KICK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (20)

By: Mimi Lipson
March 10, 2022

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of a favorite sidekick — whether real-life or fictional.

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ROBIN QUIVERS

The Howard Stern Show, 2002. Mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill, subject of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and friend of the show, is on a two-day bender. He giggles into his chin like a baby, straightens up in a pantomime of sobriety. He won’t look anyone in the eye.

“Why are you so miserable, Henry?” Stern asks. “Talk to me.”

As is well known, Howard Stern relies heavily on sidekicks — two, three, four at a time. The bulk of the show’s three-ish hours a day is taken up by their clowning, gossiping, arguing, and shooting the shit. Today, though, the gang forms a circle of care around Henry Hill.

Stern: Why don’t you put down the booze and drink some of your coffee?
Robin Quivers: Where’s your bagel? I thought you were gonna eat a bagel.
Hill pulls a set of dentures out of his pocket and drops them on the floor.

The cast has changed over the years, but Robin Quivers has been with Stern since 1981, observing the sausage party from inside her glass newscaster’s booth: articulate, poised, above the fray. Her voice is high and plummy. Margaret Dumontesque.

Stern: We gotta get those teeth of yours in, Henry.
Hill: I love you.
Stern: I love you too, buddy. Listen to me. You’re in a lot of pain.
Hill: [Head down] I’m a scumbag. I ain’t gonna lie.
Stern: All right. Everyone knows that.
Quivers: Everyone. Ahahaha!
Stern: Well, he’s being honest.
Quivers: I’m laughing at Howard.

Quivers is the kind of sidekick who laughs a lot, but she isn’t a toady, and unlike Dumont, she’s rarely the butt of the joke. She’s also a Black woman on a show that “pushes the envelope” in some unfortunate directions. Whole dissertations have probably been written on the discourse implications of her mere presence in the studio. To put it in the simplest terms: When things get sexist and/or racist, some portion of the audience turns to her to hear a mocking hoot or a long-suffering groan. Which direction that moves the transgress-o-meter is entirely dependent on your outlook.

Henry Hill’s daughter, it seems, is married to a Black man, who “turned out to be a pretty good guy.” Nonetheless, Hill deploys slurs in both English and Italian (titsune) when referring to him. Robin hoots. “A what?”

Stern: When you wake up, you’re just miserable and you need that drink. Is there anything that brings you joy? When you see the kids?
Hill shakes his head.
Stern: The titsunes.
Quivers gives a full-throated laugh. There it is: She let everyone off the hook.

What are we to make of Robin Quivers? Is she having them on, or is she being had? Her response to a Black listener who called in to say he was ashamed of her: “Excuse me, are you going to pay me two million dollars a year?”

Howard Stern was always a talented interviewer, even before the The New York Times started running serious profiles praising his psychological acuity. He’s gotten better over the years, more emotionally intelligent. “Evolved” is how he puts it. So let’s take note of a moment early in the 2002 interview, before Henry Hill enters the studio.

Quivers: “Don’t you have the feeling that he can’t live with—
Stern: Yeah. He can’t live with being out of the mob.
Quivers: Well, I don’t think it’s being out of the mob. I think it’s all the stuff he did.
Artie Lang: Nah, I don’t think—
Stern: Ohhh.
Quivers: And he’s not with any of those guys anymore. He’s, like, alone. He’s got a lot of stuff… when he’s sober, there’s nothing to stop him from thinking about it.

This hadn’t occurred to Stern. “Interesting,” he says. “You see, I was thinking just the opposite, but I think you’re right.”

This, not the hoots and groans, is what makes Robin Quivers a solid-gold sidekick — the reason Stern has said many times that he’ll retire when Robin Quivers does.

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KICK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Annie Nocenti on RATSO | Barbara Bogaev on TRIXIE | Sara Ryan on SWIFT WIND | Carlo Rotella on BELT BEARERS | Adam McGovern on JACKIE McGEE | Josh Glenn on RAWHIDE | Gabriela Pedranti on KUILL | Douglas Wolk on VOLSTAGG | Serdar Paktin on CATO | Deirdre Day on TRAMPAS | Dean Haspiel on TIN MAN | Flourish Klink on THE APOSTLE PETER | Miranda Mellis on FAMILIAR | Peggy Nelson on COSMO | Beth Lisick on MARTHA BROOKS | Bishakh Som on CAPTAIN HADDOCK | Stephanie Burt on SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE | Greg Rowland on SPOCK | Adam Netburn on SENKETSU | Mimi Lipson on ROBIN QUIVERS | Jonathan Pinchera on GUTS | Tom Nealon on TWIKI | Mandy Keifetz on DR. EINSTEIN | Judith Zissman on IGNATZ MOUSE | Anthony Miller on DOCTOR GONZO.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Enthusiasms