The Last Laugh Robin Quivers' book reveals an enigma and her Baltimore upbringing

June 08, 1995|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Sun Staff Writer

The line of people waiting to see Robin Quivers on a sunny Saturday afternoon, almost 1,000 people strong, is one long visual introduction to the demographics of "The Howard Stern Show." Want to know who listens to the world's most famous shock jock? Here they are, mostly young, mostly white, men and women who love the self-appointed King of All Media and, by extension, his queen. They made his radio show No. 1, his book No. 1, and put Quivers' new book on best-seller lists the week it was released.

It is a polite crowd, a clean-cut crowd, waiting patiently with copies of "Quivers" tucked under arms, or pressed against chests. Some tattoos and denim jackets, but suspenders and button-down shirts, too. "You want to know who listens to me?" Howard Stern asked recently on his radio show, annoyed because a British newspaper had anointed Rush Limbaugh No. 1. "Every white man age 25-54."

Here's one of them. "I've been dying to meet you," Richard Care shouts in Quivers' face when his turn finally comes. The 29-year-old Philadelphia landscaper had been outside this Washington bookstore since 2 a.m., waiting for just this moment. He's the kind of fan that makes security guards huddle a little closer, but Ms. Quivers seems delighted.

"I've been dying to meet you, too," she says. And to his joy, she laughs! The Laugh, the same one that bubbles up at Howard's jokes about Selena, or sex, or men with peanut butter jars stuck to their anatomy. The Laugh, which Ms. Quivers' first radio mentor, John Jeppi of the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland, told her to lose if she wanted to make it in the business. But Ms. Quivers, whose Baltimore childhood was no laughing matter, couldn't stop her nervous giggle.

If you love Robin Quivers, you love The Laugh. If you hate her, the trademark sound is a tittering opprobrium, egging Mr. Stern on in his pursuit of racist, sexist or insensitive remarks. It is her essence, utterly distinctive and almost impossible to render in print. In "Quivers," The Laugh's owner settles for "Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha." Which is like saying Beethoven's Fifth Symphony begins: "Da, da, da, dah."

The sidekick's success

Today, Ms. Quivers, 42, barely stops laughing. With a best-selling book and capacity crowds at every stop of her book tour, she has reason to be in a good mood. Her appearances to promote "Quivers" may not spark the near-riots generated by Howard Stern's "Private Parts" tour in 1993, but she's packing them in. Not bad for a woman sometimes dismissed as a mere sidekick.

Sidekick. She uses the word herself, in "Quivers," but is disdainful when others use it. She may have a point. Would Ed McMahon draw this kind of crowd? Paul Shaffer? Tonto? Doubtful. So why Robin Quivers? Why does Howard Stern's popularity and celebrity accrue to her as well?

"She gives that added spice that makes the whole show work," says Roslyn Esch, 21, a nursing student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

"She's the intellectual backbone of the show," offers Melinda Care, Richard's very understanding wife, who has driven him here and now must drive the 150 miles back to Philadelphia. "She keeps Howard in line."

"She's the hardest one to get to," says Mr. Care, scanning the crowd in hopes some other member of the Stern radio family will show. Maybe Stuttering John Melendez, or writer Jackie

Martling, or producer Gary Dell'Abate. "She's an enigma."

Well, she was.

Howard Stern: "They had to anesthetize him below the waist. Did you read Robin's book? She was in worse shape after her 8th birthday."

Robin Quivers: "But I wasn't anesthetized."

Howard Stern: "You probably wished you were anesthetized."

-- From "The Howard Stern Show," May 12, in a discussion about a man who needed surgery to have a peanut butter jar removed from his body.

Howard Stern and Robin Quivers have been together for 14 years. But as Mr. Stern prattled about his wife and his parents, his bodily functions and sexual proclivities, Ms. Quivers told radio audiences relatively little about her life.

Then, after the astonishing success of "Private Parts," publishing executive Judith Regan offered Ms. Quivers the chance to bob in Stern's wake. Whip up something light and frothy, she was advised -- a few anecdotes about Mr. Stern, some funny stories about work.

Instead, Ms. Quivers chose to write a memoir in the latest twist on the "Mommie Dearest" tradition: I'm famous/My parents were rotten. It's a competitive field, peopled with practitioners such as Roseanne, but Ms. Quivers comes up with a trifecta in the abuse sweepstakes: sexual, physical and emotional.

Now her revelations are fair game for jokes on "The Howard Stern Show." Ms. Quivers doesn't care.

"Everyone is so afraid of telling. It's ridiculous for everyone to be sitting with these lumps in their chest," she says in a telephone interview from her New York office.

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