Longform

Double Trouble

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He shouldn't; Marvin is on record as stating that he won the wager and that the mayor owes him $1,000. This stance frustrates Rice, but it doesn't surprise him. "There are some things that he's said about me that are out-and-out lies, totally without basis," Rice says. "Nowadays in radio, there's a market for that. But I think there's a line that can't be crossed. And he crosses it all the time."

The broadcast visited by the federal cop demonstrates how difficult it is to know which Marvin is going to materialize, and when.

The day's designated subject is a Marvin chestnut: the foibles of President Bill Clinton. Like most of his peers, he is in a lather over allegations of sex between the president and former intern Monica Lewinsky; at this point, only a news conference during which Clinton announced that "Monica and I repeatedly engaged in oral sex, and it was terrific every time" would likely cause Marvin to stop assaulting his veracity. But when Marvin tries to rev up callers about the issue, he discovers that most of them are fresh out of indignation. The conversation drifts to demolition derbies--Marvin has been invited to participate in a crash-and-bash event this summer--and actress Jodie Foster's announcement that she's pregnant. After learning from newscaster Steve Alexander that Foster declined to name a father or discuss the method of impregnation, he asks, "Did she use a turkey baster? A funnel?" He affects an announcer's tone: "The father was vial number 734, which had been loaded into an air gun." In his normal voice, he adds, "Maybe they used the dipstick from a Volkswagen crankcase. Maybe they just dripped it in there."

Such frivolity is short-lived. Within minutes, Marvin is beating the Clinton-and-Lewinsky drum again, and after repeatedly urging listeners to phone in to volunteer their definition of marriage (an institution he says Clinton and Colorado governor Roy Romer have both trashed), an elderly-sounding gentleman finally does his bidding. Rather than expressing outrage at the behavior of Clinton and Romer, however, the caller offers an everybody-does-it argument that he augments by mentioning a decade-old rumor that ex-president George Bush had a mistress.

Marvin, who until this moment has been on his best behavior, changes from an articulate moralist to Ralph Kramden about to send Alice to the moon. Marvin has recently gone down two pants sizes (the reason is stress, he says), but he's still a formidable slab of humanity, especially when enraged. "What's her name?" he barks, his naturally loud voice rising in volume. "You don't know, do you? Well, when it comes to Bill Clinton's mistresses, I know some names. Does Gennifer Flowers ring a bell, oldster? Huh?"

The caller attempts to respond, but he doesn't get much of a chance. Within seconds, Marvin, his eyes dancing, his cheeks reddening, his eyes bulging, his unruly beard flapping, disconnects the line even as he continues to spew his wrath: "Yeah, go collect your Social Security check. Get off the phone, you stupid brain stem."

"Brain stem": It's Marvin's trademark insult, and he's hung it on callers of every conceivable age, color, creed and political persuasion. But this particular storm passes as quickly as it materialized. He returns to the institution-of-marriage motif a few more times, but when it yields diminishing returns, he lightens up, praising the day's segue music (mostly provided by Britisher Edwyn Collins), gushing over KMGH-TV/Channel 7 sportscaster Janib Abreu (when she calls the station, Marvin devotes twenty minutes to her greatness), and comically imitating evangelists Ernest Angley and Benny Hinn endeavoring to heal the deaf. When producer Shannon Scott announces that he's receiving criticism from deaf listeners, Marvin asks, "What do you mean we're getting complaints from deaf listeners? How can they complain when they can't hear what I'm saying?"

During a batch of pre-recorded commercials, Scott tells Marvin that the previous objection was a joke; the caller had offered a politically incorrect impression of a hearing-impaired person, then broken into guffaws. Marvin's round face, which had previously seemed so threatening, glows with delight. "Somebody gets what I'm doing," he says. "Somebody gets it."

Give me an hour a day," Marvin often tells his audience, and he insists that he means this literally. "You've got to listen to me over a prolonged period of time to understand what I'm trying to do. There are people involved in the show, like Steve Alexander and Shannon Scott, who are an integral part of it, and I have other ongoing things, too. And I don't do only one kind of thing. Everybody talks about how I hang up on everybody and call them brain stems, but they never talk about when I raised $6,000 for Skinner Middle School so that the kids there could go to camp, or how Shannon and I saved a dog's life by talking the woman who owned it out of putting it to sleep. My show's like a novel: You have the main plot and then you have subplots--and the subplots change all the time. If you come into it in the middle, you might not understand what's going on."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts