Fans of cowboy-hatted angry scarecrows doing radio shows on TV had reason to rejoice this morning, as Don Imus returned to the air on Fox Business Network, after having left MSNBC following his “nappy-headed hos” scandal. (In the meantime, his show was carried for a period on RFD-TV.)
I’m not among those fans, so I don’t see myself tuning in often, but there was an interesting exchange in the middle of today’s three-hour show, as Imus brought on his now-Fox-colleague—and his replacement as talk-TV poster child du jour—Glenn Beck.
Talking to Fox’s Neil Cavuto the other day, Imus referred to Beck as a “nut” (“I love Glenn, but I’ll tell you this: that doesn’t end well”). That may have been rivalry talking or just canny self-promotion. But there are definite differences between the once and present bad boys of blab.
The essence of Don Imus’ radio style and comedy, as I’ve written about him before, is busting his guests’ chops and asserting his alpha-maledom. Beck has a different approach, which may be personal or generational or both: while he takes a lot of shots, his fallback is always self-deprecation, using a comically exaggerated loserdom to blunt his edge or deflect criticism. What do I know?, he’ll say to conclude some tirade. I’m just some guy asking questions!
I’m not sure what somebody who made his brand as the swaggering cowboy I-Man makes of this sort of Beckian amoeba defense: whatever criticisms you throw at him, he’ll simply absorb and add more of his own. The two hosts are even physically opposite, with Beck boy-faced and rounded where Imus is craggy and gaunt. As Beck said on Imus this morning, “This is like matter and antimatter in the same room.”
Another classic line of Beck’s self-deprecation is talking about his alcoholism, and this morning Imus brought up the subject. In this case, though, it wasn’t to take Beck down a peg but as a way for Imus, a recovering alcoholic himself, to establish common ground. Imus asked Beck if he could remember the last time he took a drink:
“What were you drinking?”
“Jack Daniels,” Beck answered.
“Oh, yeah. What were you drinking?”
“I was thinking about bringing [Imus] a bottle today.”
Later the two talked about Beck’s relationship with Rush Limbaugh, with Imus asking if Limbaugh (who like Imus and Beck, was also on the cover of TIME—in his case, twice) “hates” the successful newcomer. Beck laughed it off: “Do you hate me?” “No, but I’m not competing with you.” “What do you mean? You’re on radio, I’m on radio.” “Yeah, but I have no mission here.”
I’m not sure Glenn Beck was buying it. I’m not sure I do, either. It’s undeniable Imus will boost Fox Business’ ratings in the morning, because there was practically no bar to clear. But can the I-Man be the man again?