, Fred a hard time, Gary a hard time, but they would all gang up on me and a lot of people say they really miss that from the show— that it was really a fun part of the show.
I couldn’t understand how you could leave the show, but after hearing you on the “History of Howard Stern” specials, it seems like you just couldn’t get up that early anymore.
It was a perfect storm of a lot of things. I am also a hypocrite because you know it’s like “I’ll never work in Russia…” And then if they offer you enough money, “Okay then, I’m going to Russia.” You know, so I didn’t just walk away. I set the bar to where I’ll suffer with this if I can make more money and then I’m a total hypocrite because a couple months later I said, “Hey, I’ll take the offer. If it’s still available…” Which it wasn’t. But I was a multi-millionaire and I was exhausted. I mean, you can’t buy sleep. I couldn’t get it together to take a nap and I would be so exhausted…
Then the weekends would come and I’ve been working as a comic forever and they’re waggling money that’s stupid in front of me, so I couldn’t say no. So I go to work the weekend and get drunk and come back and start all over again and I was so exhausted. Plus I knew I had to get divorced, plus I was drinking too much… There was like a whole perfect storm. Every time I talk about this people go, “Now Jackie’s got more reasons…” There was a lot of things going on. Plus they put a guy next to me who’s sitting there writing, kind of like to say, “Fuck you.” It was very weird. Nothing against him (Benjy Bronk) and it’s Howard’s show, I got no right to say anything, but imagine if Robin was sitting there and they put somebody next to her going, “Hey how bout this story?”
We had a perfectly honed machine, and it didn’t need any tuning up, it didn’t need more jokes, it didn’t need more anything. I think they kind of put him there to say, “If you ever leave we got this covered.” And I just thought that was kind of rude. But I don’t know if there was even that much thought put into it. I’m just trying to reflect and come up with… It was just a whole amalgam of shit. I didn’t ask for more billing or anything. I just said, “Negotiate.” They wouldn’t even negotiate, you know. They negotiated for like one time then they didn’t call us back for two months. It was just too unfair. But for the most part, I was so tired and I couldn’t go to bed, and nobody could believe that: “How do you walk away…” They say, “Hey Jackie walked away from a million dollars.” I was not making a million dollars. The offer I walked away from was a little bit more than half of that. Which is still a boatload of money, but I was so tired.
I’ll tell you what’s really crazy, is now I’m 63 and all I want to do is take a nap. If you told me, “Listen, we’re going to pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars but the caveat is you have to take a nap everyday,” I would suck your cock. “Holy shit, you’re going to pay me all this money but I have to take a nap, are you kidding!?” Back 10 years ago, before I quit drinking, I’d come home and there was always so much to do it seemed. The rest of the people say, “How sorry are you?” “You loser.” I’m not sorry. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I got a beautiful young girlfriend, I live on the water, I do my stand-up shows, I do my radio show, I have no money, but I don’t care. Nobody believes that. Life is too short. Life was too short to be that exhausted. You can only look at your bank account so many times and say, “Oh, I got a lot of money.” Who cares? I’m fucking exhausted. You can only eat one steak and drink five beers then you’re done for the next day.
The truth is there was no animosity. They’ve created this whole thing, all this animosity… Like Tim Sabean asked me why I didn’t have a show on Sirius and I said, “Nobody’s asked me.” We went to lunch and I wound up with a show on Howard’s channel. Now he tells everybody that I crawled to him on my hands and knees to get a show. They never called me back after I said I’d take the offer. When I left the show, we said, “Jackie’s not coming in on Monday because there’s been no movement for two months.” And when I wasn’t there on Monday it was like, “Where’s Jackie? He left us high and dry.” And they did this whole theater thing like I had fucked them over. There was no animosity and no ill feeling at all. It was a guy trying to get paid more. It’s America, you tell your boss you want more money, that’s not a crime. Even if you don’t deserve it, you’re allowed to ask for it.
You were just hoping they’d negotiate with you?
Yeah, a little back and forth… It was like, “Take it or leave it, we don’t really need you.” Then it was like I was trying to fuck up the show, and the point is if me leaving was going to affect the show adversely, then wouldn’t it have been worthwhile to pay me the money? You can’t have it both ways. If I’m important enough where it’s going to make that big a difference… I wasn’t asking for that much. Just pay me, you know.
What did you think of Artie Lange on the show?
I never listened to the show. I know people told me that he fell asleep, came in late and stuff like that, I know in 15 years I was probably late twice. Whatever his deal was it was fine. I know everybody loved him on the show and he was fucking great. I’m sure he tested the water and whatever he could get away with… who knows? I can’t imagine me falling asleep when I was in there, but everybody has a different role. Maybe that’s the way he fit in, you know. I mean I knew him, and I know him, and I like him. My first radio show he called in, he’s my pal. He’s not my bosom buddy.
Another thing they say is, “Once Jackie said he’d come back we couldn’t rearrange the whole show again.” Two months after I left I said I would come back and they never called me back. Artie didn’t sit in that chair till nine months later, or seven, whatever it was, it wasn’t until after 9/11 that he came in. The chair hadn’t been filled at all, they had tried all kinds of different people, every five minutes, “Oh, they got somebody else in your chair.” It’s not MY chair, you know what I’m talking about. I never mean to come across in anyway pompous, but I was part of the show, you know. But it wasn’t like, “Hey watch this, I’m going to leave and it’ll fuck it up.” That wasn’t my intention. My intention was, hey this show is making tons and tons and tons of money, I think I should get some of it.
You said you didn’t listen to the show when Artie was on, why not?
I just never listened to it. At first, I wasn’t up. But now it’s on all the time on Sirius. There’s no upside. If I listen to it and it’s not good, I’m going to wish I was there, and if it’s great I’m going to wish I was there. It’s not a proactive thing. It’s not like, “Fuck this, I’m not going to listen to it.” I just don’t. I was never a radio guy that listened to radio. I’d listen to a little bit of 1010 and I’d listen to Sinatra, I listen to my radio show. And so many people are like, “Oh you’re full of shit.” Why would I not say it if I listen to the show? They’re always trying to find something totally negative about whatever I do and it gets pretty old. If I say “Black,” they say “White,” if I say “White,” they say “Black.” “Jackie can’t do anything right,” “Jackie’s a loser,” “ Jackie’s fat,” “Jackie’s angry.” What can I do? The truth is I never minded that shit at all, when I asked for more money. It wasn’t like you guys better pay me more money because you’re mean to me on the show,” it was like, “Hey I’m part of a fantastic show. We’re a baseball team, we’re winning the World Series every year, cut me in.” That’s all.
Artie is said to be returning to radio on a Fox Sports radio show with Nick Di Paolo in September, what are your thoughts?
I know Artie’s funny and Di Paolo is really funny. I think they’re two of the funniest guys in the world. So it can only be great.
A lot of Stern show fans have been complaining that the show is on vacation too much now. What do you think about that?
I do know back when I was on the show, I remember I was always screaming to Howard (impersonating his own voice) “Come on let’s have four days!” And he’d always say, “Mel won’t let me do it.” Because I always said, “God this would be the greatest job…” Not that it’s not the greatest job in the world now, but if it had been four days a week, and you got that extra day to regenerate, that would have been like I died and went to heaven. I would have loved that. The worst thing about not being on the show is I miss sitting there and laughing. We’d laugh for five hours, five days a week. And you just don’t have that in a normal life.
It just doesn’t exist. Of course the idea of writing something and then two seconds later rather, millions of people are laughing at it, that’s like a comedian’s dream. But sitting there and laughing and just having such a great time… They used to goof on me, because everyday we would get done and I’d go, “That was a great show,” and everybody would go (in a Jackie impersonation) “Yeah, that was a great show.” But I always meant it. I wouldn’t just say it. I’d say it if it was a great show, and it usually was.
Do you have a relationship with Howard now?
We haven’t spoken on the phone or gone out to dinner in over a year. I’ve asked him a few times… I finally stopped asking. I saw him at the Christmas party and said, “Yeah we’ll get together.” I don’t want to harass him, if he doesn’t want to go to dinner with me, you know. The thing is we have fun when we’re together. We’re compadres; we go back. Even if he goes on the air and says, “Oh I had to go to dinner with Jackie, it was the most horrible time of my life.” That’s bullshit. He always enjoys me and I always make him laugh. I made him laugh everyday I was there. It sounds like I’m being pompous but I’m not. If you’re a comedian or if you’re a funny person, some people you have their funny bone— and I had his funny bone. There’s some people I’ll never make laugh and there’s some people I can always make laugh because I know where to go.
You and Robin would butt heads on the show. Did you two have trouble getting along?
I always figure there’s a problem in my personality if I’m having trouble getting along with somebody. People say, “Oh you and Robin hate each other.” She was like my sister. We were pals. They sent me a clip of her last week when I was going to have Pat Cooper on my show, where it sounded like she wanted to murder me. But I have no animosity towards her at all. I love her. I don’t know whether she’s doing shtick or… I think she’s angry because she thought I was trying to wreck our livelihood by leaving the show.
And I wasn’t at all. And not only that, if me leaving was going to wreck our livelihood… Why the fuck… You can’t have it both ways. Either “He’s gone, who gives a shit,” or “We need him, give him a few dollars.” And the truth is I was making a lot of money and I just asked for more. But I’m allowed to. You’re allowed to, that’s not saying, “Fuck you” to the fans, that’s not saying “Fuck you” to Howard, that’s not saying “Fuck you” to K-Rock, that’s saying “I’m worth a little more, can you pay me a little more?”
What was the show like off the air?
We were all pals. It was like any work place. It was relaxed and fine and fun. Sometimes more fun than others. Nothing changed, I mean on the air was not a lot different than off the air. To this day, when they say, “Fred and Robin, they’re being so mean to you,” in my mind I’m like, “They’re creating that for the show,” I hope. I know in my heart I know they’re fucking around, but you hear enough of it from people saying, “Oh no it doesn’t sound like they’re fooling around.” I mean I was there for a long time and I know it’s shtick for the air, but then I even heard how venomous they were towards me and I don’t know whether they’re trying to get a rise out of me or what. It just drives everybody crazy, the fact that you keep saying “I love em, whatever they want to do.”
I love the fact that I got a show on Howard 101 and what can I do? I’d love more time for my show, sure. I told Howard I’d be glad to come back on the show if he wanted me, and they have no interest in that, but there’s no animosity. People say, “Jackie, what are you doing? Why don’t you go back on the show?” It’s not my call. I had fun when I was there, I always had fun when I was there. I know I’m going to be taking to task for this, for what I’m doing right here, and I don’t think I’ve said a negative thing. But it’s not like I’m being careful not to say anything negative, I just don’t have that in my soul. I know that sounds crazy. It’s a very strange situation.
You know, I haven’t even been on the show in like… I don’t know if it’s been a year, I don’t know how long, it’s been a long time. Because I know I wanted to go on to promote my new comedy album Snart, and I think that’s been out for a year. And they didn’t want me on because I had just been on, but I’m promoting a CD. But they say, “Well you’re not that good a guest,” “You’re not that famous.” I don’t know what the reason is, but I always thought the listeners enjoyed it when I came on, that it was interesting to people. I haven’t asked to come on in a long time and they haven’t asked me, so who knows why?
It’s hard for them to be mean to me when I’m sitting there laughing and smiling and telling them I love them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to hate me so much. I don’t think. I was saying something to somebody the other day, I said “You know, I don’t know what it is between me and Howard and Robin and Gary and Fred, I don’t know whether it’s hate, or love, or animosity, or whatever it is I don’t know what it is, but there’s something if it’s 10 years later and there’s still this much of an issue.” You break up with a girlfriend, you’re not still as crazed or infuriated or as in love or as hurt or as angry… The whole thing has not lost any steam at all, or am I crazy?
What was your relationship with Fred like?
People just say that he’s rough to me on the air. But I saw him at the Christmas party and he loves me. And he’s a guy who’s just really funny and really fun. And me and him were very close. We created a lot of stuff together. I think they’re all angry at me for leaving but I didn’t leave them high and dry, I did it as professionally as anybody could. I’ve never heard tape of Fred on the air being mean to me or anything. But the thing they sent me of Robin and Howard, they just went off on me like I was booking Pat Cooper on my show just to cause trouble, which was the furthest thing from the truth.
You can check out Jackie on Monday, Aug. 22 Jackie at The Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, NJ at 8 PM. You can listen to Jackie’s Joke Hunt on Sirius XM’s Howard 101 Tuesday’s at 7 pm. Call Jackie’s Dial-a-joke 516-922-9463 to hear some jokes from the Jokeman. Check out his website Jokeland.com. Aldo, Jackie invites you to e-mail him to say hello or even argue about anything he said in this interview: firstname.lastname@example.org.