John Edward Melendez (born October 4, 1965), commonly known as “Stuttering John,” is an American television writer and radio personality. Prior to his work on television as a writer and announcer, Melendez was a regular on-air personality on The Howard Stern Show. He became known for asking impertinent questions of celebrities on the red carpet and at press conferences with his stuttering.
Melendez grew up in Massapequa, Long Island and attended Plainedge High School. Melendez was born to a Puerto Rican father and a Danish mother. According to Melendez, he began to stutter when he was in the second grade as a result of the psychological mistreatment from his father when he witnessed an argument between his parents. He attended Plainedge High School, where he was picked on by the neighborhood bullies because of his stuttering.
In 1988, Melendez attended New York University’s film school, and belonged to a band called “Rock Slide.” His college roommate, comedian Mitch Fatel, was on the verge of quitting his internship with The Howard Stern Show, when Melendez asked him for a recommendation for an internship there. The show’s producer, Gary Dell’Abate, mentioned Melendez’s stuttering to Howard Stern who, without seeing him and even before he was interviewed, told the producer to hire him.
On Stern’s show, Melendez’s primary role was answering phones and screening listener calls before they were allowed on the air. That often entailed intentionally “stirring the pot” by putting through callers willing to say something outrageous or to bring up something that would get a reaction from the guest that’s on the air.
Melendez is best known for segments in which he asked celebrities confronting questions at red carpet events, functions, promotional appearances, and press conferences. The puerile questions, written by Stern, Fred Norris, and Jackie Martling, centered around a given celebrity’s private life and were premised on the idea that a celebrity would not want to look bad by refusing an interview from a stutterer. Melendez sported long hair and metal T-shirts and asked questions by reading them from a sheet of paper. As he became better known, he occasionally wore a disguise consisting of an overcoat, fedora and fake mustache. His interviews were characterized by punchline-free “joke” questions, such as asking actress Melanie Griffith how her father, Andy, was.
The absurdity of the questions Melendez asked were often amplified by the fact that he himself appeared to lack common pop culture knowledge and often did not even seem to know who the subjects of his interview were or what they were famous for. Melendez would thus be unaware of why his questions would provoke such angry reactions, such as when he asked Ally Sheedy if she had vomited lately, unaware that the actress suffered from bulimia. Some celebrities were a personal target of Stern’s, such as Ted Williams, who was interviewed by Melendez because Stern disapproved the idea of athletes charging money for autographs. Oftentimes the celebrity would react angrily, but other times the celebrity would take the questions in good humor. Melendez notably interviewed Gennifer Flowers, Ringo Starr, and the Dalai Lama. At Gennifer Flowers’ news conference playing the ‘Clinton Tapes’, he asked her if she planned to sleep with any other candidates before the election to which she reacted by laughing. He asked the Dalai Lama, if anyone ever greeted him with “Hello Dolly!”, in a joking reference to the play and movie; the Dalai Lama’s translator whispered the translation to the Dalai Lama
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, who chuckled. Another time Melendez interviewed Debbie Gibson losing an award to Wilson Phillips, to which she jokingly agreed with his idea that “the fat one would eat the statue”. Melendez also provided comic interest with his misadventures, poor grammar and sloppy pronunciation.
Melendez started receiving national exposure in the early 1990s as Stern’s syndicated morning radio show acquired more markets and in 1994 when its condensed version began airing nightly on E Prada Outlet! Entertainment Television, basic cable network with national coverage. During his 15-year run as Stern’s employee, Melendez also starred in the Off-Broadway show Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding where he met his wife, Suzanna. His newly acquired fringe prominence also got him colorful bit parts in the movies Airheads, Meet Wally Sparks, Dude, Where’s My Car?, Osmosis Jones, as well as Howard Stern’s movie Private Parts. He has also appeared on television on episodes of Wings, Baywatch Nights, and the 2003 United States version of the reality series I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!.
Melendez was also the protagonist of some of the show’s more outrageous moments. In 2001 during A.J. Benza’s appearance, Melendez got slapped in the face by Benza who did not appreciate the incessant lampooning of his failed late-night show, seeing Melendez as the main culprit. The on-air slap prompted extended fracas and it resulted in Benza being permanently banned from Stern’s show. Throughout the early part of 2002, Melendez and WXRK afternoon deejay Lee Mroszak (aka “Crazy Cabbie”) had numerous on-air spats, which were used by Stern as fodder for multiple segments on the show. Their feud eventually culminated in a boxing match scheduled for Friday morning May 31, 2002 at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and was promoted on the show as “The Flunky versus the Junkie” with 2,500 tickets going on sale for $100 each. The 7 am fight, essentially an extended segment on the show which itself was broadcast from around the ring that morning, was set for five 2-minute rounds with a two-minute break in between each round and it went the distance with the 175 lb Melendez winning over the 262 lb Cabbie by unanimous decision.
Following a guest appearance on The Tonight Show to promote I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! in 2003, Melendez received an offer from Jay Leno to become the late-night show’s New York ‘correspondent’ who would ask celebrities questions on the red carpet, similar to one of his roles on the Stern show. Melendez claimed that he turned down the offer because he could not get a private conversation with Stern to ask him about it. Stern later claimed how “lame” an idea it was for Leno to reuse Melendez the way he did (in a less edgy way).
In parallel with his duties on the Stern show in the morning, Melendez got a daily afternoon show on New York City’s WXRK (The Howard Stern Show flagship station) from noon to 1 pm called Out to Lunch, consisting mostly of taking musical requests by e-mail and playing them. The show was cancelled on August 21, 2003 with Stern turning it into a 45-minute segment at the end of his live broadcast that day by having WXRK program director Robert Cross (aka Chuck Roast) come in and break the bad news on the air to Melendez.
In February 2004, the New York Post revealed that Melendez had been offered the announcer position on The Tonight Show while Stern’s show was on vacation. Many perceived the move as an attempt by Leno to attract a younger demographic. Melendez’s offer, which was made without Stern’s knowledge, prompted a rift between Stern and Leno. Stern berated Leno on his show for weeks on end, with insults such as “To an 18- to 25-year-old male, Jay Leno is gay. He might as well put a dress on,” as well as accusations that Leno was “ripping him off.”
Following Melendez’s departure, Stern organized an on-air contest to find his replacement. Billed as “Win John’s Job”, the contest resulted in the hiring of Sal Governale (aka “Sal the Stockbroker”) and Richard Christy.
On February 27, 2008, more than four years removed from his time on The Howard Stern Show, Melendez was interviewed over the phone by Adam Carolla on his radio show with discussion of Melendez’s 15 years as Stern’s employee dominating the conversation. Carolla brought up the fact that on-air personnel on radio shows, even long-running hit shows, earn very low salaries compared to the show’s host and wondered what kind of money Melendez made considering he was down in the show’s pecking order, behind Stern, Robin Quivers, Fred, Jackie, and Gary. Melendez revealed that his first salary on The Howard Stern Show in 1990 was $10,000 per year before adding that, much to his disappointment, he only got an additional $10,000 per year once the show began to be broadcast on E! in 1994. Asked explicitly by Carolla if, considering that the station manager Tom Chiusano would not increase his salary, he ever thought, hoped or expected that Stern (who earned more than $20 million per year) would “kick something down to [him],” Melendez answered: “Of course, Adam. I mean, listen, you know, I love Howard and all, but my biggest beef has always been on that show that, you know, they just don’t take care of people financially… That bothered me… Well, you know what, this is the thing, Howard always said that he doesn’t want to get involved in people’s salaries, but you know what, man, at some point I think you do… I didn’t look at Howard bitterly then, but the only problem I had was, then when you would go out and do these ancillary gigs he would then be angry that you’re doing them. And that’s where it becomes a problem, because in other words he’s saying: ‘I’m not gonna pay you, I’m not responsible for your pay, but if you do these other gigs I’m not very happy with you to do them'”.
In response, Stern devoted a 30-minute tirade to Melendez’s comments with Carolla, calling the former employee a “no-talent ingrate” who should stick to holding up the mug on The Tonight Show, “I didn’t have a beef with him before, but I do now. He’s delusional. He can go fuck himself. I’ve had it with him, and he’s a talentless fuck. All he did was stutter. He just asked questions that we wrote for him.” Commenting on Melendez’s claim that Stern did not like him doing stand-up, Stern retorted, “That’s because they were horrible and he was slapping my name on them.” He also touched on the fact the Melendez’s then-wife Suzanna and Stern’s then-fiancée Beth are friends by saying he does not want them phoning each other anymore: “I’m going to have a talk with Beth about that”. Stern also had choice words for Carolla over what he saw as a fellow radio host’s attempt to get Melendez riled up: “He calls me ‘Stern,’ and I’m not sure what that’s about”.
Melendez debuted on The Tonight Show on March 29, 2004, taking over for Edd Hall. On the show, he was identified simply as “John Melendez” as opposed to “Stuttering John.” John would hold up a coffee mug during the show’s opening sequence as his signature move.
In late September 2004, only six months after Melendez joined the show, NBC announced that Leno would be succeeded by Conan O’Brien in 2009. Throughout his first run on the Tonight Show, Melendez regularly appeared in the show’s comedy sketches and did correspondent pieces.
In September 2009, Melendez reunited with Leno and former Tonight bandleader Kevin Eubanks as a member of the writing staff on The Jay Leno Show. Confirmation of his status on Leno’s new prime time show came later than that of Eubanks, weeks after the end of Leno’s tenure on The Tonight Show, which led to speculation that he would not appear at all. Melendez’s ambiguous job status prompted a sarcastic job offer from his former boss Stern.
When asked about Melendez’s new role, Leno stated that Melendez would appear in comedy segments during the show and that the new show would not have a studio announcer. He described his interplay with Melendez on Tonight as “awkward,” saying “I’d throw to Kevin Eubanks, and I’d throw to John, and I realized that my guy is Eubanks.”
With the return of Leno’s Tonight Show in March 2010, Melendez continued in the writing role, which he continued on The Jay Leno Show. Melendez did not return as an announcer on the second incarnation of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (the job went to Wally Wingert) and was employed as a staff writer and occasional on-air segment host until Leno’s departure from The Tonight Show on February 6, 2014.
On November 4, 2015 Melendez announced that he had become the executive producer and an on-air contributor to The Stephanie Miller Show, a progressive radio talk show.
In 2004, Melendez provided the voice of Spaceship Bob, the A.I. that controls the ship Jupiter 42, on Tripping the Rift.
After moving out to California in 2004 to work on The Tonight Show, Melendez resided in the city of Calabasas with his wife, Suzanna Keller, and their three children. The couple filed for separation in October 2011 and divorced in 2012.