BY JOEL SIEGEL
Across 40 years of show business, Joe Piscopo’s never had a gig like this before. He weighs in on everything from the Ebola outbreak to Mayor de Blasio’s plans to give undocumented immigrants city ID cards, mixing in interviews with pols and opinion-meisters along the way.
“Finally, an answer to the question: Whatever happened to Joe Piscopo? He’s proving there is life after Saturday Night Live. He knows everybody, and he has an opinion on everything.”
Across 40 years of show business, Joe Piscopo has never had an introduction like this. But, he’s never had a gig like this, either.
It’s how his three-hour daily talk show begins on WNYM, which calls itself AM 970 The Answer, an upstart in New York’s talk radio wars.
Piscopo weighs in on everything from the Ebola outbreak to Mayor de Blasio’s plans to give undocumented immigrants city ID cards, mixing in interviews with pols and opinion-meisters along the way.
Or, if Mario from Long Island is on the line, it’s all Benghazi, all the time.
“All I ever wanted to do was bit parts on Broadway. I have more than achieved any goal that I aspired to. And now I am in the No. 1 market, anchoring the morning show,” Piscopo said.
“I am embracing it, I am inspired by it, I love what I am doing.”
Piscopo’s career soared with SNL, stalled in Hollywood (“Johnny Dangerously”) impressed on Broadway (“Grease”) and took some bizarre turns (“Celebrity Wife Swap”).
He was happily performing at casinos and clubs around the country, he said, when his pal Dr. Rock Positano, the foot doctor to the stars, suggested he consider getting into radio.
Piscopo, who studied broadcasting in college, began visiting a midtown studio to hone his skills when Curtis Sliwa abruptly left AM 970 last winter.
After a meeting and essentially a one-day tryout, The Answer had its answer for filling a crucial hole in its lineup.
Occasionally, Piscopo, 63, flashes his comedic chops, as when Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan) called in, and they talked about President Obama’s game plan against the Islamic State.
“I don’t know how many Americans sleep at night and worry about whether we are going to get attacked by ISIS,” Rangel said.
“Congressman, if you send two Italian guys from Jersey, this will all be over tomorrow!” Piscopo said.
But considering that he and Eddie Murphy carried SNL through some very lean years, there is surprisingly little shtick, which is just how management wants it.
“Joe has great stories to tell, he has a great sense of what is funny. But that is the salt and pepper on the steak — it’s not the steak,” said radio guru Phil Boyce, a vice president at Salem Communications, which owns the station.
The “steak,” Boyce explained, is “this insatiable desire for news and information, which is why listeners come to us.”
The steak served at The Answer is often red meat.
Salem calls itself the largest commercial radio broadcasting company in the U.S. providing “Christian and conservative programming.” The company also owns the conservative web sites TownHall.com, HotAir.Com and Twitchy.com, and Regnery Publishing, the country’s leading publisher of conservative books.
While The Answer’s politics lean hard right, Piscopo’s are less so.
Although he serves listeners a steady diet of Fox News personalities, he’ll invite Democrats and liberals on his show and allow them to have their say — from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J) and Ralph Nader to former Gen. Wesley Clark and former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
“Everybody except the mayor and the governor,” Piscopo grumbled, referring to de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo.
“We have had it with him,” he said of de Blasio, only half joking. “I’ve never had an Italian not call me back.”
As for his interviewing style, “If I disagree with someone I let them have their say and move on,” Piscopo said. “I don’t want to be the one to lecture.”
Piscopo describes himself as a “Blue-Dog Democrat … The older I get, the more conservative I am.” He said he has “had it,” with the Democrats and “will be leaving the party and become independent.”
He voted for Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, he said. “I still think those two would have made a better President,” he said. He also voted for Booker for Senate.
“Cory’s a friend. I like Cory. If you know Cory, you’ll love him,” Piscopo explained.
He said he still harbors a dream of running for office — he was once talked up as a potential candidate for governor in New Jesrey — but it is hard to know if he is serious.
He said he thinks he would be able to appeal to voters.
“I am that ‘everyman’ in that I have made every mistake you can make in your career and in your personal life,” he said. “But I am a survivor.”
His “bad choices,” Piscopo said, include “silly things like running off with the babysitter” — that would be his son’s sitter, Kimberly Driscoll, 18, whom he eventually married and divorced — and bulking up so much, he once did a cover shoot for “Muscle and Fitness” magazine in 1990.
Piscopo says his ripped phase was an extreme reaction to a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. “No drugs. Never steroids,” he said. “I am not a drug guy but the rumors were warranted.”
He said he now wonders, “What was I thinking? … Oh my God, that was stupid. … You don’t do muscles and comedy — they don’t mix.”
When Piscopo came in for his tryout, the station’s Vice President and General Manager, Jerry Crowley told him, “You know, we are a very conservative station.”
“I said, ‘Well, Ronald Reagan is a hero to me. And Rudy Giuliani is a close friend.’ And he goes, ‘We are Christian-owned, and we are very religious.’ And I go, ‘I go to church every Sunday. I said I am hopelessly Italian-Catholic.’ And Jerry talked to corporate and made it happen.”
In the most recent ratings period, mid-September to mid-October, WNYM had 0.5% of the total radio-listening audience in the morning, putting it 38th place.
Boyce, for one, said he is pleased.
“If that is the number, it is about double where we were,” he said. “I am really happy with it. I think he has a future doing this.”