Two kinds of people listen to talk radio in 2010: those who think Michael Savage is a nut job and those who think he’s right. The Savage Nation, his daily broadcast, reaches an estimated 8 million to 10 million listeners a week, and even his haters admit the show is like radio crack—and wildly unpredictable. One minute Savage is railing against illegal immigration or advocating work camps for the homeless, the next he’s getting misty over a Walt Whitman couplet or cuddling his poodle, Teddy. Savage abhors whiny liberalism and the Prius elite, even as he plays up his lefty creds: a Ph.D. from Berkeley, years of association with tree huggers, gays and beatniks, and a home base in—huh?—the San Francisco Bay area. But he’s just as hard on conservatives. Ask him, if you dare, about Dubya or Glenn Beck. Savage likes to call himself an independent-minded individualist.
Born Michael Alan Weiner in 1942 in the Bronx of yore (read: immigrant Jews, not blacks and Latinos), he grew up Jewish, poor and more than a little discontent. His father ran an antiques store on the Lower East Side, and young Michael was dispatched to the basement to clean patina off bronze statues with various cyanides. “One cleaned, one killed, but my father never said which was which,” he says. A younger brother, Jerome, was born with brain damage and eventually died in an institution, a tragedy that pushed Savage to study alternative medicine in faraway islands. Writing under the name Weiner, and with degrees in anthropology and medical botany, he became one of America’s most prominent herbalists and author of such books as Plant a Tree: A Working Guide to Regreening America and Secrets of Fijian Medicine. But after working at a San Francisco health clinic in the early 1980s, when AIDS was just surfacing, he published Maximum Immunity, a book that took a hard line against “the homosexual lobby.” It was part of a turnaround that prompted the name change—a nod to 19th century sailor Charles Savage, who introduced guns to Fiji—and soon a new career. In 1995 Savage sent a demo tape to hundreds of stations, and he landed “to the right of Rush and to the left of God” on the radio dial. Controversy has followed him ever since. In 2008 Savage was banned from the United Kingdom for “fomenting hatred” on the air and in best-selling books such as Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder.
Today Savage has three homes, an array of flashy cars and a 63-foot yacht in prosperous Marin County, California, where his show originates. He also owns a mansion in Florida. He and his wife, Janet, have been married more than 40 years, and they have two children, including a son, Russell, who founded the company behind Rockstar energy drinks.
Contributing Editor David Hochman spent more than 16 hours interviewing Savage. Says Hochman, “I can’t remember a more difficult interview. Savage was a fine host, but his opinions are extreme to the point of being poison. Much of the time I hated him. He’s maddeningly bullheaded and closed-minded. But he was just as leery of me. Even when we were laughing I knew he was thinking, Liberal vermin media.”
PLAYBOY: Why are you so angry?
SAVAGE: Do I look angry?
PLAYBOY: A little. You definitely sound angry.
SAVAGE: Well, I get worked up. First of all, I get angry because I can’t believe I live in a country that’s so fucking stupid it lets every group in the world come here. “Please let us in because our country is a shit hole.” Fine! “Let us come in on asylum because our country will kill us.” No problem! Then the minute they fucking get here they turn around and sue the fucking country, make demands on the country, won’t learn the language, won’t salute the flag, and all they do is disparage the country.
PLAYBOY: You’ve neatly boiled it down to a problem of borders, language and culture, correct?
SAVAGE: It’s my definition of how our nation is defined and why it’s unraveling. It’s also a framework. Here are our borders, here is our language, here is our culture. If you want to live in America, wonderful. But become one of us. If you want to practice your home language, do it at home or in your own community.
PLAYBOY: That sort of rabid nationalism can quickly lead to xenophobia, which in turn can…well, remember what happened in the 1930s in Germany?
SAVAGE: Ah, bullshit! That’s typical left-wing horseshit. I don’t even understand what they’re talking about. What? I’m Hitler because I’m against illegal immigration? It makes me a racist? I would say the racists are the people who come into a country that isn’t theirs and take it over and tell me I should speak their language. You go to a sporting event and they’re waving the Mexican flag, not an American flag. What if my grandfather had waved a Russian flag? They would have killed him.
PLAYBOY: You wouldn’t be here speaking freely on the radio every day if it weren’t for your immigrant grandparents and so many millions more.
SAVAGE: Not all waves of immigration are the same. Not all immigrants are the same. Not all nations of origin are the same. The times are different. My grandparents wanted to become Americans. Maybe they spoke Yiddish at home, but when they went outside, they wanted to be Americans. So I don’t know what that has to do with race. I think it has to do with attitude. And by the way, I’m not talking about all immigrants, not even all the illegal immigrants. I’m talking about 30 percent. I’ve seen data that one third of all prisoners in America happen to be illegal aliens, most of them from Mexico. We can’t survive as a nation if we keep letting this large swath of people come across the border. There are countries that put up barriers that say, “You can come into the country if you have a profession we need or if you have a certain amount of money to start a business, but we can’t afford to support you.” We don’t do that here. We say, “Come on in.” Now, how in the world can we take in an unlimited number of people? Who’s going to pay for their health care? Who’s going to pay for their jail care? Who’s going to pay for their legal care? Who’s going to pay for their housing? The answer is the rest of us are. And that’s why we’re going broke. My principle—you want to help health care? Okay, two things. Let’s take California. Put a highway patrol officer in every hospital. And I’m sorry, no tickee, no washee. You’re not a citizen, you can’t get care. Of course, if it’s catastrophic, such as an auto accident, you give them what they need. But you can’t get care if you’re not a citizen. I’m sorry; we can’t do it anymore. On a macro scale you can see where a society is the same as a household. And if politicians started to listen to the people who are screaming and saying, “Treat the nation like a household, not like a piggy bank you can keep hitting,” we’d all be better off. We can’t keep raiding the piggy bank because all these outsiders want something from us. I’m just using logic.
PLAYBOY: Is it logical to call for an outright ban on Muslim immigration, as you’ve done?
SAVAGE: I’m very worried about the number of mosques being built, where they’re being built, why they have to be so dominant. I’m also worried about what type of Islam is being promulgated in America today. I’ve talked about the Wahhabi sect of Islam, which is very violent, very aggressive and very unaccepting of any other religion. We should consider what’s being taught in any house of worship. I don’t know of a church or synagogue in America that teaches people to go out and kill anybody or to go back to the homeland and learn how to strap a bomb on their dick and blow it up on an airplane. There may be some fringe churches—I don’t know—but quite a few mosques are doing it. Just ask the FBI. Look at the Somali community of Wahhabis in Minneapolis. Why are so many young men going back to Somalia and being radicalized? Why are so many Pakistani men going back to Pakistan and being radicalized? Well, let’s look at the fucking imams and what they’re teaching these kids. But I don’t know. It’s not my job to solve these problems. It’s the FBI’s job. I’m supposed to be protected from this.
PLAYBOY: But what is your responsibility? How responsible was it to say we should kill 100 million Muslims, as you did in 2006?
SAVAGE: Oh, come on! That was in the context of a whole longer conversation. But again, that’s the sort of bullshit question I would expect from liberal vermin media. I don’t know anybody who would actually say, “Go ahead and randomly start killing people.” That comment came right after a bunch of Islamo-fascists blew up the subways in Spain, which was followed soon thereafter by the London bombing. There was talk of them getting control of a nuclear weapon. What if they take over Pakistan with nukes? Then what? We are going to face this Hobson’s choice. People kept saying the extremists represent only 10 percent of 900 million Muslims. That’s when I asked, “Would you rather see 100 million of us fried or 100 million of them fried?” Nobody says this stuff, so I say it. I’m screaming out from the wilderness.
PLAYBOY: So you’re doing it to be provocative?
SAVAGE: If I were not a controversial figure, you wouldn’t be here. My job is to make people listen. I’ll do it any way I have to. “What did he say? Fuck, that’s outrageous!” Well, yeah, but listen to what I’m saying. See it in the bigger picture. Of course, people love to twist what I say, take it out of context, make me a monster.
PLAYBOY: You sound like a monster sometimes, like when you said last year that autistic children are just “brats who haven’t been told to cut the act out.”
SAVAGE: Of course there are autistic children. But try to define it. Every goddamn thing a child does is now thrown into the autism spectrum. How is that possible? Where did this illness come from? There are children who are genuinely autistic but not to the extent the medical establishment has claimed. The same with ADD and ADHD. A kid whines and the medical-pharmaceutical establishment says, “Medicate, medicate. Treat, treat. Your child is sick, poor baby.” These kids aren’t sick! It’s the system that’s sick. It’s the same with adults. Psychotherapy has great value for people up to a point, but it doesn’t mean that much to me. A lot of vitamin C and a good long bike ride will generate far more antidepressive qualities than an hour of therapy. But people don’t understand that because they can’t see it in context.
PLAYBOY: In practically every context, you’ve come out against gay marriage, gay adoption and the gay lifestyle in general. It’s 2010. What’s the problem with being gay?
SAVAGE: I do accept gays. I don’t know where it came up that I’m Mr. Anti-Gay. I still don’t. [laughs] Well, I know where it came from.
PLAYBOY: You were fired from MSNBC after telling an anonymous gay caller to “eat a sausage and choke on it” and “get AIDS and die.”
SAVAGE: Let’s talk about that, all right? You know the guy wasn’t gay, right?
PLAYBOY: Does that excuse the comments?
SAVAGE: Well, what you don’t hear if you play the thing on YouTube is that he was insulting me and insulting my mother. This fucker was a prank caller. He started to ridicule me personally, so I basically got into a street fight with him and used the rhetoric of the streets to go for his guts. But all anyone heard was me berating the guy. It didn’t come out of nowhere.
SAVAGE: But let’s talk about the gays for a moment. First of all, I’ve had gay friends all my life. Currently I don’t because I don’t have a lot of friends to begin with. But one of my best friends all through my children’s early childhood was a gay man—a good friend of ours who would come to the house, babysit. We didn’t care.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t that the oldest line in the bigot’s handbook? Some of my best friends are gay, black, Jewish, whatever?
SAVAGE: My point is that many, many gay people are wonderful people.
PLAYBOY: So why shouldn’t they be allowed to get married?
SAVAGE: [laughs] It’s funny. Most of the gay people I know would say, “The whole reason I became gay was so I didn’t have to fucking wind up like my mother and father. I want an interesting, wild life. I just want to fuck whomever I want and have a good time.” Now, all of a sudden there’s this whole concept of living like Ozzie and Ozzie? They want to have the picket fence?
PLAYBOY: So are you saying gay people choose to be gay?
SAVAGE: How can you generalize about this? It’s a nature-nurture argument. My point is, the people I knew who chose this way did so because they were so-directed, yes, but also because they did not want the picket-fence life. I am a sexual libertarian. Why should I care what people do to stimulate themselves as long as children are not affected? Gay marriage confuses children. It all comes back to the survival of a society. To me marriage has always been the brick foundation of every society. You start tampering with the definition of marriage and you spread that idea to children, you’re tampering with the whole structure. Honestly, this whole thing about gay marriage has become so damn important for reasons I can’t even understand. I don’t understand why anyone would want it so badly.
PLAYBOY: Let’s see: equal access to benefits, adoption rights, civil rights, the basic human right to live happily ever after–—
SAVAGE: I don’t know of a society in the history of the world—Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian—that recognizes a marriage between anyone other than a man and a woman. Beyond that, every time this issue has appeared on a state ballot gay marriage has been overwhelmingly voted down. In California, even African American Obama supporters voted nine to one against gay marriage. So you have thousands of years of evolved social history that cannot be overturned simply because there is a screaming demand for it in one country at one time. I’m almost Rabelaisian in my view of sex. Do whatever the fuck you want if it feels good. Like a psychiatrist wrote, “I don’t care what people do, with what orifices, nor with whom, to get pleasure.” Just leave the children alone. That’s been my view on gay sex and marriage.
PLAYBOY: Gay people aren’t having sex with children.
SAVAGE: But the children are being proselytized. If gay marriage becomes legal, the children see this and they get a false sense of what marriage is.
PLAYBOY: Wait. Explain how children are being proselytized.
SAVAGE: [Shouts] Oh! Oh! Let’s go into the schools with the brainwashing. Johnny has two daddies! Put a condom on a cucumber so you don’t get AIDS! Why do they have to teach children sexuality at all? Is that what schools are for? Aren’t there parents for that? All of a sudden the government has to teach sex? Why should we assume the schools are giving out healthy, honest information? If you look at some of the shit that’s put into the school curriculum today, there are things on fisting. Have you seen any of this? Like fisting can be fun? You want to teach that to children? This is like a cult. I say leave the children out of it when it comes to sex. In that way I guess I’m not Swedish.
PLAYBOY: So we shouldn’t be teaching safe sex?
SAVAGE: It should be up to parents to tell their kids about sex.
PLAYBOY: Did your parents tell you about sex?
SAVAGE: Never! [laughs] And I didn’t have the sex talk with my children. It would have been very uncomfortable. “Son, daughter, I’m now going to tell you about fucking.” Oh, fuck! They don’t want to hear this.
PLAYBOY: So children should just learn about sex from–—
SAVAGE: Where they always have! The gutter! Trial and error! You meet a girl, you make mistakes, you learn. I’m not teaching my children how to fuck. There’s no need for that. And I don’t want the government teaching my kids how to fuck. Do I want a bunch of whack jobs at school with cucumbers and dolls teaching it to our kids? No fucking way!
PLAYBOY: Is your family ever embarrassed by what you say?
SAVAGE: No, no, no. [pauses] Well, I can’t speak for them. I mean, I suspect there are certain issues we disagree on, but we generally don’t argue politics. They know this is what I do for a living, and we tend not to talk about issues in which we have conflict. We get along better that way.
PLAYBOY: Like what?
SAVAGE: My wife and I disagree on the gay thing. She’s in favor of gay marriage. It’s not as though it’s her life’s mission, but she says it’s good; if they want to get married, fine, and if they have children, it’s better for the children. She’d rather have a gay couple—a nice gay couple—raise children than half of these fucking white trash Cops-type couples.
PLAYBOY: Is it true your son’s company, which makes Rockstar energy drinks, has to make a sizable contribution to gay causes each year to balance out his connection with you?
SAVAGE: I can’t comment on anything my family does.
PLAYBOY: Not even on Rockstar?
SAVAGE: I do drink Rockstar. You have a bad hangover, try Rockstar Zero Carb. Instant cure. And you want to hear an interesting story about that? My dad was not an educated man, but he had an antiques store on the Lower East Side, right near the Bowery, with bums just crapped out in the gutter. Horrible. I’d say, “Dad, why are they in the street? Why are they allowed to be so sick? Why doesn’t the city take care of them?” And he said, “Well, most of them want to be in the streets. They like it. And the shame of it all is,” he said to me, “if those goddamn alcohol manufacturers put in a few cents for B vitamins in the alcohol, most of the bums wouldn’t get so sick.” I told that story to my son when he was a little boy. As a result my son’s interest in vitamins was provoked, and it had a tremendous positive influence on his formulations for Rockstar. You wouldn’t believe it, but vitamins have a profound role in people’s health.
PLAYBOY: The first half of your career—as Michael Weiner, globe-trotting ethnobotanist and author—was devoted to advocating vitamins and healthy living. You were a regular tree hugger. What changed?
SAVAGE: I still like trees. In fact, that’s what gets me so much about these so-called environmentalists. They drive their Priuses and whine about lightbulbs, but do they actually do anything? No! These Obama eco-warriors up here have turned beautiful Marin County into industrial England with all the smoke from their fireplaces at night. But how many of them have been out there and saved a tree or a forest? I spent years documenting the indigenous plants of various island nations and how they’re used in medicine. But I call myself a conservationist rather than an environmentalist, because the word environmentalist is too loaded. Who wants to pollute the land? Who wants to pollute the water? Conservatives are more environmental than liberals in the sense that, who is it that goes hunting? Who is it that goes fishing? Who goes boating? A large group of them are conservative politically. Do they want to poison the earth and the water and the fowl? I don’t think so. They’re the natural Teddy Roosevelt conservation type.
PLAYBOY: Many conservatives also say global warming is a lie.
SAVAGE: Let’s talk about global warming. Did you hear about the computer files leaked out of the University of East Anglia that revealed how so-called climate scientists were cooking the data on climate change? Have you heard about Glaciergate? The chief proponent of this climate scam, Phil Jones, admitted this past February that the climate data are bogus. [Editor’s note: Jones never said his data were bogus, but he did confess to sloppy record keeping. The British government exonerated him in April, saying his research did not contradict scientific studies that show global warming is real.] He admitted there hasn’t been any statistically significant global warming for 15 years. The head of the UN Committee on Glaciers had said glaciers would be gone by the year 2035, even though he admitted he knew the data were inconclusive when he was told about it two years ago. This is one of the greatest scientific frauds of our time. Let’s put common sense out there.
PLAYBOY: So you’re saying nearly 50 major scientific societies, including every national academy of science on earth, are making this stuff up? Why would they?
SAVAGE: Control. Money. You know how many billions of dollars are invested now in green technology? And you know how many hundreds of millions were given to these scientists to prove this shit? And if anyone didn’t go along with it they were cast out of the whole scientific establishment. They were the heretics. No funding, no research, you’re fired.
PLAYBOY: You must be a joy to sit with at dinner parties.
SAVAGE: [laughs] I don’t go to them. Or if I do, I’m miserable. When I was in Florida recently, a conservative woman we know invited Janet and me to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. The food was good. The people were nice. But when Donald Trump was introduced to us, he was cold to me. I suppose he heard I’d mentioned something once about his hair, which I thought was fake. And I still don’t know what it is. But no, mostly at social gatherings I’m morose. I sometimes crave people, but then I get there and it’s chaotic and unfocused and I want to leave. I get rattled around people. I’ll be frank with you.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any friends?
SAVAGE: Friends? What is that? What does it mean? We all end up alone.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any neighbors you could borrow butter from?
SAVAGE: It would be nice to have friends on the block, but that’s not the case. I’m basically a communal person in my heart, so it’s an interesting question. I was a kid who had hundreds of friends. I was like the neighborhood mascot, the shortstop. Everyone loved me. I never thought I’d wind up isolated and alone in a house on a hill in Marin County. I was joking about it on the radio yesterday. I said I always thought I’d end up owning an inn in New England, like on The Sopranos. You know, where the fat guy who was outed as gay goes before he gets whacked? Henry Miller wrote it best, I think, in Black Spring: “Every morning I awake to a thousand paths to take.” Right? It’s life. What are you going to do? You go down a road and you live with it. And you gotta thank God for what you have, because compared with what our ancestors had, I don’t care who the American is, you don’t have to go back too many generations to realize we’re all living on easy street. As poor as we are, as complicated as things are in America right now, the poorest man is living on easy street compared with what went on two or three generations ago in Europe. So I don’t complain.
PLAYBOY: What made you leave America to go to Fiji as a young man in 1969?
SAVAGE: It made no rational sense at all, but I’ve looked back and self-analyzed it. Part of it was trying to find cures for my brother Jerome, who was born brain damaged. When I was a kid, my mother cried over and over again to me about Jerome. And I’d say, “Ma, if God could come down”—I’d say this to her when I was a little boy—“what would you ask God to do?” “I’d ask him to fix Jerome, make him better.” Now what does a little boy want to do more than please his mother? “I’m going to give Mommy what she wants.” There’s no God in the room, so I’ll help her. I’ll fix Jerome. So I looked for all these cures in the oddest places, because I knew traditional medicine didn’t have answers. That’s what led me outside the normal Jewish medical school thing and on the long journey to Fiji. But what the fuck did I know? I’m living there on these godforsaken islands, working with folk healers. I’ve left a young wife and children behind. I’ve spent most of my money because nobody would fund it. What the fuck was I trying to prove? I’m Schweitzer? I’m a wild man? I wouldn’t do it again today.
PLAYBOY: Do you regret inviting Allen Ginsberg, the famous Beat poet, to visit you there after you and he exchanged a series of letters?
SAVAGE: Who knows? I’ve definitely thought about it. I pretty much know what it was. Young Jewish boy—me—deracinated from his Judaism, didn’t really think rabbis were worth much. Still don’t. Ginsberg comes along and presents himself as a holy man. The beard, the chanting, the poetry. So to a deracinated, searching Jew he looks like a prophet. And I wanted to know this prophet. When I was in New York I even wrote a little piece on him for the World Book Encyclopedia. Do you know about that?
PLAYBOY: That’s interesting.
SAVAGE: Yeah. They paid me 50 bucks or something. I got to interview him. I saw the squalor he lived in. Didn’t matter to me. We kept up a sort of letter-writing thing after I moved out here. I didn’t know him well, though I got a little friendly with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, [angrily] the despicable, horrendous, jealous, phony, communist capitalist that he is. And we all, you know, knew each other, and through that relationship of knowing each other from North Beach in San Francisco, I invited him and Ginsberg to Hawaii, where we were living, and I think on another trip, to Fiji. It’s a blur to me now.
PLAYBOY: What remains is a photograph of you swimming naked with Ginsberg, who was sort of the poster child for gay America at the time.
SAVAGE: [laughs] Now, have you seen the picture?
PLAYBOY: No. Can you show it to us?
SAVAGE: I don’t have it, but I know the picture. There’s me, ethnobotanist, jumping in a cold river. There’s Allen Ginsberg. There’s Lawrence. Now open the frame and there’s about 20 other people with us. All naked. But that’s how people went swimming [in the South Pacific] at that time.
PLAYBOY: But given your stance on gay politics, do you understand why that photograph would be confusing now?
SAVAGE: [Angrily] What does it mean? You hang around with a gay man, you’re gay? I mean, what are they, nuts? Don’t you see the hate that comes out of people when they try to pervert this? Who the fuck would sleep with Ginsberg even if they were gay? He was a horrendous man, horrible. An old, fucking disgusting queen. Communist NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association] member. There were a lot of reasons to not like the man, and he wasn’t my friend.
PLAYBOY: Were you ever confused about your sexuality?
SAVAGE: No. Hello? Why is this? I mean, I can’t understand this.
PLAYBOY: Well, your vitriol toward them makes us think of something a teacher once said: When we hate others it’s because we recognize something of ourselves in them.
SAVAGE: So in other words I want to be a radical Muslim who blows up people in a schoolyard?
PLAYBOY: Or perhaps you feel like an outsider. Or you were confused.
SAVAGE: Wrong! I hate radical Islam because I hate radical Islam, not because I want to put a bomb in a schoolyard. That’s the logic of what you just said. And again, you’re assuming I hate gays. It goes back to the same misinterpretation. You’re coming at it from the wrong perspective. I’ve said it, I’ll say it again. I hope the interview is about more than this. I really do. This obsession, I don’t understand. You’re a sex magazine, okay, so you want to know about sex. As I said before, I’m a sexual libertarian!
PLAYBOY: When did you lose your virginity?
SAVAGE: Oh, Jesus, how old was I—19, 18? I don’t remember. But I did date a Playboy Bunny when I was 17 or 18.
PLAYBOY: You did?
SAVAGE: Yes. I was in college, and she was the sister of a girl I knew. She was ancient. She was 23. And we were all hanging out once, and everyone wanted this Playboy Bunny. It wasn’t that she was so beautiful. She was pretty enough, but for fuck’s sake, she was a Playboy Bunny! That was the epitome. A living goddess! And she chose me. I spent the time with her that afternoon in the apartment. I don’t know whether we actually completed the circuit. I think we must have. I don’t remember. But I glowed for a week as a result. I was like, Thank you, Hugh Hefner! Although now she probably has a transfusion tree somewhere if she’s still living. Or living with a butcher somewhere in Boca Raton. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: That’s funny. How did you meet your wife?
SAVAGE: We’re married, by the way, 43 years.
PLAYBOY: She must be a saint!
SAVAGE: Watch it! She loves me. She loves my genius, and she loves my passion. She knows I get excited and yell sometimes, and she loves that it’s “what you see is what you get” with me. Anyway, I met her when I was promoting a film festival in the Lower East Side called the Be-In Again Film Festival. It was 1967.
PLAYBOY: You were a hippie!
SAVAGE: Who can remember? But anyway, the Human Be-In had just occurred in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and I had collected as many 16-millimeter movies of the event as I could through an ad in The Village Voice. Oh, this is a fucking great story! So I put together this verkakte film festival in a back lot between some shit nightclubs, and about 30 people showed up. I remember some Polish lady upstairs yelling, “You fuckin’ hippie bastards!” And she threw water on the projectors. That was the end of the festival. [laughs] No, I swear to you. But in promoting the thing around the Lower East Side, I ran into Janet. She was beautiful and friendly. We started to date, lived together, went to Hawaii together, had children together, and here we are, in a blink of an eye.
PLAYBOY: All that lefty counterculture rabble-rousing and you’re the king of conservatives now? Again, we have to ask: What the hell happened?
SAVAGE: It all goes back to being a social worker in the fucking most liberal place of all—the Upper West Side of New York fucking City. I was making $5,300 a year. I couldn’t afford furniture, so I had a mattress on the floor and a coffee table with two bricks, like everyone did in those days. So here I am a social worker, and the fucking bums on welfare come into the city department of welfare . My supervisor says, “All right, get out your book. You’re going to have to give this bum $300 for a couch, $150 for end tables, $150 for a coffee table, two end chairs, another $65 and the other.…” Blah, blah, blah. “Write him a check for $4,922 to furnish his state-financed welfare home.” I said, “How can you do that?” She said, “Well, everyone who’s civilized needs those furniture items.” I said, “But I don’t have them!” She said, “Well, you’re not on welfare.” So that’s when it started to dawn on me that the system was totally corrupt and upside down. Then I would catch these welfare cheats. “Oh, hello, Mrs. Smith. How are you today?” And I’d see a pair of men’s shoes under the bed. She was supposed to have been living alone. Or I’d hear her phone ring under the bed. They weren’t supposed to have a phone. She put it under the bed. Everyone was working the system.
PLAYBOY: That explains the radical change?
SAVAGE: I don’t see myself as having had a radical shift. I’m not much different than I was 30 years ago in my worldview. I’m still the same person who wants to be left the fuck alone. I don’t want the government intruding in my life. I don’t want it telling me what to do. I resent it telling me what I can say, what I can’t say. What I can’t think. I don’t like it controlling my food. I don’t like it controlling my water. I don’t like it controlling everything I do, and I don’t like it giving handouts to people who don’t want to work for a living. Yet look at what’s happened. You go on an airplane, you give up all your civil rights. Why? Because you fucking moronic Muslims blew up a plane? So the whole world now went into a tilt. And they still can’t stop them. Look at the underwear bomber. With all this shit, the guy could still get on and set his dick on fire on an airplane. If it weren’t for the flying Dutchman [passenger Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch film director who subdued suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab], he would have blown up the plane. We should have given him a medal for saving the people. But no! That would have made government officials look like the incompetent idiots they are. [Secretary of Homeland Security] Janet Napolitano would have been in a barrel.
PLAYBOY: Is the Obama administration doing right in your opinion?
SAVAGE: I agree with Obama on regulating banks. They’re out of control. Even the bankers will tell you that. But in general I think there’s going to be more voter remorse with Obama than with any other president in history, especially since so many conservative Republicans voted for him in opposition to McCain and Bush. I heard the idiots. They said, “Oh, it’s better to elect Obama and teach the Republicans a lesson.” Look what we ended up with. I mean, Obama’s a great package—good-looking guy, very appealing. But you find out it’s all fury and sound and nothing else. And he’s leading the country down the road of socialism and left-wing morass. Do you realize Obama couldn’t have been cleared to be his own Secret Service agent? As you know, to become an FBI or a Secret Service agent there’s a very strict set of rules, one of which is based on your past associations. Let’s forget the birthing issue. I won’t go there. His association with Bill Ayers alone would have disqualified him. His association for 20 years in Reverend Wright’s church, the Reverend Wright who said the government gave AIDS to the black man? End of interview.
PLAYBOY: What are your thoughts on the Tea Party movement?
SAVAGE: I’ve always liked tea. But this movement is largely composed of middle-class business owners who know the government, Republicans and Dems, are bankrupting the nation. They see the threat from this Marxist-oriented president, his drive to nationalize many aspects of the private sector—from GM and AIG to our banks and health care. They know global warming and the associated cap-and-trade legislation are gigantic Ponzi schemes built on false science. And they know this hasn’t stopped Obama from heating up his plan to expand federal funding of global warming research, already pegged at $2 billion . The tea parties and the town halls are all saying what I’ve been saying on the radio. It’s the true voice of America, not the left-wing “rent a mobs” we’ve seen for the past three decades. That’s why they both shock and frighten the left-wing media. These are real people, really angry.
PLAYBOY: Do you have a solution? You recently toyed with the idea of running for office.
SAVAGE: I have toyed with it because I think I could win. I could win a congressional seat. But I don’t want to be a politician. Ever. I don’t have the nature for it. Let’s say you win, okay? One, forget the hard campaign. You have to live in Washington. I hate flying. I hate Washington. I like living here. I’d have to sit through meetings. I don’t have the patience for meetings. I can’t do groupthink. I’m not good in circles where I listen to everyone’s opinion and go, “Um, um, um, um, uh.” It wasn’t running that scared me; it was winning. I’d rather sit home and talk to my dog and my listeners.
PLAYBOY: You have an audience in the millions. How do you explain your appeal?
SAVAGE: I don’t know. First of all I have a cantor’s voice. I have a magnetic voice. I know that because if I’m walking the dog and I’m talking, people look up and respond to the resonance of my voice. It has a command, a stopping power. And I believe I’m extremely capable of taking complex ideas and throwing a lightning bolt of connections in one phrase. People love that. Combine that with the down-to-earth guy-on-the-street, let’s-talk-food, I-got-a-headache and here’s-my-dog ordinary guy stuff, and that’s the mix. Plus, I’m a party of one. I’m not a Republican; I’m not a Democrat. My parents were Democrats because they were poor Jews who thought FDR was God. Okay, he created the WPA and my father had a job. Had I joined the Republican Party it would have been like joining the Nazi Party. A lot of Jews today still feel the same way, even rich Jews. Republicans are still Nazis to them. Me? I’m not a Republican because I don’t like their politics, and I know they’re a bunch of crooks. Look at what Bush did. He was an embarrassment. The man couldn’t complete a sentence without mangling words. Not that being articulate is the end-all. Look at Obama. My listeners appreciate that I’m not a mouthpiece for either party.
PLAYBOY: Are the people who listen to your show people you’d like to hang out with?
SAVAGE: No, no. A couple rules of radio: Never accept listener food. “Dear Mike, We love you. That is why we baked you this lasagna.” You know it’s poison. My first program director taught me that. For the same reason never accept listener wine, even though I love wine. And try never to socialize with listeners. Maybe they’re nice people. Some of them look like people I’d like to know. But I really don’t have time to get involved.
PLAYBOY: Is it true you had your friends and family pretend to be callers on your first radio show?
SAVAGE: Yeah, when I made my first demo tape 15 years ago. I was alone in my house in Sausalito and had them call in. I sent that tape to 500 stations. One in Boston said, “You’re pretty good.” The strangest response was from KGO, the big liberal talk station in San Francisco. They said, “Come and do a fill-in,” which I did for Ray Taliaferro’s show. He’s a really fanatic left-wing America hater. Off the air he’s a great guy. I actually like him.
PLAYBOY: What did you talk about on that first show?
SAVAGE: I talked about affirmative action and how bad it was because it wasn’t built on fairness. And remember, this is San Francisco, on a liberal station, so the phones went absolutely fucking crazy. The hate came pouring in. This was in the middle of the night, but the ratings were through the roof. I drove home looking in the rearview mirror, positive someone was following me. I came home shaking at five in the morning and told Janet, “I’ll never do radio again.” Next thing, ring ring. “Hey, you were pretty damn good. Would you like to do it again?” I said sure. From then on, I basically drove the station.
PLAYBOY: Do you still look in your rearview mirror? What if an angry listener climbs the gate and comes after you?
SAVAGE: They won’t climb the gate because they’ll be shot before they get to the front door. But I have had many death threats over the years. I take them quite seriously. But there’s a phrase in the business that says “The flashers don’t rape.” It’s the ones who don’t say anything you worry about. That’s why I have a conceal-and-carry permit. No, I’m not armed, but it’s in the house, and when I go out I always have a weapon. I’m allowed to. It’s legal. And I’m prepared to use it because I’m not going to beg on my hands and knees, “Please don’t shoot me.” They better have really good fucking aim because they’re going to die first.
PLAYBOY: Let’s shift gears and play the name game with your media cohorts. Bill O’Reilly.
SAVAGE: I think O’Reilly is a phony. He has a background in entertainment. He’s very smart. He has a good education and I give him that. He does a good job in his delivery, but he is very one-dimensional. It’s either black or white with him, and there’s no in-between. Also, O’Reilly failed at radio, which shows you how hard this is to do.
PLAYBOY: Rush Limbaugh.
SAVAGE: I don’t know how Rush Limbaugh has an audience. I just don’t know. I don’t like anyone who was a water carrier for Bush all those years and now pretends he wasn’t. I know he was deeply enmeshed in the Republican Party and George Bush. I mean, he has a right to do that, but don’t pretend you’re not a mouthpiece for them.
PLAYBOY: Glenn Beck.
SAVAGE: Glenn Beck is a laughingstock. The mark of the uneducated man? He has a blackboard; he plays professor half the time. What’s with the chalk? He didn’t go to college so he’s making up for it by playing professor on television?
PLAYBOY: What’s your biggest complaint about him?
SAVAGE: That he’s fucking stupid. That’s all. Other than that, nothing.
PLAYBOY: What about Rachel Maddow?
SAVAGE: Oh, oh! [clutches heart] Aside from being physically unappealing, she thinks an ironic statement is intelligent. Her statements all have an ironic ending, like “You know?” As though she’s still in a sorority house or a college beer bust where every statement ends with irony. There’s a reason she has the lowest ratings of all the people on cable. Now ask me about the brain-damaged Keith Olbermann.
PLAYBOY: Go for it.
SAVAGE: He’s a sad man. He’s totally crazy. I think there’s actually something wrong with the guy. I mean he gets so worked up in ways that are inappropriate for the situation. With the hatred! The world’s worst person is me? Or Sean Hannity or O’Reilly? Not Osama bin Laden? Not a guy who just blew up 50 people in Iraq? It’s a media competitor? That’s the world’s worst person? How do they let him get away with it? But there’s actually someone worse than him. The fraud of frauds, Chris Matthews. He’s been a Democratic operative all his life. He worked for Tip O’Neill. He should have a warning label like “This cigarette is known to cause cancer.” He should have a label like “This spokesman worked for the Democratic National Committee.”
PLAYBOY: Okay. Two more. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
SAVAGE: I’ll answer that simply. If it weren’t for the smart guys with the curly hair and the big eyeglasses writing for them behind the scenes, they’d be nothing. Let them try three hours of improvisational radio every day for 15 years. We’ll see how smart and how sharp they are. Anyone can take great lines and deliver them if they have a good delivery system. Do they write their stuff? I doubt it. Oh, and the Colbert Nation? Where’d he get that from?
PLAYBOY: By the way, does talk radio have a bright future?
SAVAGE: I’m surprised it’s still surviving given all the media options. It’s probably still the best vehicle for people to feel connected while commuting in a car. This friendly voice, he’s joking. One minute he’s railing against the political structure, the next minute he’s playing with his dog. That’s me. A little science, poetry, art. And for conservatives, Obama’s making the radio business very easy. Even morons can do it. Again, take a look at Glenn Beck.
PLAYBOY: Did you cry when you heard Air America died?
SAVAGE: Ha! It was never born. It was a bunch of liberals preaching to other liberals. Nobody cared.
PLAYBOY: Aren’t you preaching to the choir too?
SAVAGE: One would assume that’s true, but I was off the air in the Bay area for a few months this year, and the feedback from industry people was that liberals missed me! That may sound crazy, but I offer an alternative to what they see or hear in their own world. Sure, maybe they listened and said, “Ah, he’s wrong,” and shut it off. But the next day they couldn’t wait to turn me on again. A lot of it has to do with the variants I throw at them. I’ll go from politics to tonight’s meal to kvetching about a heart attack [cuddles his poodle] to old Ted here. Teddy, you’re a good stunt!
PLAYBOY: Will you still be doing radio five years from now?
SAVAGE: [Sighs] I should have been dead by now by my family history. It frightens me to think about life five years down the line. I’m a germaphobe, a health neurotic. What Jew isn’t? Every Jew is a doctor and a patient. [laughs] And I’m getting older. Will I still be doing radio? I don’t know. It’s like the eternal question of life. Why am I here? Why am I working? I don’t need the money, so I’m doing it purely for ego’s sake. Or am I doing it because I love the excitement of using my mind, which I do. I love making connections flow.
PLAYBOY: You’ve achieved financial success. Would you say you are happy?
SAVAGE: No, I’m a morose person. I shake off the moroseness on the radio. I fly. Then I come back to earth and go back to my basic worldview, which is grim. It’s like an old Russian’s worldview. Life is grim. If you really look at it straight in the eye, it’s just two Indians pulling a sled over the ice. You have children; you fend off enemies. To me the world is like Lord of the Flies. Am I happy? I wouldn’t say that, but that doesn’t mean I’m not optimistic. I think America’s going to have a phenomenal renaissance. I really feel it. And it’s going to come from a lot of the young people who’ve thrown out—you call it political correctness, I call it political cowardice. This whole sovietization of afraid to talk, afraid to think outside the realm of groupthink. I believe a tremendous countermovement is going on in this country, and I hear it every single day from listeners calling in to my radio show. It’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s what makes me feel good for those three hours of nonstop talk so I can go back to feeling morose the other 21 hours. That optimism is what keeps me going. It’s what saves me.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever run out of things to say?
SAVAGE: [laughs] Not so far!