In the 24 hours since Wednesday’s real-time implosion of the Joe Budden Podcast, during which the host of the popular twice-weekly show fired his longtime cohosts Rory Farrell and Jamil ‘Mal’ Clay (or Rory and Mal, as they’re known colloquially) in the wake of a pay and “accounting” dispute, PTSD has subsided and it got me thinking: What would Howard Stern do?
It feels an apt comparison. Here, you have two similar trios (Stern with Robin Quivers and Fred Norris, who’ve been together for 40 years) and show formats — conversation led, in Budden’s case, for seven-plus hours over two days a week on audio platforms; in Stern’s COVID-era version, three hours, three times a week on Sirius XM satellite radio. Both Stern and Budden have loyal audiences who consume every minute of talk, and bemoan an episode that comes up short on the count. Each is also known to speak his mind, making no apologies for his opinions, and both offer up their lives as a mostly open book for the sake of entertainment. The volume of their megaphones reaches far and wide. It’s a seat few get to experience, and there is unquestionably a talent to doing it.
The JBP has been around since 2016, which makes it an early success in the podcast world. In each episode, Budden holds court with his “nearest and dearest,” as he says in his oft-recited introduction, as the three (along with a fourth, Parks, who remains) mostly discuss music but also get into current events, sports, pop culture and other trending topics of the day. As a former rapper himself, Budden’s expertise in hip-hop and R&B is impressive, to be sure, but the conversation — which must sound like deep-in-the-weeds nerd talk to the layperson — steers into interesting, unexpected directions when he’s bouncing off of his boys. (Budden has replaced Rory and Mal with Ice and Ish, who were given a trial run in recent weeks, though it’s unclear whether the pod as we know it will continue on.)
Still, the formula can get tired, and it did in the case of the JBP. In recent months you could sense a tension — a contrarian-ness aimed at the person not the argument — and the pod was becoming a painful listen. As it turned out, there was drama behind the scenes, related to money, respect, transparency and friendship — a virtual minefield to navigate while spending upwards of 20 hours together on any given week. On Wednesday’s episode 437 (to which Rory and Mal did not show), Budden was angry — furious, in fact — by the sting of their ghosting. And once he got into the details, repeatedly reminding the listeners that his position wasn’t ego-driven, it became clear that at issue here is the IP — it’s Budden’s to own. Everyone who works for the show is an employee and a profit participant in other ways: like having an above-market salary and the quality-of-life benefits that come with a full-time job. Rory and Mal breached their contract by not showing up to work, and for that, they can be terminated.
Now take a trip across the Hudson and East rivers from New Jersey to New York, the home of Stern on Sirius XM, and consider: if there was an ongoing business dispute or a contentious negotiation among the main players — namely Robin and Fred — would it make it on the air? Sure, Stern has talked about renewing his contract at length, allowing a peek into his thinking after five decades in the broadcasting business. And he has declared his love for his cohosts, and executive producer Gary Dell’Abate, even as he peppers each with the occasional jab. Still, when staffers have left the show in the past, Stern has tended to avoid the topic entirely.
Stern does sometimes snap, especially in response to callers who annoy him, and he’s honest about what makes him tick, thanks to decades of therapy. Budden, too, is surprisingly self-aware and has endorsed therapy, both for himself and with Rory and Mal. Indeed, it was an hours-long gathering of the three, followed by a no-holds-barred discussion on the show about their feelings, which prompted Variety to publish a column last week titled, “Podcast as Therapy Session? How ‘Joe Budden’ Is Helping Destigmatize Mental Health.”
“Crazy how terribly my piece aged,” quipped contributor Jordan Rose in an email early Wednesday morning as news that Budden had booted Rory and Mal mid-show began to break. Truly, the 180-degree turn from “talking is a big part of healing” to threats of lawsuits (should Rory and Mal try to launch their own podcast) was dizzying — almost to the point of wondering whether it was a publicity stunt or an orchestrated fight like you might find in a WWE ring.
“It’s called show business, not show friends” is something you’ll hear sometimes, usually along with a cautionary tale about why to avoid mixing the two. That would be the takeaway in Budden’s case, where a friendship pre-dated the show that killed it, but in the Stern world, Howard, Robin and Fred came together by chance, not unlike an arranged marriage that somehow magically works. If the three (all of whom are represented by the same agent, it’s worth noting) were to split in any manner, I’m not sure the audience could handle it.
And that’s what fans of the JBP are grappling with as they absorb the show’s personnel changes amid video reactions and angry tweets from fellow followers. Not every friendship’s shoot-the-shit seshes could captivate an audience — here’s the rare one that did. But, like the Howard Stern Show, there’s ultimately only one name on the door, and in Budden’s case, he got to decide when to slam it shut.