Voices: ‘Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!’ How I’ll miss the king of daytime TV’s most shocking moments
Every celebrity death is tragic in its own way, but every now and then one comes along that really blindsides you. It’s not so much the fact an individual that you love and respect has passed on (although that’s certainly part of it), but the fact that their death means the end of some specific thing that they represented to you.
For me, today, that person is Jerry Springer; the human avatar of the no-holds-barred, in-your-face, outrageous nineties garbage entertainment that defined my childhood years. The high priest of obscene, gross-out, schlock TV has passed on, and he will be sorely missed.
Sure, we could talk about Springer’s other accomplishments – did you know he was actually mayor of Cincinnati between 1977 and 1978? – but for me, and I imagine for most people, he’ll be remembered for his contributions to the world of reality television with his seminal work, the Jerry Springer Show.
I’m not kidding, by the way. When the mark you leave on the entertainment industry involves scores of adoring fans chanting your first name in unison, I think it’s safe to say that you lived your life well.
What was so great about Springer was how put together he was, in contrast to the weekly circus he presided over. All good comedy needs a straight man, and there was no straighter man than Jerry, who would project an aura of genuine interest and understanding while interviewing a mother-daughter dominatrix team, or a man who married a horse.
Sure, most of the material the Jerry Springer Show gave us wouldn’t hold up to modern scrutiny – you’d be shocked at just how many “funny” segments boil down to some variation of “people with dwarfism and trans women exist” – but that’s sort of the point. I’m as much of a bleeding heart liberal as you’re likely to get, but I can’t deny having a little nostalgia for the days when shock TV ruled the airwaves.
There’s nothing quite like the spectacle of watching a group of adult babies fight each other while a bespectacled talk show host in a suit politely asks them to calm down (despite engineering the fight himself). The show even drafted into heart-warming on occasion, as was the case when a young woman revealed to her boyfriend that she was trans, to which he responded “I’ll try anything once” and leaned in for the kiss while the audience erupted in cheers.
Was it exploitative? Sure. Was it good TV? Unequivocally.
In one memorable episode we meet David, a self-identified “hillbilly” who claims to have taught himself martial arts by watching Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. As if often the case with Springer, the segment ends in a fight, during which David’s self-taught skills are about as effective as you would imagine.
In another, a stripper confesses to her sister that she slept with her husband, and the crowd cheers the stripper. Don’t worry though, the aggrieved sister manages to get them back on side by punching her husband in the mouth and snatch a huge fistful of her sister’s hair. It’s like a gladiator arena, except somehow even less ethical.
In passing, so too passes an era of television that we’ll probably never get back, and that’s a tragedy all of its own. But rest assured, Springer’s legacy lives on, in every Love Island screaming match and X Factor contestant who can’t actually sing.
So one more time, for the best to ever do it: “JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!”