Don Imus was abrupt, harsh and a one-of-a-kind, fearless talent – New York Post,

Don Imus was abrupt, harsh and a one-of-a-kind, fearless talent – New York Post,

The one and only time I had a twinge of nerves before appearing on television was when I made my debut in 01575879 on “ Imus in the Morning ”on the Fox Business Channel. I’d been listening to Don Imus, whodied Friday at 28, since the 823 s as an antidote the serious (bordering on the pompous) hosts on National Public Radio. I always thought it would be fun to join Imus and his gang – news anchor Charles McCord, producer Bernard McGuirk, comedian Rob Bartlett – in the studio, flinging insults back and forth at one another. And now I had my chance. I was invited on to discuss to discuss “Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark,” the catastrophic Broadway musical that injured cast members daily.

I was nervous because I knew Imus put guests to the test. If you tried too hard to be funny, he wouldn’t help you with fake laughter. If you tried to poke fun at him and he wasn’t in the mood, he’d flatten you. Worst of all, if you bored him he’d give you a blank stare before looking at the clock to see how many more minutes of you he had to endure.

I got through the segment, even managing to make him chuckle when I said I could arrange for him to be flown around the set of “Spider-Man” because it might be fun for his staff to see him hit the side of the theater. “Hook him up, now!” McGuirk piped in.

I was invited back a few weeks later and then started making regular appearances. Most radio or television hosts chat with guests before the mike or camera goes on. Imus, it won’t surprise you to learn, did not. Sometimes I’d take my seat across from him and he’d look up and say, “Who booked you?” At the time I appeared on a television show on PBS. Imus always thought I was on NPR – “along with those other geeks,” he said.

My wardrobe was not to his taste. It was an early morning show so sometimes I put on what I’d worn the night before. “Please welcome to the program Michael Riedel, who looks like he slept in a dumpster,” he’d say.

One thing he could not grasp was that I, as a theater reporter, might not be gay. He found out I was friendly with Imogen Lloyd Webber, another guest on his show. “Are you dating?” He asked me on air.

“No,” I said. “We’re just friends.”

“Well, that brings me to my next question,” he said, a slightly malicious grin crossing his face. “Are you gay?”

This was the make or break question, and I knew I’d be judged on my answer. “Only when you’re around the campfire,” I said. He laughed, and the next day emailed to say he was creating a weekly entertainment segment that would include me, Imogen, business reporter Dagen McDowell and his wife Deirdre. We had a blast, though sometimes we’d go after each other if we disagreed on something. Imus seemed to enjoy sitting back and watching us flash our claws. He did have a sadistic streak.

He certainly never shied away from blunt questions, no matter how squirm-inducing for the guest. If it was on his mind, he asked it – because it was probably on his listeners ’minds as well. He wasn’t always polite about it, though he usually laced the question with dark humor. If you could take the hit – and return the fire – you passed the test. Listeners enjoyed the ribbing. I think the key to the success of “Imus in the Morning” was that it felt like you were sitting at a bar with a bunch of old friends making fun of one another. You could be as outrageous – and as politically incorrect – as you wanted because it was all done with a wink and some affection. It didn’t always work, as when Imus lost his job after insulting the Rutgers women’s basketball team, but on the whole, it was a fun group to hang out with.

Even so, I can’t say I ever became friendly with Imus. Warm and gregarious he was not. He once invited me to one of his charity events, and when I tried to make small talk he said, “Stop talking.” I hosted Imus on Broadway a couple of times to raise money for his ranch for kids with cancer and Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS. His son Wyatt was backstage and we got to talking about what was good on Broadway. I said Imus should take Wyatt to see some show or other.

Imus crooked a finger at me to come nearer. Then he lifted his coat and pointed at his gun. “If you ever suggest I take Wyatt to see a play again, I’m going to shoot you,” he said.

Actually, Imus liked the theater. When the critics panned “Smokey Joe’s Café,” a revue of songs by Lieber and Stoller, Imus, who was friendly with its director Jerry Zaks, raved about it on his show every morning. The show became a hit largely because of his support. He also loved “The Book of Mormon.”

And he appreciated the talented performers on Broadway. I once suggested he have Brandon Victor Dixon, who was playing Berry Gordy in the musical “Motown,” on his show. Dixon sang the hell out of “Can I Close the Door,” a song Gordy wrote. Imus wasn’t buying it. “Berry Gordy isn’t a singer, you idiot,” he said. “He was the manager.”

I explained that “Motown” was a musical and in the musical Berry Gordy sings.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Imus said, but agreed to have Dixon on anyway. When Dixon knocked the song out of the park, Imus yelled, “You are going to Hollywood!”

Imus retired the same month I got my own radio show, “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR. I emailed him to thank him for giving me my start in radio and asked him for tips on how to create a good morning show.

“There is no practical advice I can give anyone,” he wrote. “I always did what I said I was going to do. I surrounded myself with people who were more talented than I was. I was tough to work for. No one will ever have the opportunity to be me. The best you can do is be you. See if that works. ”

Not bad advice for a career – or in life.

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