The Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
It’s amazing to think about it, but The Jerry Springer Show is still on the air. It’s moved to Stamford, Connecticut, and it has a website now (and also a podcast), but if you click on the link that asks, “Are you ready to turn up and get lit and confront somebody on the Jerry Springer Show?,” you will be redirected to an online form requesting your contact information. You can even still see it—for free! In this crazy world, it’s comforting that things never change. Even Jerry looks exactly the same as he did back in 1994.
The difference between now and the’90s is that in 1999, the Reader could still run a headline that asked, in all honest credulity, “Are the fights on Jerry Springer staged?” What followed, however, was not a simple “DUH” but an entertaining account by a self-described “blue-collar rogue-meets-writer” named Salem of the time she flew from Seattle to Chicago with two cohorts to fight, er, talk about what had happened since she met “a fine redhead” six months prior.
This was the version of the story she did not tell:
The redhead I’d joined up with for a video project six months before was Katy, a Seattleite in her 40s with a flair for the zany, a respectable job as a community grant writer, and a late-night Springer habit. She’d been dialing talk show guest-search numbers for a long time, to no avail. On February 16, 1-800-96-JERRY answered. From a menu that included categories such as “Are you having sex with an animal? Press one,” and “Are you in love with an object? Press two,” Katy chose the simplest formula, the love triangle. She pressed three and was given 60 seconds to tell her story.
She scrambled one together, throwing out my name as her lesbian friend and Fernando as her red-hot Latino lover. She was confused. She needed to make a decision. “It’s kind of an emergency!” she squealed, leaving her number, hanging up.
A producer called the very next morning. “Katy, we want you.”
Fernando, unfortunately, was unavailable. Katy recruited another friend known as Doc to fill the role. Doc was Swedish. If anyone asked, Katy decided they would say he was named Fernando after the Abba song. But no one asked. Logic had no place in the world of Jerry Springer. Salem suffered a slight moral crisis when she had to sign a nondisclosure form that stated that her story was true. It passed.
There seemed no turning back.
One by one we signed.
I asked for a copy of the form. I was not given one.
My companions were whisked away. A producer tamed me like a circus lion.
“Jerry’s going to say, ‘What’s going on, Salem?’ And you’re going to say—?”
“Don’t smile. Try not to use the words fuck and shit too much.”
“Why the fuck not?”
“If too much gets bleeped, the home viewing audience won’t understand what you’re talking about.”
“Can I use the word cocksucker?”
“That’s a good one,” she nodded in approval.
“Can I throw a chair?”
“That might not be the best idea,” she responded. But she didn’t say no.
All together now: “JER-RY! JER-RY!”
(More fun facts unearthed during the researching of this post besides that Springer is still on the air: Jerry was born in 1944, in a London Underground station during the Blitz. He came to the U.S. in 1949. He once paid a prostitute with a personal check. There is an opera about him.)