La Scarola server: Can I get you a drink?
I’m in the mood for a cucumber martini. What are you having?
We’re thinking of having a beer.
You have to do the Italian beer, the Peroni!
Okay, two Peronis. What do you usually get here?
Pollo a Mancow.
You have your own menu item?
I’ve been coming here forever. Do you like spicy? If you don’t you may have a problem with Pollo a Mancow. It’s a pounded out chicken breast covered with blue or gorgonzola cheese, giardiniera sauce, a little bit of mushrooms, a little bit of green olives, black olives, asparagus and artichoke hearts. It’s dynamite.
Are martinis always your drink of choice?
No, I like all kinds of libations. I was just at the Emmy’s with [Stephen] Colbert and this was the official Emmy drink. I was downing these and feeling no pain, so why not.
Is this your go-to spot?
This is the greatest restaurant in the world. My wife is from Italy and we came here on our first date. We sat here talking and it was completely empty and when we looked up it was packed. We kept talking and when we looked up again the chairs were on the table and the waiters—they’re friends of ours now, like family—were sitting there waiting for us to leave like, “We want to go home,” because we were so lost in each other. That was the last time we ever talked. Now we just grunt at each other in the hallway in the morning.
What time do you have to get up in the morning?
I get up at 2:30 in the morning. I started in the mid ‘80s and I’m exhausted. It’s the gift that keeps on sucking. I love the few friends I have that are insomniacs because there are very few people you can talk to at that time. I go to bed between 9 and 11 but I have to take a two hour nap during the day because otherwise I could be on “The Walking Dead”.
Looking back to that kid in Missouri, did you ever think you’d be at this point?
No and I’m not sure this is the point I want to be at either. You know, when you’re young and filled with ideals I thought a career in radio—there used to be a thing called radio, it’s all but dead now—would allow me to live in a different city every year, live the vagabond lifestyle and what happened was a great thing and it was an awful thing for me, and that was success. Let me tell you what I mean by that. You want to hurt a man? You want to curse a man or woman? Make all of their dreams come true. The great myth and the great narcotic for the masses is this idea that money and fame will cleanse you and will make you happy. I have seen in my career many, many people who have come up and they get everything they want and they are miserable. This is why you see the self-destructing celebrities because it’s still your head you put on the pillow at night so you still have the same fears, that doesn’t go away. With me, it’s not about ego. My ego has been fed and over-fed and now I’m on the other side of it. I had a sale and sold everything I owned, it’s all about my kids now. The thrill of ego, the thrill of “it” is gone and now you want to help other people.
Is there anything you’re sick of talking about?
Sitting and talking about past relations is its own kind of hell. I get very bored. I’ve never liked living in the rear-view mirror. There’s a reason the window in the front is bigger, that’s where you’re supposed to be looking. I ripped off the side rear-view mirrors and I’m really always looking towards the future.
Are there any things you’ve said that you wish you could take back?
Oh, every single day. Every single day. Look, a lot keeps me up at night. There was a band called Captain & Tennille that had a song called “Love Will Keep Us Together” and I made fun of them so much that they cried and walked off. I feel awful about that. I had a conversation with the dwarf from “Fantasy Island”, Herve Villechaize, and when he was done with our conversation he went and killed himself. So do I have regrets? Yeah. What are you gonna do with the little guy from “Fantasy Island”? You’re gonna mess with him and I messed with him but I’m not saying I [was the one who made him kill himself]. I think he had a lifetime of people messing with him.
Is there anyone you wouldn’t mess with?
Here’s the deal, I don’t punch down. I never have. When you’re in battle, for me, I always like to take on power. Right now I like to take on Obama and Rahm [Emanuel] and the police superintendent [Garry] McCarthy who’s doing an awful job but once those guys are fired I don’t’ mess with them. I don’t punch down. The eagle does not hunt the flea.
Do you think Chicago media personalities embrace you?
I want to tell you something. Something really big happened to me, life changing. I was at Roger Ebert’s funeral, one of his many funerals, and everyone was jockeying to get on camera. Everybody was dummying up the tears. Roger and I were friends. Not close friends, not best friends, but we were friends. Every year of my whole life my big gift from my parents for Christmas was an Ebert book. My nearest neighbor was a half-mile away when I was a kid so I spent all of my time doing fake radio shows in the basement. I idolized Ebert so to get to know him and befriend him and to see all these “celebrities” of Chicago dummying up the tears to get on TV, it really repulsed me. So what do I think Chicago celebrities think of me? I could give a hairy rats ass. Chicago’s a great city and a big city and there’s nothing wrong with that but I just don’t need to impress them, I really don’t.
What makes you and your wife a match?
When I talk about her I think it creeps people out. I think people think we’re swingers or something. I’m not a swinger but I have complete freedom. She wants me to be most excellent and I want her to be most excellent. She’s from Italy and a lot of American women want to control their guys. For instance I’ll ask my friend after work, you know, “Do you want to go have beer?” and he’ll go, “I have to ask my wife.” Ask your wife?! Did you marry your mother? I’ve told my daughters every single day since before they understood English, “You’re going to be great. You’re going to be a world changer. You’re not going to need anyone for your happiness.” My wife doesn’t depend on me, she’s not an appendage. We’re individuals and I want her to be great, she wants me to be great and we have a great time.
How did having daughters change you?
I have no desire to have a son and I’m serious about this, I would sign up for four more daughters immediately. I really would. The idea of going out in the backyard and throwing around the ball doesn’t interest me. People say I could have a tomboy daughter, well yeah, but my interests are theater and art. We travel around the world and we’ve seen great stuff and I’ve raised them so that they are somebody I want to hang out with when they are 30. Somebody told me that and I think that’s the best advice I have ever gotten.
Is there anything that worries you about them getting older?
I was smoking marijuana and having sex at a very young age and that terrifies me. I want them to hold on to innocence as long as they can. Madonna doesn’t let her daughter see anything. I read that Kevin Federline will not allow his children to go to Britney Spears’ show. I will tell you, I will not allow my children to listen to the radio or watch TV. I’ve seen behind the curtain of Oz and I’ve met all of the players. People make up their own truths and these are not people who should be influencing your children. They are godless individuals that want to sell your child something and they don’t care if you’re child is damned and I’m not interested in that.
How did “Mancow” all begin?
When I was young I did over a hundred plays. I was on Broadway and when I got up to speak I couldn’t do it. I realized I had to put on a certain guise so Mancow is a character, Mancow is a hyper-version of who I want to be in many ways and who I don’t want to be in many ways. It’s an amped up version of me.
What do you do to relax?
I don’t. I’m high-strung. It’s endless caffeine. I’m doing the most amazing stuff ever right now, it’s powdered caffeine and aspirin. Sometimes when I have young girls on the show they think it’s a packet of cocaine and they’ll get very excited but I saw coke kill [Chris] Farley and I have no interest in that. I’m just naturally hyper. I have had bosses in the past take me aside and say, “Look, we are going to drug test.” It’s not drug induced but I do drink coffee. It’s funny because this just hit me this past year and it’s that I am really blessed to have energy because some people don’t have energy. I’m just naturally hyper … [Waves across room] That guy was just taking pictures.
Can you go anywhere without being recognized?
No. For awhile it was love and hate and I didn’t care but now it’s mostly love.
Is that why you’re wearing sunglasses inside?
These? No, I’m wearing sunglasses because I got up at 2:30 in the morning and have bags under my eyes. These are Paul Franks but usually I buy a handful off the streets of New York that are about $2. They are knock-offs because I lose them all of the time. What I love is when a beautiful girl comes over and says, “Can I try your sunglasses on?” Well, they are stealing your sunglasses! Then they go in the restaurant, “I have Mancow’s sunglasses!” I’m thinking, “See you later, they are $2. They are not real.” It happens once a week. Also with scarves like, “Look, it’s Mancow’s scarf!” What always bothers me is guys urging me to sign certain parts of their girlfriends or wives. I don’t get it.
What is your relationship with Howard Stern like now?
We have no relationship. I never heard him until I was already number one in Chicago. He says I grew up listening to him but I evolved in a separate pond. I did run into him. I always wondered what that would be like and it was just recently during “America’s Got Talent” at the Rosemont. He was a coward, he was spooked by me. I think he didn’t know what I was going to do. I saw him when others weren’t seeing him and I just saw a tall, sad man. There is an energy people give out and I saw a tired, shallow, lifeless old man with a wig. He lost his wife, his daughter was stripping or something. If your daughter ends up on the stripper pole or naked on stage, you lose. You know, I want to take the high road but I can’t here because when my father died he said some very vile things about him. My father died of cancer and he did this radio skit where he dug up the corpse and raped the corpse of my father.
Who’s the real Erich Muller when the mic is off?
Let’s start here, I’m a white guy who loves America and goes to church on Sunday. Wow, I actually love my kids. I’m their dad, I’m not trying to be their buddy. Right there I just said about 50 things that offends 90 percent of the world but I don’t give a hairy rats ass. It’s my head on the pillow at night, not the masses.
Is there anything off limits to you?
Since day one I’ve never made fun of religion, I think that’s sacred. I think Christians are easy to make fun of because we aren’t going to kill anybody. I do make fun of Islamic fascism which is going on in the Middle East right now because that is not a religion, it is a political movement that uses religion as an excuse to kill so I don’t have a problem making fun of Islamic fascism.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Come on, this is your best one yet! I would have absinthe with Edgar Allan Poe, no doubt. Rum with Hemingway would be a good one. A bottle of wine with Shakespeare or a beer with [John] Belushi during the filming of “The Blues Brothers” in Chicago.
Photography by Emily Gualdoni
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