Jerry Springer On Why America Needs To See The ‘Bad Stuff’
Jerry Springer is a politician. That’s right. Gerald Norman Springer, the friendly guy onstage facilitating obscene interactions between transgender chiropractors and toothless meth addicts, is a politician.
Springer first took office when he was appointed to city council in his hometown of Cincinnati. Then, in 1974, Springer was caught hiring a prostitute at an illegal massage parlor, after a police raid uncovered a check he’d left made out to the brother. He resigned, but soon after, did something very uncharacteristic of a politician. At a press conference, he said he was sorry for what he’d done. The public was so impressed that they reelected him in 1975, and he then went on to be mayor.
He ran for governor of Ohio a few years later but didn’t win. His campaign openly referenced his prostitution scandal, directly addressing his past mistakes, with him saying, “I’m not afraid of the truth. Even if it hurts.”
His show began in 1991, and Jerry Springer got famous for other kinds of scandal. But with 25 years under the Springer show belt, I had to find out — what happened to Jerry, the politician who wasn’t scared of the “truth,” or at least, the same kind that the American public is so desperately searching for today? And how did a former politician end up with one of the most notorious daytime talk shows of the 90s?
I called him to ask these questions and more.
Hi Jerry! How’s it going?
It’s all good, now that I’m talking to you.
You know, Jerry, I’ve never seen your show before.
God bless you Abeline, that’s why you seem like a nice person.
I am a nice person. [Laughing] It’s not even about that…my friends and I are obsessed with you, and love speaking with you as a placemarker of culture, and I wanted to talk about it today, because I know you’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of your show.
We did it for you. We were like, Abeline is born, let’s do something to reflect that in the culture.
[Laughing] Wow, thank you!
Oh yeah, you must be so proud. [Laughing] Well, you know, the show is silly, the show is crazy, but people obviously enjoy it, which is it why it keeps staying on the air all these years. So I enjoy doing it, I mean, honestly, I can’t think of another reason to do it…you know, I’m lucky in life, and I don’t need to make a living anymore, at my age, so I just do because it’s fun. I tape three shows on Monday, two every Tuesday…it’s never been my passion, it’s just how I make a living.
Bernie Sanders kind of reminds me of you. But he appeals to young people with a narrative that’s all about idealism and less about politics. My 19-year-old sister is obsessed with it. But when I think about what’s important about idealism in politics, it’s more interesting to be about bridging the gap between being a politician and being a real person. So you’re the real thing for me. Does that make sense?
That’s a real compliment. Well, I love what Bernie says. There’s a significant part of me, just having been in politics all these years — and I’m still very active even though I don’t run for office — that’s interested in Bernie. But looking at the electoral map, and thinking about Bernie as a candidate, my worry is that [he’d lose and] we’d end up with a Republican president. And there wouldn’t be much that could stop a right-wing Congress from doing what they want to regarding guns, race, health insurance, women’s issues, or doing away with Obamacare if there’s a Republican in office.
“Let me tell you, television has created nothing. Television reflects the culture.”
Okay, so, if you had to rationalize why your show isn’t silly, what would you say?
First of all, let me emphasize: it is silly, and it is entertaining. However — and this wasn’t the initial goal — a consequence of my show is that it teaches us that we’re all alike, except that some of us just dress better, or had better luck to be born into a wealthier family, or a better brain, under circumstances that we have nothing to do with. There’s nothing that happens on my show that doesn’t happen with rich people, but they can hire people to present themselves better. If you’re rich, famous, and good looking, you can go on the late night talk shows and talk about who you’ve slept with, all the things you’ve done, push your new book, which is all about that. And we’re like, we can’t wait to see your next movie, or your next album! We cheer these people on. They’re our heroes! And yet, the behavior is not at all different from the people on our show. The bias against people on our show is that they’re not rich, they’re not famous, they’re not good looking, as a general rule. So therefore we call it trash. But the exact same behavior, we’re like, oh my gosh, this guy ought to be president [laughing]. If they’re rich famous or good looking, I mean.
Do you think your show has contributed to any sort of desensitization of certain imagery?
Let me just say, television has created nothing. Television reflects the culture. We had a holocaust before anyone had a television set. We had lynchings in the South before anyone had a television set. In the history of humanity, there’s nothing that has ever been on our show that isn’t already in the Bible, or that isn’t already in Shakespeare, that isn’t already in great literature, that isn’t an opera — everything. From incest, to murder, to rape, to dysfunction… nothing. It’s just that what was new was that we hadn’t seen it on television before. That’s what was shocking. But you know, take any newspaper from the 1920s, or 1850s. In terms of behavior, you know, this idea that society has become unraveled, or that we’re worse than we were is just, oh my gosh, are we blinded to our history? Do we not remember slavery? Do we not remember when women couldn’t vote, or women couldn’t even have certain jobs, or couldn’t be paid, or any of this stuff? It’s like, what? We are so much more decent, and compassionate than we used to be. We just hid the bad stuff. I could go to any city in America, any daily newspaper, and by the time I get to page three, I have 20 shows.
Right. [Laughing] That’s crazy.
Forget the papers. Look at social media. There’s nothing that’s on television that compares to social media. Look at what kids are putting on Facebook. Look at what they’re putting on Instagram. Look at what they’re tweeting… what? Television doesn’t compare. Television is tame.
“We are so much more decent, and compassionate, than we used to be.”
How do people watch television now?
The truth is [despite] all the talk about social media, television still gets a bigger audience. And the difference is even if something goes viral on social media, it’s usually just for a day, and then even if just for a day, it’s still just among a certain group. You may talk about a particular website and a particular tweet, and yet, still, more Americans still haven’t seen that tweet until something’s talked about on the news. It’s not that most people see Trump’s tweets, it’s that they hear about it on the news. I’m not saying television will be here forever, but I am saying still, right now, it’s the way to reach most people, still.
What’s something you regret from the past 25 years?
That the Yankees lost last year. [Laughing]
That’s not an answer, Jerry.
[Laughing] Well, I don’t have any personal regrets. It would be very arrogant for me to say I’m unhappy with this, because I have a charmed life. I mean, it’s unfair. I don’t have any talent, and yet I have this incredible career, you know, undeserved.
I don’t know, I think that’s…
Well… that’s true. I mean, I think I’m a nice guy, and I think I’m reasonably bright, but I’m not talented. No one would have picked me out of a high school year book, or a college yearbook, or law school, and say, this guy’s gonna be an entertainer. I mean, you know, I found success in a field that I have no training for, and I have no particular abilities. I mean, I have a show that’s popular. But they could have assigned someone else to the show, and then they’d be…you know…
I don’t think so, Jerry. The only thing that makes the show be able to exist, is because the ideology behind the show comes from you. As a politician, that’s a crazy quality! It’s just who you are. And it’s something that appeals to American audiences, and that’s something that we need. And I think that’s that we do to our politicians, and our media icons, that we ask of that of them. Beyoncé has to give herself up for us, and Jerry Springer has to give himself up for us, and then it’s just… about you.
You’re really kind but… okay, let’s say you’re right. I mean, you are right, that I’m not judgmental. But I don’t call that talent. I just call that being a decent human being and listen to what my mom told me. I mean, you know. If anybody just listened to what their parents you, in the third grade, and just learned that as a lesson of life, just to be nice, and helpful to one another, don’t bully… If that’s the rules that someone would follow, then we would be nice to each other. Out of my close friends that I grew up with, I’m not the funniest, I’m not the best looking, I’m just one of the guys, and this is just how we behave, how guys behave. You’re not judgmental. You don’t tell racial jokes. I mean, we try to tell funny jokes, and we like sports, but we’re just regular people and I don’t know, I just think that’s how we behave. I mean, maybe it’s exceptional [to be nice] in show business. Maybe it’s also because I got famous after I was already an adult. Because then you have some perspective. Because if you suddenly become famous when you’re still a kid, you still figuring yourself out, you might not really be able to handle it. But I got into it when I was already a grown-up, you know, married with my daughter, it’s easy to tell that it’s just make believe.
Abeline, I’m sorry, but I have to get off the phone now. I have to go make people laugh on my show.