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Friday, April 29, 2005

Don't Hurt The Midget

Today, after I rolled out of bed at around two in the afternoon, I got to experience a rare treat. I got to see the Jerry Springer Show.

I'll be honest, I was surprised to find out that it was still on. After it was briefly en vogue for a while a few years back (the heyday of ultimately disappointing Too Hot For TV specials and a pretty terrible movie), the Springer show sort of dropped off the radar for a while, and if you have, you know, a job, you might miss it entirely. And yet, there it was, just as I remembered it. Same faux-brick and rusted-pipe setting, same cheating lovers being confronted, same Steve breaking up the fights. And in the center of it, one of my heroes, Jerry Springer himself.

Bear with me on this one. You probably just know Jerry from the show, and that's fine. Nobody expects you to know anything differently. But on the off chance that you're from Southwest Ohio, you might remember him as the youngest mayor of Cincinnatti, whose career was brought to an end by a scandal involving Jerry writing a check to a prostitute. That's closer to the truth, but still off.

The check/hooker scandal actually happened before he was mayor.

Here's the short version: Jerry came to America when he was five, fleeing the Holocaust with his parents. He volunteered for Bobby Kennedy's campaign, and then turned to politics himself, running for and eventually winning a seat on the Cincinnatti City Council. He was re-elected for a second term, and THAT'S when he wrote the infamous check. He immediately resigned amidst a scandal.

But rather than end his political career, the scandal--and the way Jerry was so open and honest about it, even going so far as to crack jokes at his own expense on rock station WEBN--served to refocus him. He'd lost the support of the Democratic party, and so ran for city council without it, winning his third term, and going on to (with party support) run successfully for mayor.

That was followed by a ten-year job as a news anchor, which led in turn to his own talk show, a serious affair that tanked in the ratings, then rose from the ashes of legitimate journalism to include commercials like: "Are you a prostitute who wants to tell her story? Call us now!" It's a beautiful thing.

It's Jerry's rise as the reaction to his spectacular fall that I admire as a truly American success story. He's a guy who came back from a career ending scandal to not only help people the way he wanted to, but to be wildly popular while he did it, before ending up in a career where he basically goes: "Hey, check out these yahoos."

You can see the appeal for me.

Such was the case with today's episode, which kept me rivited, wide-eyed, to the screen. So there's this girl, right? And she thinks her brother's made the wrong choice in his love life by having a child with a married woman whom he completely supports through his house-painting business.

And yes, the brother in question is indeed a midget. Oh man, it was awesome.

It had it all. The two girls fought each other, the midget ripped his shirt off to display his wares, and it was followed up by a toothless man who had cheated on his wife twice being made--at the audience's request--to both kiss her feet and roll over like a dog. I don't feel it's necessary to say this, but he was shirtless as well, having divested himself of it while threatening to make an audience member "his bitch, like in prison." I was on the verge of tears with the happiness it brought me.

So there I am, staring at the guests, six people with four sets of teeth between them, and I ask the same question that you do when you see it: "Where the hell does he find these people?"

Later, I went to Kentucky Fried Chicken, where a girl whose nametag identified her as "Precious" screwed up my order. Oh, right, I thought. THAT'S where.

Unfortunately, I missed the Final Thought, but I did get to see the segment of the show where the guests are seated onstage like a panel, and the audience asks questions. It was during this segment that one guy got up, took the mic from Jerry, and delivered one of the best sentences I've ever heard on television:

"I don't know how to ask this, but... can I ride the midget?"

Yes, my friend. Yes, you can. And afterwards, he'll ride you in a hilarious piggy-back around the stage. All while Jerry looks upon approvingly, with me silently thinking: "He was the mayor. He was the mayor. He was the mayor."

I love this country.