Monday, March 31, 2008

George Takei and Howard Stern, Reunited at Last

George Takei performs a rare jazz hands variation on the Vulcan salute.

George Takei, the official announcer of Howard Stern's satellite radio show, is back at SIRIUS for a weeklong stint, and I'm so happy I could cry. Takei isn't just the greatest guest in the history of the Stern show (and when they aren't asking strippers questions about geography, they've had a lot of interesting guests), he's quite possibly the greatest guest in the history of any talk show ever.

He's charming, he's funny, he has an incredibly distinctive and infectious laugh, and he's knowledgeable about a vast array of subjects. He sounds genuinely interested in everything the people around him say, and he's not afraid to tell the truth about William Shatner and young Mexican boys. His candor, especially when probed about the particulars of his sex life and his early attempts at heterosexual relationships, is stunning, and his outspokenness on the importance of fighting homophobia and advancing gay rights has brought an amazing richness to what is often a very heterocentric program.

In addition to providing Takei with a powerful political platform, his presence on the show has revived his acting career and earned him legions of new fans who respect him not just for his classic sound bites (which have been used to create songs and prank phone calls, and are perennial favorites of sound effects maestro Fred Norris), but for his integrity. Listeners never call in to criticize or insult him like they do with so many other guests, but they do call to say they wish he were on every day. And the affection Stern fans have for Takei is only part of the equation: Howard himself, along with his crew, regard him with a kind of reverence reserved for very few guests.

Unfortunately, Takei's cuddly muffin, comedian Artie Lange, wasn't in the studio today to welcome him back. Lange is an exceptionally popular Stern show cast member whose frequent anti-gay outbursts have turned so vicious that just last week LIFEbeat, an organization devoted to raising AIDS awareness, refused a donation of $10,000 from Crumbs, a bakery that sold a special Lange-created cupcake with the intention of donating a portion of its proceeds to the charity. Artie and George have developed an Odd Couple-esque relationship on the show, and for months prior to (and again in the wake of) Lange's latest homophobic meltdown, Takei urged him to record a public service announcement for the Human Rights Campaign.

Today, George revealed that an HRC staffer has been trying unsuccessfully for quite some time to get in touch with Lange. George also expressed concern that Lange's proposed PSA, which was supposed to be about not using anti-gay slurs, would sound less than believable in light of his latest argument with Howard 100 producer High Pitch Mike, and questioned whether Artie's absence might have something to do with wanting to avoid an on-air discussion about the language he used during the blow-up.

Regular listeners of the show know that Artie calls in sick with alarming frequency and that callers are usually met with lame excuses from Howard and producer Gary Dell'Abate when they phone to complain about his chronic absences. This morning Howard wasn't in such a generous mood, sounding annoyed as he noted that, "You know, I do have to have the conversation with Artie, we work a four-day week. I mean, it ain't the roughest gig in the world to get in here."

Hopefully he'll make it to work on Tuesday, when George will be joined by Brad Altman, his partner of more than 20 years, for a segment called The Newlyweird Game. They're scheduled to take on the elderly porn star Blue Iris and her husband, as well as frequent Stern show guest "Evil" Dave Letterman and his girlfriend, in a battle to see which couple knows each other best. Howard and co-host Robin Quivers have already predicted a Takei-Altman victory, which prompted George to laughingly admit that all these years later, he's still making discoveries about Brad.

Upon hearing that the contest is being sponsored by an adult website service, Robin asked George whether he enjoys Internet porn. To which the 70-year-old actor, soon to be seen on the CBS competition series "Secret Talents of the Stars," replied, "You know, I used to love that. I really like that, but Brad doesn't approve." In true Stern fashion, this revelation prompted a round of questions about Takei's masturbatory habits, which he gamely answered, extolling the virtues of "sensuous" showers, which he enjoys for their "warmth, the steaminess, and the soapiness." Oh, my.

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