by Rock ‘n Roll Ghost
Gary Dell’Abate has been the producer of The Howard Stern Show for 27 years now. In that time he has been lampooned, parodied, lambasted, abused and worse. But these years of mental and emotional abuse were nothing compared to what happened in Dell’Abate’s youth. His mother, Ellen, suffered from a form of manic depression, complete with wild and explosive mood swings, making every day a big question mark at home for Gary. He would learn to cope with his mother’s issues as best as any child could be expected to do. Having a plan in place to deal with any situation at home became a priority in his coping mechanisms.
This sort of “mental boot camp” has served Dell’Abate well in his relationship with Howard Stern. Though no one could ever truly predict everything and anything that could be a possibility, he has served Stern with unflagging, steadfast loyalty over those 27 years. Dell’Abate has proven that he can keep the often times crazy circus that is The Howard Stern Show on its course with only the smallest of incidents.
As there has never been a radio show as listened to as this one, as there has never been a radio host as popular as Stern is, there is also no other producer in radio to compare Dell’Abate to. As much as Stern has necessitated the need to “break the mold” in his wake, so too should the mold be broken for Dell’Abate, the standard bearer for what is an extraordinary producer.
So yes, while the term “Baba Booey” is a gag, one that definitely took Dell’Abate a lot of time to get used to, it is also an affectionate term and a universally recognized name. And, as anybody who is nobody who wants to be somebody can tell you, it’s better to be known than unknown. The term is also included in the title of Dell’Abate’s first book: They Call Me Baba Booey, which is out today, November 02nd in book stores and online retailers from Spiegel & Grau.
Below is Rock ‘n Roll Ghost‘s interview with Gary Dell’Abate wherein we discuss They Call Me Baba Booey, his role on The Howard Stern Show and other subjects that came up in what was, without a doubt, one of the most treasured and honored interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing.
Rock ‘n Roll Ghost: What are your thoughts about being on (the Late Show with David) Letterman?
Gary Dell’Abate: It’s a dream come true. I was always a Letterman guy over Leno. Always. I don’t think that Dave is that much older than me, yet I do remember being in 11th grade when he had that summer show where he was on in the morning. Do you remember what I’m talking about?
I’ve heard of it, but I new saw it.
Gary Dell’Abate: I’m a huge Letterman fan. I’m no spring chicken, man. I’m no Shia LaBeouf. I’m going to be 50 soon. I’ve been watching Dave since I was in high school.
I think that Dave’s older than Howard.
Gary Dell’Abate: Do you think that Dave is 60 yet? I don’t think he’s 60 yet. Howard’s like 56 or 57.
I think he’s over 60.
Gary Dell’Abate: Do you?
Because I know he started doing weather in Indiana in the ’70s.
Gary Dell’Abate: He’s a comedian’s comedian. He’s the edgy guy. He’s the funny guy. It’s thrilling to be on his show. (reads from the internet) 1947. So he’s 63 years old. So he’s 13 years older than me.
What prompted you to write a book about this subject? How did you get approached to do it?
Gary Dell’Abate: I was pitching a book that was very different than the book I put out. The book was called Baba Booey’s Book of Rock ‘n Roll Lists, Arguments, Discussions, etc. I was pitching it around and got sort of a lukewarm response to it. Then I got to the book agent, who said to me ‘This book, yeah maybe you can sell it. But what’s your story?’ I said, ‘What do you mean what’s your story’. ‘What’s your story?’ The funny thing about it was, when he said that I knew exactly what he meant. And I go, ‘I don’t have a story.’ And he said, ‘Everybody’s got a story.’ So I sat on it for a couple of days and then I called him and told him the stuff about my mother and he said, ‘That’s great!’. I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know if I want to tell that story.’
It was probably a month and a half of me mulling it over, talking to my mother, talking to my brother and talking to my wife to decide if I wanted to do this book. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of the story, it’s sort of like I wondered how everyone would react to me telling (it). I’m dying to tell the story. It makes me look more normal.
In terms of the Stern world, I think to fans you’ve always been considered the most normal.
Gary Dell’Abate: I get that a lot. I think that people can see in the book the parallels in dealing with my mother and dealing with Howard. Somebody said to me the other day, ‘Don’t you think it’s really odd that you recreated the same scenario?’ I said, ‘That’s one way to look at it. I look at it a different way. Mom got me ready for a great job.’
I think that, once people read the book, especially fans, they’ll be able to understand the relationship better. However, sometimes he’s a bit merciless in attacking you about petty things. For example, that recent rant he had about the 5 year-old guest that didn’t have an easy entrance up to the show.
Gary Dell’Abate: It tends to happen from time to time. One of the things you learn is that sometimes he’s right and sometimes the fight’s just not worth. And sometimes, fuck it, the fight is worth it.
And then it becomes good radio. How difficult is it to acquiesce and let him win?
Gary Dell’Abate: Sometimes it’s really difficult. Sometimes you feel that you’re really right and that he’s being unreasonable. You can have that argument a gazillion times, but how many people have that argument in front of the whole world? It can be difficult at times because…listen, I love our fans. They’re incredibly loyal, but there are people that will take Howard’s side just because it’s Howard. It can get a little brutal at times.
Somebody was asking me about it once. They go, ‘Have you ever had fights where Howard was really mad at you or you were really mad at Howard?’ And I go, ‘Tons of times.’ And they ask, ‘Well how do you handle that?’ And I go, and this is my mantra, ‘You forge ahead.’ And I’ve had times where Howard’s been brutal to me and I’m seething or sometimes I know he’s really mad and he’s seething. And we go to commercial break and I go, ‘okay up next we’ve got this thing and then we gotta do this’, and you have no choice. You have to forge ahead. If you let stuff fester or any of that…we’ve got a job to do. So you forge ahead.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of grudge holding. He’ll bring up (Mike) Gange and the porn tape incident every now and again or Stuttering John leaving…(Gary interrupts to take a phone call from assistant producer Jason Kaplan)
Gary Dell’Abate: Fridays are still a work day. I don’t think there is a lot of grudge holding because we have a genuine love and respect for each other. There’s also the knowledge that when you walk in there you’ve already agreed to leave yourself open to some of this. Since we have all equally left ourselves open to that, then there is a mutual respect.
I can imagine that it’s sometimes hard to internalize that. Like the sleeping video with Scott DePace.
Gary Dell’Abate: We’re still mad at each other, by the way.
I can imagine. I think that you’re right in this.
Gary Dell’Abate: Scott came to me the other day and he said something and I told him, ‘Listen Scott, I’m going to be really up front with you. If you had just come to me and you had said I get it, I made a promise, Doug pushed me to do it, but I probably should have fought a little harder for you because I’m the one that made the deal with you and I get why you’re so mad at me and I’m truly sorry, we’d probably be done.’ He goes, ‘I sort of did that already.’ I go, ‘You sort of didn’t.’ All (he has) to do is mean it.
He didn’t and he doesn’t. You admitted your culpability and you’re totally right about it.
Gary Dell’Abate: The funny thing is yesterday Scott was an hour late because he overslept. I tried to get that on the air, but it’s not as funny. I do like Scott. We do get along well and he’s even thanked in the book.
One thing you have to do in your job is to anticipate Howard’s mood, much like your mother.
Gary Dell’Abate: It is a lot like walking home from school. I would get home and wonder what mood my mother is going to be in today. Is she going to be sleeping and quiet and I can do what I want or is she going to be banging pots and pans and screaming and yelling at my father’s boss on the phone? There’s always a plan. There’s a plan to be ready for anything. I think I bring a lot of that to the show. I gotta be ready for anything. It’s not just Howard’s moods, it’s when you grow up like that you have to be ready for anything. Because the worst thing is a surprise.
Does that get exhausting mentally and emotionally?
Gary Dell’Abate: It can at times. But when it pays off, it pays off so big. There’s nothing better than being the one that wasn’t blindsided.
How hard was it – you mention in the book about your mother coming out and yelling at the other kids – as a kid, what are your internal thoughts and feelings in dealing with other kids at school?
Gary Dell’Abate: Kids are unbelievably cruel. They take every little thing and magnify it. I wasn’t super popular and I wasn’t a great athlete, although in grammar school being an athlete is meaningless anyway. I wasn’t great looking or super popular or any of those things, so I was one of those kids that rode the middle. You don’t want to be noticed in a negative way. You don’t want to be noticed as, ‘there’s Gary, his mother chased everybody around the Empire State Building, she’s out of her fucking mind.’ When you get noticed for that, it sucks.
Do you see yourself writing a second book that primarily focuses on the show?
Gary Dell’Abate: No, I don’t. I’ve been offered, a multitude of times, to write a behind-the-scenes, tell-all book about the show. It’s one of those things that doesn’t interest me. I don’t see a need to talk about which guest was an asshole, who was a dick behind the scenes or tell stories that aren’t really my stories entirely to tell. The stories that involve the show in the book are mostly about me and they’re relevant to move the story along. So explaining how I first met Howard, the (I want you back) videotape, the first pitch, those are more my stories even though they took place on the show. As opposed to writing a book and saying, ‘Paul McCartney, when he comes in, drinks this kind of coffee…’ It’s not the kind of book I would want to write and if somebody came to me for a job and I knew they were a person that worked some place for years and had told the dirt about them, I’d be less inclined to hire them. Because how can you trust somebody to work for you if they’re going to tell everything?
Is part of it loyalty to Howard and his privacy?
Gary Dell’Abate: Sure! Absolutely. He’s very private about that stuff. He could have written that book twenty times or had me write it. He obviously doesn’t want to do that, so I don’t want to do that either.
With two months to go, how nervous are you about the future?
Gary Dell’Abate: Oh my god, now I’m thinking about writing that book! (we both laugh) I’m kidding. I thought that was a good spot for a joke. I’m not nervous about whether I’m going to continue to work with Howard, because he made that clear that he wants to continue to work. I’m just nervous about what that means. Are we going to stay at Sirius? Are we going to go somewhere else? If we go somewhere else, what does that mean? Are we going to be able to bring our whole crew? There’s a thousand questions. As you can see from the book, I don’t like surprises. Give me the list.
You guys started out with a bare bones crew when you joined.
Gary Dell’Abate: You have no idea. Howard used to joke around all the time, ‘Delegate! Delegate! Your name should be Gary Dell’agate!’ And there was no one to delegate to! My work ethic is so ingrained in that environment, that, even though I have a staff of six or seven now, I still feel guilty when I delegate, because I feel I should be doing everything. Then I realize that there are some people who would be doing nothing. I have a very good staff and I do delegate and I oversee them, but they’re an unbelievably staff. I’ve said this on the air and I truly mean it, this is the best staff I’ve ever had. Which is Will (Murray) and Jason (Kaplan), Jon Hein, Steve Brandano and JD (Harmeyer) and our office assistant Tracy (Millman). We just work well together. Everyone’s got a role and I trust them, but those six people I named? That used to all be my role.
How hard would it be if you couldn’t keep certain people on?
Gary Dell’Abate: I don’t even want to have to deal with that right now. It would be very difficult, but the most important element of all this is the show. The show is our priority, so we’d have to do whatever we’d have to do to make it happen. It would be very hard for me to think of anybody to do the show without that we’re working with right now. We take these people on along the way and they become family.
I know that, to a certain extent, Howard feels responsible for people. I know he worries about someone like say, JD…
Gary Dell’Abate: JD’s (job) skills are fine. I’m more worried about JD’s social skills. The problem is that JD isn’t a big enough fan of JD. There are people who are far less talented than JD but far better at selling themselves.
Confidence sometimes rules out.
Gary Dell’Abate: You need both! I had a house built four years ago and you deal with a lot of contractors and what you find is there are a lot of guys that are phenomenal craftsmen and horrible businessmen. And you need to be able to do both. If a guy does a great job at my house but he can’t bill me correctly and everything’s just a complete fucking mess, I’m probably going to use a guy that’s not as good as him that gets that other aspect of it done right.
I’m sure you hear this a lot, but I was a big fan of The Friday Show and…
Gary Dell’Abate: You know what? I don’t hear that a lot.
What sunk that show?
Gary Dell’Abate: One thing really sunk the show. And I wouldn’t say sunk it, just made it not as relevant as it should have been. Once we got the tapes back from CBS, we were able to put on programming that was much more diverse. In a lot of ways, with The Friday Show, I found myself covering some of the same topics that we were covering on The Wrap-Up Show. I was struggling because we were using old NBC tapes and old Channel 9 tapes. We were getting to a point of how much of that can you (continue) to do? So then we were talking about what had happened on the show that week. But I already had that conversation with Jon, so it didn’t seem that fresh. But throwing that all out the window, once we got the tapes, it just made The Friday Show unnecessary.
One thing I appreciated about that show was hearing your perspective on those days. I also like the idea of hearing a long form show with you and Jon.
Gary Dell’Abate: We could have ended up doing a Friday show where we scrapped talking about the week and we’re going to play some of my favorite moments from the show. You know what that is, that’s called “best of” and people used to give me shit for that. If I sat there with Jon and Ralph (Cirella) and said, ‘here’s ten of my favorite moments from the show in long form’ then that’s exactly like the best of.