Rewind to 1981. From his father's pizza shop in Hauppauge, Sal Governale mischievously rang his religion teacher and made the first of many prank phone calls. In his debut ring, he broke out of his shell as a cunning 11-year old out to have a ball. After uttering draw-dropping sentiments to a woman who preaches the word of God as a hobby, Governale felt the wrath of the law.
Writing the word "expletive" wouldn't give justice to the things he said to this lady.
"She called the police and they figured out it was me," he said, laughing hysterically at a booth in Manhattan's Playwright Tavern. "They came down to the shop and told my dad. My dad told me to go outside and kicked me down the stairs. As I grabbed the railing he kicked me in the stomach and the cops had to calm him down."
There's the root of two evils for Governale, his ability to escalate everything to the next level and his family creating daunting pressure.
As a writer/character on the Howard Stern Show responsible for some of the craziest and wackiest stunts known to radio and now television thanks to HowardTV, Governale can simply be characterized as one sick bastard. Everyone knows that guy who always said the unthinkable statements at the most inopportune times. Everyone knows people who are willing to make a joke or inflict physical pain upon himself for the sake of a few laughs. Times that by 1,000 and you have Governale.
He's a guy who shocked his own testicles and lives to tell the story, which he credits as his sickest stunt to date. Just the idea of using your genitalia as a prop would put most over the edge, but for Stern aficionados and even Stern himself, the laughs keep pouring through.
"That pecker, that is my Gallagher's watermelon," he said. "My penis. It's got me through a lot of good bits. It's made me a lot of money."
Long before Governale was flashing his uncircumcised penis around the Stern studio, he was a wiseass kid from Holbrook, just trying to get by in the Sachem Central School District. A simple Google search will clue you in that he attended Sachem, but there's no shrine of Governale in the trophy cases at Sachem North, no scholarship in honor of his tenure at one of the biggest districts in New York, and certainly no mention of him when district administrators reminisce about the many bright scholars to have once walked the halls in Red, Black & Gold country.
For Governale, that's just fine. He wasn't there to learn history (he went to summer school almost every year for this subject), he could care less about Pythagorean's Theorem and didn't excel in any other major subject areas. He even sucked at gym, he'll tell you.
All of this came to the forefront of the Stern Show in the last two weeks as staffers took IQ tests to see who fits the bill as class idiot. Wendy the Retard scored a 61, a score most people expected. High Pitch Eric landed in second with a 66, Jeff the Drunk scored an 89 and Governale rang in a 102, which he wasn't too upset about, considering he hit triple-digit territory.
During the week leading into the grand finale where the results were released, Stern Show executive producer Gary Dell' Abate quizzed Governale in a special segment. Sachem teachers would not have been proud of his blundering the question concerning where the great potato famine took place. His answer: Idaho.
"He said it so quickly it just went over my head," Governale told Stern on-air.
He knew what states bordered Washington, D.C., who invented the light bulb, and the term for a female deer, but had no idea what the symbol for the Roman number 10 is, what ocean Hawaii is located in or where the Thames River is located. (X, Pacific and England if you're wondering.)
If Governale's major character flaw is a lack of general knowledge, then the world will continue to function accordingly. His career depends on bits, prank calls and comedy, so not understanding the geography of the United States isn't going to affect his future.
In the course of nearly a two-hour interview, which was rooted mainly about his experiences at Sachem, Governale was forthcoming about being proud to have graduated the district. He even signed his first email correspondence to set up the interview for this story, "proud Sachem grad." So what did he actually get out of Sachem? It was two-fold. Of course he learned how to deal with people, how to joke and take things to that ever so dangerous next level and how to press authority figures – or teachers and administrators in this case – to the point of them tolerating his actions. Secondly, Sachem and school in general, were a way for him to escape reality. Most kids pick up a book and learn a thing or two, maybe earn a scholarship and take the academic route when there are deeper issues at home. Governale did the next best thing; utilized school as a time to goof off and have fun.
Governale's attendance record was far from perfect. He succeeded in cutting class and conniving ways to not be anything but a perfunctory student. One day he managed to hitchhike on Smith Road in front of Sachem North. A van of black painters picked Governale and his friend Chris Andersen – who was his equal at being a menace and prankster – up.
"These were pretty big black boys," he recalled, sipping his Michelob Light in a secluded booth at the restaurant. "We started smoking weed with them. I also thought it would be customary to talk like them. When in Rome, or when in a van with a bunch of black guys."
Governale and Andersen jumped out at Five Corners, a whopping quarter-mile trip that now lives on forever.
"Damn, I thought we were lazy," one of the men in the van said to them.
He recalls writing his first song parody about James Ruck, who was then the principal at North and later became the Superintendent of the district. Think Beasty Boys, coupled with words that rhyme with Ruck.
"He was by the book, he did a great job," Governale said of Ruck, smoking a liquid nicotine pen. "I had nothing against Mr. Ruck. Just the fact that he was the principal, he was the big authoritative figure."
Gym class was the source of much anticipation for Governale and his classmates and not because of his athletic abilities, which were non-existent.
"Everyone knew I sucked, so they picked me as a captain out of sympathy," he said. "As time went on people took a liking to me because I was so wacky. I was praised for being horrible at sports. Me striking out was like [Derek] Jeter hitting a home run."
He hit the ball once, but it ended horrifically as he collapsed running to first base thanks to massive cramps in his legs from swimming that morning, a result of missing a previous gym class and suffering the abuse of Fred Fusaro. A legendary football coach on Long Island, Fusaro was a man known for pushing his Sachem teams to the brink and seeing positive results. He did the same that morning, making Governale swim the mandatory laps.
"I fell over stiff as a board," Governale said describing his almost base hit. "They got the ball, ran over and tagged me. It was so humiliating. Fusaro is that kind of guy – no nonsense. Take the sergeant in Full Metal Jacket to the 10th power with gym shorts and a whistle. That's him."
He never got too involved with WSHR, the school's student-operated radio station. His tenure on 91.9-FM lasted all but two days, which was probably a good thing for the community since his on-air name – Cool the Candy Wrapper – was less than spectacular, he admits. He made a couple of his own carts and songs.
"I was doing silly, stupid stuff," he said. "I was very short-lived. Mr. [Stu] Harris ran into the studio like a scene from Private Parts one day. That was it for me."
Then there were the times he and Andersen filled out cut slips and sent them home to kids they weren't fond of, all while serving their own punishment at the dean's office for cutting classes themselves. How apropos.
Governale made it standard to screw with his friends or people he became close with, very similar to his current job. That's how he met Andersen, who used to fill up cold cut sandwiches with double meat and chuck the extra roll on the lunch line.
"To be funny he came out one day and held up the roll and said, 'you forgot something,'" Andersen recalled. "He came over and sat with me. He was a goofy looking kid and I never met him before. He blew my whole plan up and that's how we got started."
He'd humiliate people by ratting out that they parked in the teacher's lot, or run and grab an assistant principal when his friends cut a class, all to see the reaction of the audience and the administrator.
Another time he duck tapped a recorder to his chest and asked students questions about a kid he wanted to also humiliate since the guy would brag how much he was loved by his peers. He dropped the cassette at the kid's locker after it was filled with hate, allowing the cocky soul to be humbled. "He ended up crying," Governale said, laughing hard.
A classic story evolved after he handcuffed Mike Gonzalves inside a train on the Washington, D.C. subway. It will forever go down as one of the most infamous Sachem school trip stories never told – until now.
"The subway is a circle that comes around every 45 minutes," he said. "I don't know why we did that. He was freaking out and we were laughing our asses off."
Through it all, Governale grew an affection for Tom Tuscano, an assistant principal. Teachers Bill Pagano and Arthur Mazzei drew considerable praise from Governale, but it was Tuscano who won top billing from Sachem's resident clown in the '80s. He wound up in Tuscano's office more than once for off-the-wall stunts like making a doll out of paper that has a pop-out penis, or hanging a centerfold from Penthouse in his locker.
"Way to go Sal, you did it again," he would tell me. "If you put as much effort into school as you did everything else, you'd be set."
Tuscano went the extra mile and researched Governale. Through the guidance department he learned of his home life. It only took a phone call to realize he was working long hours every day at the pizza shop, and while hard labor never hurt anyone, it wasn't easy dealing with his father, who was an overbearing off-the-boat Sicilian.
"He saw past my nuttiness. He saw a good kid," said Governale, who still gets choked up remembering how Tuscano allowed him to go on the senior trip, something he almost lost because of his stupidity. "The only time I could unleash and be a lunatic was at school. I broke the rules, but he let me know. He knew I wasn't an idiot or a punk, I was just misunderstood and he had the ability to see past my shenanigans."
Summer school was a ritual for Governale, but it was also a brief hiatus from having to work sweltering days and mildly cooler evenings at the pizza shop, Mamma Nina's, or by the time he was 17, J&J Higbie Heroes in West Islip, which his father later owned.
Thanks to enough financial success in the food business, Papa Governale moved his family to Italy shortly after.
"I went from hanging out in Sachem to the hills of Italy with a bunch of sheep and women who didn't shave their armpits," he said.
He immediately noticed a difference from the pretty and wild girls of Sachem – it was the '80s, everyone was wild, right? – to Italian girls that had to ask their father's permission to kiss a boy.
"I think the first Girls Gone Wild party happened in Holbrook," he joked. "I couldn't even kiss a girl over there. Are you out of your mind? I was in Italy for two months. I couldn't take it."
Governale witnessed his father cheat on his mother at any early age. As a 6-year-old his father would take him to a hairdresser in the same shopping center as the pizza joint. She was also the same lady his father was sleeping with. Needless to say he also saw his mother threaten that lady with a knife.
"He was never really serious about things," said Andersen, a New York City police officer who lives in Holtsville. "He had a paying attention problem too. He has to be amusing himself, that's why he gets in so much trouble. Sal is never happy with the cheap seats in life. Given his upbringing, most wouldn't have amounted to much let alone be as successful as he has become."
Then there was the time his father was arrested for counterfeiting. Governale was quietly playing Ms. Pacman as a family from Texas was enjoying the restaurant's all you can eat pasta dish.
His dad, now 67 and living in Sicily for part of the year, never got involved with the actual counterfeiting but was interpreting for an acquaintance. The family from Texas ate free and Governale laughs now, but was stunned as law enforcement barreled through the door, put a gun to his sister's head and gave them all one hell of a story to tell.
"It was horrible," he said. "There was so much really screwed up stuff that happened. I call it stages of skin thickening."
It was in 1987, the same year he graduated from Sachem, when Governale discovered Howard Stern. Once he learned that a radio personality was fighting authority, yelling at his bosses, yelling at his callers and making jokes, he was hooked.
"I fell in love with this guy," he said. "It was my little escape. My dad was out of his mind. I had trouble at home. I used to fantasize about being in that studio one day, talking with Howard, making him laugh."
He only spent a minute at Suffolk County Community College – or Suffolk Community Bar & Grill as he calls it – originally intending to study anatomy and physiology so he could become an x-ray technician. The second he realized the position included administering barium enemas he was done. He was selling 800 numbers at the time also, hitting the grind as a telemarketer and the next thing he knew he was asked to be a stockbroker by his cousin.
He became restless and did the only thing that came to mind while sitting at his desk in Manhattan, prank phone called everyone, but most impressively he began dialing the Stern Show line. To his delight, Dell' Abate screened calls then.
"To me Gary was like George Clooney to an 18-year old broad," he said. "Not that I would bang Gary, but I was blown away. I was star struck."
He would pose as unassuming characters like journalists from the New York Post, a juror from the O.J. Simpson trial or famous athletes and also leave with a punch line associated with Horse Tooth Jackass – now a famous moniker on the show.
Governale's original nickname was "Sal, King of All Gary Pranks," but eventually switched to "Sal the Stockbroker," which many know him as today.
He even pranked big shots like Rodney Dangerfield and Marissa Tomei. This is the same guy who photocopied Beastie Boys backstage passes successfully and finagled an interview with the band after a show in their heyday.
"It was for a magazine that didn't exist," Andersen said. "He was always conniving. Sal was driven like that. He had to up it. He doesn't know where to stop."
The interview wasn't enough. Volleyball with members of Anthrax and Riki Rachtman, the former host of Headbanger's Ball, finally met his appetite for the impossible.
After appearing on the show and becoming a regular figure he struck a friendship with comedian Artie Lange. Lange, who is battling personal demons with drugs and alcohol and has been absent from the show as of late, asked Governale to write him jokes for a Donald Trump roast, then again for Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.
"The first joke I wrote Artie opened with it," he said. "What do you say to a person with a hot TV show, who is banging hot girls and has tons of money in the bank? Way to go Ellen Degeneres."
Governale competed in the "Win Stuttering John's Job Contest" in 2004 and narrowly lost to Richard Christy, who Sal shares an office with now. A month later Dell' Abate offered him a temporary spot on the show. He tried handling both a Wall Street job and the Stern gig, but the commitments were too great.
"I wanted to give it all I had," he said. "I was so focused and so passionate about working for Howard and really pleasing the audience, that I knew juggling the two wouldn't work and it was a big dilemma for me."
With his wife Christine and three boys in their Nassau County home, Governale took a pay cut and allowed his dream to become a reality. His wife is the root of a large percentage of the humor he brings to the table. As for his kids, they are proud of their dad working on the show, but at ages 10, 8 and 6 they're not about to listen to that material just yet.
On a recent airing of the History of Howard Stern, a segment played when the King of All Media is on vacation, Stern spoke highly of Governale, who gave up a great job to persue his dream, who was persistent and was always in the their faces.
"As harsh as Howard can come off, his heart is bigger than his dagger," Governale said. "I was really touched by what he had to say. It's a dysfunctional family, but it works. There is true love amongst everybody there. A great sense of love and respect.
"I'm obsessed with pleasing Howard because if I please Howard it makes for a better show. Pleasing Howard means I'm doing something right for his audience and he's the gatekeeper."
Stern is also pulling a Brett Favre wait for his staff and fans as everyone treads anxiously to find out if he'll stay with Sirius, retire or head to another station at year's end. Governale is prepared for the worst and has been working on his standup routine, another passion of his. Regardless, he's better off than the punk kid that tortured teachers and students at Sachem some 20 years ago.
"I'm a proud Sachem graduate. Maybe one day I'll go back to Sachem, go in the auditorium and tell my story of how I achieved my dreams of getting shot in the ass with paintball guns, or using my penis as Groucho Marx. If you're not motivated to do things in school, that's okay, find something you're passionate about, but get by. Focus your energy on what you really want. Back then I didn't know what the hell I wanted out of life, but I had great teachers who were patient, and who had great attitudes. That's Sachem."
There may not have been a more proud time for Governale to represent Sachem than at his wife's 10-year reunion from Connetquot High School. Drinking the night away and acting like he was a Connetquot grad, Governale wore a nametag and schmoozed with Thunderbird nation as other drunk meatheads believed every made up story he told. The kicker came at the end of the night.
"On the board where people write what they're up to and who they're married to, I wrote Connetquot sucks, Sachem rules," he said, letting out a devilish laugh that would piss his wife off if she heard the story again. "I took the marker, chucked it and walked away."
That's Sal Governale.