After a proposed film featuring Stern as his superhero character Fartman fell through, development for a new film began in 1994, several months following the release of Private Parts. Stern signed with Rysher Entertainment, who agreed to fund it, and teamed with producer Ivan Reitman who thought a biographical take on Stern's life was best suited for a film. Production was delayed after Stern rejected 22 scripts from several screenwriters until he accepted one developed by Blum and Kalesniko in late 1995. Filming took place in the New York City area and Washington, D.C. from May to November 1996 with a budget of $28 million, during which Stern continued to host his radio show each weekday morning. Numerous celebrities and family members of the radio show staff make cameo appearances in the film. The soundtrack is formed of songs from several rock bands as well as two original tracks featuring Stern performing with Rob Zombie and the Dust Brothers.
Following his appearance at the MTV Music Video Awards as his superhero character Fartman, radio personality Howard Stern boards his flight home and is seated next to Gloria who is visibly repulsed by him. Stern, thinking she sees him as a moron, begins to tell his life story, starting with the verbal abuse he received as a boy from his father Ben. As a youngster, Stern dreams of being on the radio after visiting his father's recording studio and grows up to be a quiet, socially awkward teenager. He decides to work in radio and studies Communications at Boston University. He becomes a DJ at WTBU, the college station, and meets his girlfriend Alison.
After graduating, Howard works at WRNW in Briarcliff Manor, New York and is promoted to program director, which allows him to marry Alison. He leaves after being asked to fire a fellow DJ and moves to WCCC in Hartford, Connecticut, where he befriends DJ Fred Norris. Howard adopts a more casual attitude on the air, becoming more open and upfront. He and Fred attends the premiere of actress Brittany Fairchild's new film. The three leave early for Fairchild's hotel room where she strips for a bath and convinces Howard and Fred to join in. Brittany's behavior becomes more sexual, and an embarrassed Howard leaves. When Alison finds his wet underwear in their car and believes he has been unfaithful, she leaves him. Howard leaves Hartford for WWWW in Detroit, Michigan and is miserable, but Alison goes to Detroit and forgives him. WWWW then switches to country music, and Howard quits.
Howard starts at WWDC in Washington, D.C. in 1981 and meets his news anchor Robin Quivers, whom he encourages to riff with him on the air. They refuse orders from boss Dee Dee for constantly breaking format. One of their antics, in which Howard assists a female caller to reach orgasm, almost gets him fired until a ratings boost forces Dee Dee to keep him and hire Fred to the team. Meanwhile, Alison announces her pregnancy, but it ends in miscarriage. Although they cheer each other up by joking about it, Howard makes light of the situation on the air, which greatly upsets Alison.
With Alison pregnant again, Howard gets his dream offer to work in New York City at WNBC, where he has the chance to become a nationwide success. However, upper management at NBC hired Howard not realizing what his show was like until they see a news report about him. Program director Kenny "Pig Vomit" Rushton offers to keep Howard in line or he will force him to quit. Howard, Fred, and Robin ignore Kenny's restrictions on content until a risque Match Game with comedian Jackie Martling causes Rushton to fire Robin. The show fails in her absence and her replacement quits after Howard's interview with an actress who swallows a kielbasa sausage. Robin is eventually brought back, but Howard's antics continue with a naked woman in the studio, resulting in Kenny cutting off the broadcast. Howard gets the show back on the air and gets into a physical altercation with Kenny in his office.
In 1985, Howard becomes number one at WNBC and Kenny tries to regain Howard's friendship but is turned down flat. Howard thanks his fans with an outdoor concert by AC/DC. During the performance, Alison is rushed to hospital and gives birth to a daughter. Back on the flight, it is revealed that Howard has told his story to Gloria and believes he could get her, but stays loyal to Alison. He meets Alison at the airport and his daughters run to greet him.
During the end credits, Stuttering John rants about his absence in the film. Mia Farrow then presents an Academy Award for Best Actor for Howard at the awards ceremony, who appears as Fartman once again, but Howard falls from mid air and the audience applauds. Kenny now manages a shopping mall in Alabama and blames Howard for his downfall. During his outbursts, his swearing is drowned out by jackhammer noises.As themselves and cameo appearances
In the early 1990s, Stern experienced a rise in popularity as a radio and television personality. He struck a deal with New Line Cinema in 1992 to produce a film based on his superhero character Fartman, which he devised in July 1981 when he hosted mornings at WWDC in Washington, D.C. He first announced the film, which Stern claimed "came from nowhere ... top of my head", during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. That November, Variety reported that screenwriter J. F. Lawton was hired to write and direct the film titled The Adventures of Fartman. The film, which was budgeted between $8–$11 million, was expected to go into production in May 1993 with David Permut assigned as producer under his Permut Presentations banner. According to Lawton, The Adventures of Fartman revolved around the superhero and his alter ego, a magazine publisher in the mold of Screw magazine's Al Goldstein. On June 28, 1993, Lawton revealed more information for Time. "There's a lot of nudity, some harsh language, a lesbian love scene, and the main character works for an underground sex magazine. We told New Line Cinema the plot, and they said, 'Yeah, it sounds great. But can't we make it PG-13?'" Soon after, Stern became unhappy with the idea of making a PG-rated film and had disputes with New Line Cinema over the merchandising rights. Coupled with the quality of the scripts being drafted, the project was shelved in 1993 before the production could begin. Its cancellation affected Stern, who became depressed as "I'd gone on air and said, 'I'm going to make a movie.' I sort of felt like a liar. I looked like I had failed."
A film project remained inactive until the release of Stern's first book, the part memoir and part commentary Private Parts, in October 1993. It became the fastest selling book in publisher Simon & Schuster's history after five days of release. In the following months, Stern entered an agreement with film and television content management company Rysher Entertainment, who wished to fund a film based on the book. This led to Stern working with Rysher founder Keith Samples, Paramount producer David Kirkpatrick, director John G. Avildsen in September 1994 and, in August 1994, screenwriter Peter Torokvei, who was hired to complete a "production rewrite" of a script already prepared. Torokvei claimed a set of line producers, production secretary, and film coordinators had "seemed to be in place" upon his arrival to New York City, but the project underwent the first of several delays over the film's story. Torokvei completed a draft, but it was not signed off. Stern, who had the power of final script approval, went on to reject around 22 subsequent revisions, sometimes from day to day, as he grew dissatisfied with their content. Torokvei estimated he had worked on as many as five redrafts with Stern, adding: "On any given scene we did the day before, [Stern] would say, 'That's old,' or 'That's boring.' He wanted to freshen the scenes every day. I'd have to remind him that it had worked the day before". In one abandoned version, Stern recalled a scene that had former radio show regular Richard Simmons "in a tutu in my house chasing my children and saying he can't baby-sit them. How fucking ridiculous." Around this time, Kirkpatrick had mentioned a film with as many as 75 cameo appearances, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and radio show regular Jessica Hahn. In addition to Torokvei, assistance over the scripts were developed by Michael Kalesniko, co-author of Private Parts Larry "Ratso" Sloman, Laurice Elehwany, and Rick Copp. Following several script rejections, Avildsen ceased his involvement with the film by November 1994. Kirkpatrick claimed Avildsen wished for a "story of an underdog taking on the issue of free speech—a man against the system, whereas Kirkpatrick had the idea of a film "in the tradition of Help! (1965) and A Hard Day's Night (1964)".
By February 1995, Stern had yet to approve a final script. The studio executives believed Stern rejected so many drafts was because he was too afraid to be in a feature film, and so suggested Jeff Goldblum to play as himself. Stern insisted he was not afraid, and felt the idea of someone other than himself playing the role would lead to "the biggest box office bomb in history". Following Avildsen's departure, Stern turned to producer and director Ivan Reitman for his thoughts on the rejected scripts as he thought Reitman "could see if I was being unreasonable". A long time fan of Stern's, Reitman had suggested to Stern that he make a film about his life as early as 1991 and pitched his vision, a biographical film with Stern starring as himself, "almost documentary in feel", as he believed one based on real events from his life, rather than "a fantasy life for him that was silly and salacious", were strong and funny enough for a film. Stern agreed, and subsequently asked Reitman to come on board as producer and help develop a script. Reitman focused on a script that centered more on what Stern was like off the air, and brought in writer Len Blum to help with the task; Blum was sceptical about working on the film because he did not understand Stern's appeal, but his opinion changed after Reitman brought him to New York City to sit in on Stern's radio show for two days. Blum said, "On the flight home I asked myself, 'Should I do this?' And I realized I had laughed harder in the last two days than I had in the past 20 years." In the following months, Blum and Kalesniko collaborated on a script with Stern that he finally approved, which then underwent further revisions for Blum to incorporate Stern's improvisations and speech patterns. During his visit to the show, Blum talked to Quivers, Norris, Dell'Abate, and Melendez about how they first met Stern and recorded his conversations. In a November 1995 interview, Stern announced: "It's bizarre and funny. We're green-lighted to go into production".
On February 13, 1996, Stern announced the start of pre-production during on radio show with Reitman and Thomas as guests. Reitman estimated the process would last for ten weeks. Stern wished for Reitman to direct the film as well as produce it, but Reitman suggested Betty Thomas for the role after the two had wrapped up working on The Late Shift. Thomas was not a fan of Stern's, but her boyfriend was an avid listener and Reitman pushed her to read the script. She described it as "very interesting" and travelled to New York City to observe Stern doing his radio show. "After a while, Howard came out. When he took my hand, he was shaking. He was so vulnerable and scared. I couldn't believe it. I saw something in his eyes that I loved. Right then, I wanted to do the movie." I decided to do the movie. Stern found working with Thomas particularly enjoyable who collaborated well and had a calming effect on him during shooting. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was an early choice to play Alison Stern, but later backed out because she wanted to spend time with her family.
Auditions for roles began before Stern had accepted a final script. On October 8, 1994, auditions for actors to play "a pre-teen, mid-teen and late-teen Howard" were held at the Palladium in New York City. The sessions were organised by casting director Avy Kaufman. Auditions were also planned in Burbank, California, Chicago, and Cleveland. Four scenes for the actors were set up: Stern preparing for a date while reciting a soliloquy on the human condition, a talk with his father on current events, making a prank call, attempting to hide the evidence after smoking in his bedroom. Subsequent casting was overseen by Phyllis Huffman. The film features a portrayal of Don Imus, a long time radio rival of Stern's who hosted mornings at WNBC. The woman who played Irene the Leather Weather Lady was the same person who called into Stern's radio show while he worked at WWWW in 1980 and is considered the first of Stern's radio show Wack Pack. During his preparation in acting as his younger self, Stern listened to tapes of his radio shows from his twenties, noticing his voice "locked in this very high register". At one point, Stern asked Thomas if he should take acting lessons before filming, and watched a "how-to" video by Michael Caine that Thomas gave him.
Principal photography began on May 2, 1996. Shooting took place in several locations–Westchester, New York, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and the Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn areas of New York City. Interior shots were filmed at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City. Stern would do his radio show from 6:00 a.m. until around 10:30 a.m. and travel to the set straight after to resume shooting. Make up would last three to four hours, followed by filming until as late as 9:00 p.m. At one point, filming only took place from Thursday to Monday and lasted until 11:00 p.m. A temporary apartment was built on the Silvercup lot for Stern to live in while shooting took place in order to remove the need for him to commute to and from his family home in Long Island. Interior scenes, including the reconstruction of seven replica radio studios where Stern worked in his career, were reconstructed at the Silvercup studios. Stern requested that he operate real and working radio equipment in the replica studios so he could hear himself talk. The scenes at WRNW were filmed in the same building that housed the real radio station in Briarcliff Manor, New York.
The scene with Stern working at WWWW as Hopalong Howie was the first to be filmed. He recalled he had "no confidence" in his ability at that point and struggled with the concept of shooting a film to a set script. It took three days for Stern to settle down; Thomas noticed Stern during this time was "a little tight, trying too hard". Reitman noticed a considerable improvement in Stern's acting after several weeks of filming as he became more comfortable in front of the camera. The scenes inside the plane with Alt were shot inside a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar parked at Newark Liberty International Airport. Several scenes during Stern's college years were filmed at Lehman College in the Bronx. For the scenes that featured a young Stern in high school, filming was done at Union High School, which comedian Artie Lange, who was part of the radio show from 2001 to 2009, graduated from. The AC/DC concert scenes were filmed at Bryant Park in July 1996. Stern recalled that porn star Jenna Jameson was so comfortable being naked on the set, she stayed without clothes when the crew were at the craft service table. A metal stunt penis was placed in Stern's trousers to create the illusion of an erection during the film premiere screening scene. Stern was a regular guest on Late Night with David Letterman, and the studio wished to incorporate one of his appearances into the film. However, the studio could not obtain permission to use the footage, so Letterman agreed to take part in a reenactment. Stern donned several customised wigs throughout the film and never displayed his real hair. In the scene where Stern apologizes to McCormack at his hotel, actress Teri Hatcher had visited the set and was "about a foot away" from the camera. In one incident, McCormack started smoking a cigarette while wearing a pregnant costume which got several concerned looks from the public.
Filming was set to finish on July 30, 1996, but it was extended until mid-August. Following a wrap up party held to commemorate the end of filming, Stern had a consultation booked for rhinoplasty in early September 1996 before he was to embark on the film's promotional tour. However, Thomas called him shortly beforehand to announce that several scenes had to be re-shot and a change in Stern's appearance would affect the film's continuity. Reitman then contacted Stern, informing him to avoid surgery until production was complete as Paramount owns his face. In October 1996, Stern flew to Los Angeles to view a rough cut of the film that was around 2-and-a-half hours in length, among a small audience in Reitman's personal theater. Around 45 minutes of footage was to be cut. A man found a collection of video tapes containing several dailies of the film in a recycling bin, and returned them to Stern. The final scenes were shot in New York City and Washington, D.C. over a three-day period from November 22, 1996. Stern did not announce the trip beforehand in order to prevent fans from disrupting filming. He announced, on November 25, that filming was complete.
Thomas said the film was difficult to edit as Stern "never used the same words twice" for each take. During the Christmas period in 1996, the film was subject to a test screening in California. In January 1997, test screenings were held in San Jose, California and Seattle, Washington, two areas that Stern's radio show were not syndicated to at the time. Stern was told the audience gave the film the highest positive response since Forrest Gump (1994) and one Indiana Jones film.
Stern recorded his parts to "Tortured Man" in December 1996 with writing assistance from Martling and Norris.
Private Parts premiered in New York City at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on February 27, 1997. The star-studded event, attended by 4,200 people, included a live performance of "The Great American Nightmare" by Stern and Zombie, and Porno for Pyros on a stage built outside the venue. The film's theatrical wide release in the United States followed on March 7 to 2,138 theaters. In its opening weekend, it ranked first place in the North American box office with a gross of $14,616,333, averaging a gross of $6,836 per theater. Jungle 2 Jungle came in second place. In its second week, the film dropped to third place. The number of theaters screening the film rose in its third week to a peak of 2,217 before the number decreased to its low of 1,848 a week later. At the end of its theatrical run in the United States, the film grossed a total of $41,230,799, coming in as the 56th highest-grossing film of 1997 in the country.
To promote the film in the European markets, Stern attended the 1997 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France on May 12. He appeared at the festival with two topless women and an 40-foot inflatable picture of himself placed on the shore by the event provided by Rysher. The balloon attracted French security who threatened to shoot it down before Rysher associates agreed to take it down. It was reinflated after French president Jacques Chirac left the event as he visited on the same day.
In 2006, a poor quality rough cut of the film had leaked on the Internet which contained alternate dialogue and music, deleted scenes, and different ending. Some of the deleted scenes, such as Stern being escorted out of the WNBC building, appeared in the film's original trailer and publicity materials before it was cut.
Private Parts received mostly positive reviews from critics. In a review for the Chicago Tribune, critic Gene Siskel gave the film three and a half stars out of five. He pointed out the "predictable" scenes of "lesbian jokes and toilet humor", but the "wonderful love story" between Stern and Alison is the most surprising aspect and preferred the Stern's character off the air than the one on the radio. Siskel concludes his review by picking out the scenes of Stern courting Alison, his eagerness to have a baby, and his apology to Alison as "signature moments" of the film. Roger Ebert reviewed the film for the Chicago Sun-Times, giving it three stars out of four. He points out the film has enough to satisfy the die hard Stern fans and appeal to the general audience at the same time, and praises Stern and Quivers for playing "convincing, engaging versions of themselves" in their feature film debut, something he claims even "seasoned actors" claim is difficult. Ebert noted Thomas's directing skills who makes the film play out like a film and not a series of filmed radio broadcasts. Variety gave a positive review, citing the film as "a lean, crisp and very entertaining picture." On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 80% "Certified Fresh" rating, based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "A surprisingly endearing biopic about the controversial shock-jock Howard Stern that is equally funny and raunchy." Metacritic reports a score of 67 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
For his performance, Stern won the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for "Favorite Male Newcomer". The awards are given by the result of write-in votes from fans and Stern won by a wide margin. Stern was nominated for a Golden Satellite Award for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy". He was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst New Star".
For her directing work, Thomas won the audience award at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (1997). She was also nominated for Crystal Globe in Karlovy Vary which went, at the end, to Ma Vie en Rose by Alain Berliner.
American Film Institute recognition:AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs – Nominated
In April 1997, the USA Network agreed to pay $7 million for the rights to air the film for nine years, from 1999. The editing featured on-air explanations from Stern for the pixelization and bleep censors required to air the R-rated film. Stern appeared in new taped segments in which he occasionally pauses the film to comment on it. USA premiered the film even though no alternate scenes had been filmed to replace the nudity nor had any alternate dialogue been recorded to replace the profanity for television broadcasts. The nudity was simply pixelized and the profanity bleeped. In 2007, VH-1 began airing this version.
The film premiered in 1080 High Definition on Universal HD on March 11, 2008.
When the film was released on video, some store customers objected to the original cover featuring Stern with no clothes on. An alternative version of the cover was produced featuring Stern fully clothed.