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!