Howard Stern is unquestionably one of the most powerful figures in the world of entertainment. The radio pioneer, who signed a contract with Sirius XM Satellite Radio for a staggering $500 million 14 years ago, hosts a popular radio show, is a best-selling author (“Howard Stern Comes Again” hit shelves in May) and was host of America’s Got Talent.”
John Melendez, who will perform Friday and Saturday at Penguin’s, made a name for himself as a colorful intern on the Stern show a generation ago. The internship led to a job for Melendez, who was known as “Stuttering John” on the air. Melendez, who established himself on Stern’s show by asking ridiculous questions to celebrities and folks on the street, left the program in 2004 to become the announcer of “The Tonight Show.” The relationship between he and Stern did not end amicably.
“It’s sad what Howard has become,” Melendez said while calling from his Los Angeles home. “Howard has become what he used to goof on.”
Stern has called Melendez a “talentless expletive” on the air.
“It doesn’t matter that he called me talentless,” Melendez said. “Howard knows that I wrote his jokes and I wrote his bits when I was on his show. Howard is a baby. He has a hard time with anybody leaving the show. What I’ve done is extraordinary. I’m someone with a stutter, who took over as announcer of the greatest late night show in history.”
But what if Stern never hired Melendez? Would the NYU alum, who failed to stammer once during a 20-minute conversation, have made it in show business?
“That’s the question for a lifetime,” Melendez said. “I’m a creative, funny guy. Who knows what would have happened? If I didn’t work for Stern, I could have started as a comic at 22 like I wanted to do and become a huge stand-up and ended up as a guest on Stern.”
Melendez, 53, is working the stand-up circuit. The divorced father of three children, who range in age from 13 to 22, will riff about family, dating, middle-age, his drug use and Hollywood when he hits Penguin’s stage.
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“I’ll talk about life and what I’ve experienced,” Melendez said. “I’ll talk about the Kardashians. I used to be friends with them. I experienced a lot of interesting things. It’s been a fascinating life.”
The New York native will dish about his time on Stern’s program and “The Tonight Show.”
“Both were amazing experiences,” Melendez said. “I’ll never forget the greatest guests that were on Stern. There was nobody better than (comic-actors) Richard Lewis, Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay. I loved working on ‘The Tonight Show.’ Jay Leno is one of the nicest people in the business. Jay is the exact opposite of Howard. Jay cares about his people. The guy is a true mensch, who cares about everyone he works with. I’ll have a lot to talk about when I come into town.”
Melendez, who penned a memoir “For You to Say,” which saw the light of day in 2018, is pleased with his career and what could be on the horizon.
“I studied film and television when I was going to school and I got to where I wanted to be. I have no regrets. The cool thing is that the possibilities for me are endless. I’m very excited about where I can go from here. I’ve accomplished a great deal but the thing fans should know is that I haven’t changed a bit. I’m still this blue collar guy who will tell you exactly what he thinks. I’m not afraid of going out on the edge. There’s less and less guys who tell it like it is in comedy but that’s what I do. I pull no punches.”
WHAT: Stuttering John Melendez
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (7/26) and Saturday (7/27)
WHERE: Penguins Comedy Club, 208 Second Ave., SE, Cedar Rapids
COST: $15 advance, $17.50 day of show