Morning Radio Host KISS 108
Matty In The Morning
Get the guy who owns Shorty's and a college Harvard professor arm in arm and bring them out and say, 'Well, we survived.' Of course, it's the other side of the Charles but it's not really that big river. - Matt Siegel on our suggestion we take Boston on tour across the nation.
by Heidi Legg
In the course of a morning, he talks about "The Gronk" being a party animal, how to tell your boyfriend to get a life, solves your concern over the office party drama and gets frank about how you deal with a spouse with an opioid addiction. All of this before I've had my second cup of caffeine. For over thirty years, Matt Siegel has been making Massachusetts residents laugh their way into their days. Sometimes criticized for being too harsh or too fresh, he tells us, Matty in the Morning reaches all people in a way our current mass media has not: Respect without politics.
What is it that comedian Matt Siegel and Bostonians like Denis Leary, Conan O'Brien, Amy Poehler, and John Krasinsky tap into that seems to bridge the gap? How does their comedy reach all walks. I sat down with Matty to try to get him to open up about what he really does for listeners and how in our intellectual hub that, let's be honest, begins and ends with Southie and Charlestown – he has defined a comedy that might be useful as we figure out how to reach into the heart of the US and start to bridge the divide.
There is not much about you online. I read in Wikipedia that you started your career in Boston when you came here on vacation. You hit our nerd quotient: Who goes on vacation and finds themselves a 35-year career?
Well, far be it from me to criticize Wikipedia and whoever put that in there, but it's not exactly how it happened. I was in Los Angeles working for Warner Records and doing commercials and was replaced. I wasn't exactly fired, because I was freelance, but when you only have one account it's the same as being fired! My buddy, Marty was living in Boston at the time and I said, ‘Hey, maybe I'll come see you and hang out.’
So you were not really on vacation, you were couch surfing?
My whole life was a vacation. I knew a guy that worked at WBCN, a legendary radio station in Boston that’s long gone. I called ‘BCN’ and I asked to speak to this guy and he had been let go. I went, ‘Boy, I'm on a roll.’ So, I asked if the program director was around and they said, ‘Who is this?’ and I said, ‘This is Matt Siegel from Warner Records.’ A guy gets on the phone and goes, ‘Oh, I know about you. I've been following your career." I said, ‘I don't have a career. Who is this?’
Long story short this program director had worked in Tucson when I worked in radio in Tucson, a guy named Bob Shannon, and his girlfriend at the time listened to me instead of him! He was on an opposing radio station and had become a running joke in his family. Well, Shannon needed a morning man. I stayed at BCN for a couple of years and then worked at Channel 5 on late night TV before I was hired by KISS in January of 1981, and I'm still there.
You know most people leave jobs every year now, right?
Yeah. The modern way.
Why do you think you've been hosting Matty in The Morning for so long?
I only think about it when someone asks. I don't really dwell on what I should have done. Why I stayed? They kept giving me more money.
Do come in every morning with a goal for the show?
See, you’re actually mistaking me for someone who has much more intellectual depth. My goal every morning? I don't think about it. I get up in the morning and the first thought I have is what I have to do that day after the show ends. For example, tomorrow is my wife's birthday. ‘Where am I going to take her for her birthday?’ In golf season, it's usually, ‘Am I playing today? Who's in my foursome?’ If I have a dentist appointment, I'll think about the dentist appointment way before I’ll think of the show. The show I just do. I know it sounds weird, but I don't think about it.
Now there are big days like when we interviewed Hillary Clinton the other morning on Election Day. I actually thought about that show. But that's rare.
What did you talk to Hillary Clinton about?
With Hillary, I didn't start off with a joke. It was Election Day and I played it casual and she played it casual. I said, "big day." She goes, "You think?" We all thought she was going to win, remember? We thought it was a lock. And I said, ‘When you're back in the White House, do you sleep on the same side of the bed as you did before or do you have to sleep on the other side because that's where the red phone is?’ and she was cool. She said, ‘I sleep on the side that I like. They can move the phone.’ I thought that was awesome. Had she been more like that in her campaign, it might've been better. She was actually charming and, I don’t know, maybe she should've had a little more of that when she ran because she wasn't very well liked, as it turns out.
This election result is one of the reasons I thought of interviewing you. I hear on the show when you respond to people calling in to tell you about mundane things, but they're actually full of anxiety. How do you handle their anxiety?
Right, and then I end up making fun of them. I know. It's awful. We do research on this one particular segment called ‘Right Now’ that plays on air from 7:30 to 7:50… that’s our call-in segment. They've done research on that part of the show and it’s the segment that gets the most good and bad commentary on me, because I always joke around. The good is, ‘Oh, that segment's really funny’ and then the other is, ‘People call with problems and then Matt makes fun of them. That makes him a jerk. He's such a jerk. I hate him.’
I see the levity you use as an art form when I’m listening. Do you?
Well, it's hard.
You help people through the hard stuff of their day.
See, I never think like that.
Listen, we were sucker-punched on the coastlines and as media by this election only to find we have President-elect Trump. You listen to these people every morning. Did you anticipate this voter rage and backlash?
It's interesting because I think I told you on the phone before this interview that one of the best, and when I say ‘best’ I mean the most memorable and most important shows I ever did was after 9/11.
It's funny because of all the comedy I've done for 35 years, it's always the serious ones: the day after the Marathon bombing, 9/11 that I remember the most. It’s the shows where I don't tell any jokes.
Why do you think they are most memorable?
I don't know because by nature a joke is light. So, when I do something serious, the exception in my mind, that's more important as a show than all the jokes.
I was on the air after 9/11 and then after the Boston Marathon bombing…those days when I do a serious show, I think about it. But the regular show is mostly comic driven. If I’m going to do an interview, there's usually some piece of comedy mixed in. That's just how I do it. That's what the show is.
But when you go on the air after 9/11, everybody's in the same place. Everybody's horrified and sad. After the Boston marathon bombing, it was the same thing. There's no other position to take, right?
The problem with the election was, there are positions. I didn't like Trump and I didn't talk about it a ton on the air but people knew my position. If I spent a whole day talking about how horrible it is, well then I have a lot of listeners who not only didn't think it was horrible, they thought it was great. Right? That's harder because everyone's not on the same page and it's not a political show.
The show is looking for the joke in it and I got some bad feedback from people who said that I wasn't respectful to the Trump side of things.
I want to talk about that. Where do you draw the line between news and entertainment?
It's tough because I’m familiar with a lot of guys who write a show every day. I don't know how they do it. I don't know when they sleep. They prepare pieces of comedy and I don't do that because my mind doesn't work that way. I'm sort of ADD mind. I'm not the kind of guy that sits and writes. I'm a good comedian but I'm not a good comic writer, which is a different craft. If you said, ‘I'm going to give a speech tonight. Could you write me a few jokes?’ I would have a hard time doing that. Whereas I could do the speech and be funny if I were live and the line just happens. Mostly, I say something I think I shouldn't have said that.
Your show covers a lot of celebrity chatter. Do remember the moment in news when TV celebrities became these authoritative voices?
Who do you consider an authoritative voice? [Ironic tone] You mean, Kim Kardashian?
Donald Trump is now President-elect.
That's a very good point. I don't know if that's necessarily my area of expertise and, well, there's nothing to compare to Donald Trump. There's nothing.
Donald Trump becoming the president is incredibly shocking – that’s not possible. I don't care which side of politics because not only was he an entertainer, he was a lame entertainer. I mean, I could see Tom Hanks being president maybe…you know what I mean? There are artists that I could see – I don't know, Bruce Springsteen or Barbra Streisand or somebody with some depth. Donald Trump was a clown. A clown for president? He looks like a clown.
I was trying to think about it in preparation for this interview…when was the point that reality TV stars became news authorities?
Yeah, what's news and what's pop culture? Well, I’m convinced there's a twenty-eight-year old female producer who runs every single show and every single news outlet. I'm convinced it's the same person. She's smart. She went to Penn, maybe, but she still likes to Tweet and all that stuff. She does every single thing. It's all the same person putting this stuff out.
It's like if you watch the news today – people don't really watch the evening news much anymore – but it's a formula. You can see it. They only have ten minutes of news and then they go to a segment on dying and how you can take this pill to live another six months, and then they'll have some thing about some guy who teaches camels how to talk and he goes into schools with it and everybody feels better. That's it – Every single night. Everyone is so stupid. It's inconceivable to me and that's not really what I wanted to talk about but you asked.
I would argue that you have a tent pole in the media landscape in a time when news doesn't seem to have a tent pole anymore. Do you feel any responsibility with that position?
I don’t feel any because I think you're totally over-representing. I have a small portion of a radio audience.
Half a million people every morning in Massachusetts. TheEditorial.com has a few thousand.
Okay, but not all at the same time, but I’m very flattered that you feel that way and I don't think like that. I'm thinking to myself on the show, tell a joke.
If you're really forcing me to give a serious answer to this, which I don't want to do… the compliment that I get from long time listeners is, ‘I went to work with you every day and I'd be in a bad mood and you start my day off right.’ It’s an appreciation of the jokes and because that's the feedback I get, I'm less inclined to want to go on the air and go off on Donald Trump but I'll tell a Donald Trump joke.
I have a serious question. Seriously. Self-tanner has been perfected for twenty years. For twenty years, people all over the world put lotion on their face and five minutes later they're tan. Why would he want to be orange? It doesn't even make sense?
Maybe it's a Palm Beach thing.
Nobody else is orange. They say that he lies in a bed of Doritos and rolls around. Does he not get this feedback? And why blond? Why would you go blond? You weren't even blond when you were young? He had kind of like light brown hair and now he's blond with Frito face. Does anyone notice? It's like The Emperor's New Clothes. Have you not read that fable when you were ten?
I'm not saying he'll be a bad President. Who knows? I don't know. He may lower my taxes. That's what I'm hoping for.
Speaking of money… You give out $1,000 to people all the time on air called Matty's Money. Is that your money?
My actual money? Are you kidding? You're not really asking me that, are you? That's so cute? So, if you think that, that means other people think that. Oh, that's so cute. Are you crazy? Are you crazy? No, I don't own the radio station. I don't budget for it. No. I do not underwrite my own marketing. I mean, I would if it was my radio station, it might be my money. Yeah. God, you really believe that? You're a grown woman. You really think it's my money?
I can't believe how happy people are when you give them the $1000 or Jingle Ball tickets.
Wouldn't you be? I'm going to change my answer. Can we edit this out? Of course, it's my money and I'm happy to do it for my beloved listeners. No, they're so nice.
Don’t get me wrong, $1,000 is a lot of money and I know people work hard for it, but they’re so over the top happy. They’re freaking out, delirious. I love that segment. It tells us where they are. I'm touched when I hear their reactions. Are you jaded?
You're really putting me in a hard position right here. You want to know what I should say or you want to know what I think? What are you really asking me?
When you hear their reactions, what are you thinking?
For like a second… for like a second, I'm happy for them. Yeah. Half a second. It's not real life. This is so cute. God, I wish all my listeners were like you. Do you understand that it's a show?
I mean it's a show. It's an old show that we've done for thirty-five years.
And these people tune in every single morning. In this moment of political unrest, you have something going on with the American population around you that many media are not accessing.
Unrest, that's a good word.
How is the mainstream media missing the mark in reaching the US population in a more binding way?
Are you saying people should be more like me? That would be a nightmare? Nobody would ever get anything done?
I think we need a mash-up and less division.
You think more people should make fun of each other like I do? I really believe in my heart that no one gets this out of my show like you do…. All right, I'll try to answer it. I don't want to be rude. What would you like me to answer?
The middle of the country is suffering and thinks the country is going to pot. Thinking the past 8 years were a disaster. Then we have two coasts where we have a ton of education, we have learned to assimilate and negotiate with many people from different places, we have a vast spread of economics in our cities and we make it work. Yet, the middle of the nation voted for something very different. What advice do you have about how we reach out to with comedy vs. divisiveness?
I have feelings and thoughts about it but I don't know if I would be inspirational to people who've lost their jobs. There's no humor there.
I'm no expert. I'm just a jokey radio guy but you asked. In my mind, a lot of the economy of the United States has passed folks by. That's not coming back. I don't believe, but again I'm not a political scientist. The days of being upwardly middle class by working at the plant, I think that ship has sailed. I understand the appeal of Donald Trump saying he's going to bring it back but I don't know. You're getting your Nike shoes made for, what, twenty cents an hour in Thailand or something? Bringing them back here for $12/15/20 an hour? I don't know how that's possible. Plus a lot of manufacturing is done by automation now. It's really robots and many people's jobs, especially in the car industry, are done using robotics. You talk about West Virginia and those places where coal is king and then if you believe in global warming, coal's dangerous but they don't want to hear it. They want to go to work and who can blame them? I think the world's spinning really fast.
Do your listeners sound different now then they did a decade or two ago?
Most of the stuff that we get is the basic stuff that'll never change: boyfriend/girlfriend stuff, father/daughter stuff. It was more typical to have a boyfriend/girlfriend call, but now we get a fair amount of mother/daughter calls because we've been on a really long time. That's one of the beauties of the world. That never changes. Never. Relationships. Families. That never changes.
The economy changes, the planet changes but human relationships? That never changes. I think back to when I was in high school and the dopey problems I had with girls and I talk to my own girls about it. It's all the same. There was always somebody cuter than somebody else. Somebody was always more popular than somebody else. There was always somebody – me – who was inside his head and thought everybody hated him, but they didn't. It's all the same.
Bring back John Hughes.
I mean, now there's social media. I really hate social media. I'm on it all the time because I get sucked in. Instagram makes me laugh. I can't even imagine being in middle school now. If I was a kid and I saw something on Twitter that I was a jerk, I'd jump out a window. I don't know how they handle it.
What public opinion would you most like to change?
I'm just too self absorbed. I wish more people would feel the need to give me gifts and stuff like that… Everybody is ridiculously self-absorbed and I was self-absorbed before it was popular. I mean I'm on the radio and I like people listening to me. There is certain self-absorption to think you can even do what I do, but it's bad. It's bad. Everybody is so concerned about themselves asking ‘What's in it for me?” And I'm worse. But that's the whole social media thing. If you go on Instagram, everyone's taking a picture of themselves. I think that's a dangerous path to put your picture online and then wait to see if people liked it. I do it. We all do it.
How do we shift that?
It's going to go away. In fifty years, people will discover air outside. I don't know. I don't think it makes you feel good. I can tell you, because I'm a public figure and because I do kind of a girly show, if I get ten compliments and one knock, all I remember is that knock but I think that's human nature. I really do. Look at Donald Trump. I mean, they made fun of him on Saturday Night Live and he went crazy.
Do you think there is a way Boston, as ‘The shining city on the hill’, could reach other people across the country and start to bridge the divide?
Do you understand who you're talking to? This entire interview is trying to get serious answers from a non-serious guy – do you know what I do for a living? I already told you: I don't prepare; I don't have a good work ethic; I come in and I make fun of people and I go home.
Right. So which people from Boston and Cambridge should we take on an interview road show into the middle of the country?
Why would we want to do that?
To try and bridge the gap.
Boston's a weird town. You're looking at Boston from the NPR point of view and Harvard. See, I think Boston is Southie and Charlestown and Eastie. That's Boston. Boston is a blue-collar town. Boston's a weird city. There are very few cities like Boston that have that image of intellectual center because of Harvard and MIT. Have you been to Charlestown lately? Or Southie? It's very sort of blue collar. I haven't been to Southie in a long time but get the guy who owns Shorty's and a college Harvard professor arm in arm and bring them out and say, "Well, we survived. Of course, it's the other side of the Charles but it's not really that big river."
But it's true. I mean, if you're sick, God forbid, which city do you want to live in? If you have cancer, you want to be here. Boston has the best hospitals in the world.
And we have sports.
Well, yeah, Fenway. The best. Right? Celtics tradition. One of the best sports towns in the world and remember they took away a bunch of the season tickets from the old football stadium when they built Gillette because they used to have fights. You couldn't go to a game. Do you remember that they didn't have Monday Night Football in Boston?
They didn't have Monday Night Football because there were always fights at the old football stadium. It's a rowdy town. It used to be fifty cents to sit in the bleachers at Fenway. You could get a beating. It's a tough town. You weren't here yet, but during busing and all that but Boston is a tough town.
Do you think this state could be a prototype for the modern nation?
Yeah. I think that. If you could have Harvard and MIT and Southie and Charlestown and Eastie all in one pot, yeah, because it really is kind of a hard-scrabble town mixed in with great hospitals, great universities, terrific healthcare. It is an interesting little mix and I talk to all these people every day. It is kind of weird now that I think about it.
See. I told you. We will take you on the road.
I'm not going on the road. I don’t travel coach, just so you know.
What do you love most about people?
A sense of humor. If I'm with somebody and I joke around and they have no sense of humor, I get all, ‘uh, oh. Oh, boy.’ If people don't have a sense of humor, it's tough for me.
A favorite place to go in Boston?
I'm not telling you where I go to dinner.
I like the Public Garden. Who doesn't? It's nice. I haven't been there in a while. The Public Garden is really lovely.
I'm not telling you that because then people will start going there…
Okay, there's a place I go to called The Local which is in West Newton but no one's allowed to go there because I can't get a seat at the bar as it is. So, I'm telling you this as a point of interest. You're not allowed to go there. Ever. It's full. You can publish this. Yeah. But it's full. You can't go there. Don't stand in line. Don't ever go there. I go every week and why? They leave me alone.
Thank you so much, this was fun.
Okay. I'm sorry that you confused me with someone of more depth.
We need to get you on the road for our national Boston saves America tour.
Okay. I'm not coming, but okay.