Howard Stern has more recently cozied up to the progressive establishment, repeating his desire for COVID-19 austerity, but there was once a time that his jokes were so off-color and insensitive that Magic Johnson wanted to “hit” him.
Johnson goes over this in his upcoming Apple TV+ docuseries, “They Call Me Magic”, which debuts on April 22 and was covered by Variety.
The former Lakers great’s issues with Stern are discussed within the context of “The Magic Hour”, an ill-fated syndicated talk show that Johnson hosted in 1998 that was universally panned.
Stern was apparently particularly merciless in mocking the show on his radio program, and Johnson’s producers responded by booking him as a guest.
Stern opened his appearance by telling Johnson that he was a great basketball player but his talk show needed work.
“The thing you need to work on, in my estimation, seriously, is you’ve got to stop trying to talk like the white man,” Stern told Johnson. “It’s the truth.”
Stern said Johnson was being coached to be “anti-ebonics”.
“I say, let it fly,” Stern said. “Earvin, what you need to do, my brotha, is to really get down with it. Everyone’s trying to get you to talk like the white man. I think this show should loosen up and you should talk ebonics all you want. You know what I’m saying?”
“I grew up in a black neighborhood,” Stern continued, after suggesting that Johnson’s speech coach should be hung from the rafters. “I’m blacker than you are. Trust me. I’m the blackest black man you’ll ever meet, and I’m telling you right now, when I lived in Roosevelt, Long Island, which is a black ghetto, everyone talks like this [pantomiming ebonics]. And I think you should talk like that. Why does everyone need to understand every word you’re saying? Who cares what you’ve got to say?”
Stern also delved into HIV.
“I want to know about your life before HIV,” Stern told Johnson. “You had the life I wanted. You present a clean-cut image, but I read about these booty parts. Before AIDS, before all that kind of stuff, you had the life right? You were married but you got to screw around.”
Johnson said that was not correct, and that the parties were before he got married. As they continued to go through the particulars of how the booty parts worked, Stern said, “At least you had fun getting AIDS. I know guys, they go for a blood transfusion, it’s a real pain in the ass.”
Johnson corrected Stern that he had HIV, not AIDS.
While Johnson laughed off all the jokes while on the show, as an audience there for Stern laughed and applauded giddy, he says in the Apple doc that he was seething mad.
“I wanted to say something and hit him at the same time — on air,” Johnson said. “I was mad when they booked him, but there’s nothing you can do. When people look for ratings, this is what happens.”
But, Magic said, it was a learning situation for him.
“I’ve never put myself — or HIV and AIDS, or my race — in that position again, ever again,” he said.