Stories (I Sort of Remember) From a Life Lived Out Loud
Once in a while, you cross paths with someone who changes you. Their spirit just jibes with yours the right way. It could be the partner, the friends, the family, or even, you know, one of those one and done kind of things. I often find these connections when I talk to someone at the airport. I insist on getting to know everyone I encounter, to see if there is a common thread. I want that, “Get the fuck outta here, you know Cousin Jimmy!” moment. Say hello to a stranger and suddenly you’re thrust into communion with someone, hopefully left totally inspired. Invite the opportunity, and every conversation will leave a positive impact on this world.
I had opportunity to talk with Elvis Duran, who has authentically and holistically made those life changing connections with people since 1996. Don’t tell anyone, but this was one of my all time favorite interviews. It’s been a while since I’ve had a conversation with someone that gave me chills. And I must say, I was nervous leading up to the call. Did I mention I was in a parking garage? Would I have enough cell service? I better park on the roof. I’ll use my boyfriend’s phone to record in case PhotoBooth on my Mac shits out.
In his book Where Do I Begin?, Elvis, with humility and a type of charming reckless abandon, gives us a glimpse into life at Z100 radio. He shares the fascinating journey he’s taken to get to where he is.
Johnny Walsh: Congratulations on your engagement and your wedding. How excited are you?
Elvis Duran: We’re very excited. You know, look, you grow up thinking that you’re never going to be able to get married because of laws and this and that. Then you wake up one day and realize that we can get married and it’s possible now. It’s so nice and we’re having so much fun getting ready for the day.
Your book includes waves of vulnerability and life purpose, you make it about more than entertainment. Tell us how you’re feeling about the book release.
ED: It’s funny, I was talking to a friend about this yesterday. The book was actually finished a long time ago. It’s been half a year since then and now, as I thumb through it, I get edgy because of things I wish I could have put in there or left out. It made me realize that we all have a story to tell. And it’s impossible to put it into one book. I’m very excited, and when I hear someone like you say you read the whole thing, it makes me very nervous. My friends and people I work with know me and they know these stories. But when someone who I’ve never met reads my story, I don’t really know how to process that. It’s so bizarre!
You’re generally so transparent on the show. I grew up listening to your show, but Where Do I Begin was a deeper version of you that was cool to get to know.
ED: Thank you! I think one of the takeaways that I want to tell everyone is being able to write down your story, having someone else edit it, and then read it to yourself is mind blowing. We all have a book in us. And I think it’s so important. The headline in the book was how I really, truly needed to connect with other people; I’ve found that through radio. In writing this book I learned to connect with myself as well. It’s the best exercise you could ever give yourself. It’s a gift you can give yourself. So, as soon as you hang up, go home and start your book.
One of my favorite stories was about Z100’s volume limits being so loud that it was literally illegal, not to mention Nate’s tight pants, Danielle throwing up a sandwich, everyone showing up to the studio five minutes before you’re on the air. There’s a lot going on over there. What’s your favorite part of the day in the life at Z100?
ED: It’s dealing with my family. I can’t imagine going to work every day and sitting in a room by myself with a microphone and having to make that happen like I used to in the old days. It’s more about going in, connecting with my best friends. It just so happens there’s a microphone in the room. I’m blessed to be surrounded by family, and we all just love each other so much. The fact that Danielle, Scary, Brody, Greg T, and I have all been together for over 23 years is unheard of in our business. It’s all about them. It really is.
When Elliot left the show, you mention breaking down as you navigate leadership in a new way, admitting to your producers, “I don’t know what to do.” That’s real humility. What can you tell readers who feel thrown in the deep end professionally?
ED: It goes back to surrounding yourself with a supportive family, not being afraid to say, “Hey guys, I’m scared here.” There’s nothing worse than someone who thinks they know it all. Sometimes I do pretend to know it all. There’s nothing worse than not being able to say, “I don’t know how to fix this.” It can be about your professional life, it could be about drug abuse, or whatever. It’s totally fine to be vulnerable and to ask for help. Thank God I’m still surrounded by people who catch me when I fall, I fall daily. I do.
Let’s talk about 9/11. I reacted emotionally when you write about the first time you laughed on air after the attack. Tell us more about how 9/11 shaped Elvis Duran and the Morning Show?
ED: Yeah. 9/11. Actually, the day before, I was ready to quit my job. I didn’t understand why I was doing radio. I didn’t understand the importance. I felt like I was just going in every day and telling fart jokes and going home like, “What is the fucking point?” On 9/11 we were all beaten over the head with the most awful day of our lives. Then, on 9/12, I started to realize that, “What I do for a living is actually great.” You know, we have the ability to mobilize and get help down to a tragic happening. We also have the ability to let people know there’s still a world out there spinning, even though they may feel like the world is about to come to an end. We lived in a world where we didn’t know if we had tomorrow. We didn’t understand what was happening. I think 9/11 reminded us that what we do every day is for people. It doesn’t have to be a tragedy where airplanes are flying into buildings. It can be for someone who has a shitty boss or can’t make payments on their car. I get you for 20 minutes a day on average. So I need to do my best to make you feel good. We learned that through 9/11. We learned how important it really is.
You talk about success, challenging readers to really know whether or not they want, or need, to “conquer the world.” What about finding peace in the life journey?
ED: Remembering that it is a journey is the number one rule. Just because something good or bad happens today doesn’t mean that something good or bad is going to happen tomorrow. I just, I love life so much. I can’t even imagine taking my last breath. Be able to recognize and savor the things that come at you in life, not only savoring the things you eat or drink, but also savoring a beautiful walk or being aware of what’s around you. And your friends, and what they bring to your life, and how they enrich your life.
You have to be aware of what you have going for you at all times. My Dad passed away at 90 years old. I remember one time he told me, “You never fully grow up. You’re never fully mature in your mind, in your heart.” He said, “No matter how old you are, you’ll always be scared of things. You’ll always learn new things.” He told me not to look up to him for anything other than love. He said, “Don’t look to me for examples; I don’t know all the answers. I’m still on my journey.” That stuck with me.
I almost forgot to ask you about being gay! I love that you don’t define yourself through the lens of your sexuality, but through passion and character. Tell us about identity and how is it more than just sexuality?
ED: You know, I never want to be thought of as a white guy, a gay guy. I just want to be thought of as a good guy. That’s number one, rule one. I think sometimes people get lost in trying to figure out their identity and they believe that being gay is the ultimate badge to wear. I’m totally proud to be gay. I love being gay. I’m really good at it! I think that there’s so many other things we need to be good at though. Being kind, gentle, curious, aware, you know? If you want to call me a gay guy great. But that’s not what I’m known as. That’s not going to be on my tombstone when I die.
I was impressed, refreshed, and freaked out by your chapter on politics and your relationship with Eric Trump. What does unity and community look like at the Morning Show?
ED: I hope I made it clear that we make the decision to stay as central and noncommittal to left or right as possible. Obviously, by just who we are and how we talk, you know where we sit on the spectrum between left and right. But you know, so many people were yelling at each other. And no one was listening to the yelling. Nothing is accomplished by people who just sit there and fucking yell at each other because they disagree. I wanted the show to be a place where you could get away from that because there was a time that things were so heated, especially after the election. You were afraid to have a conversation with anyone because you didn’t know where it was going to go.
When it comes to Eric and Lara Trump, I love them. They’re my friends. They were my friends before his father ran for office. Did I vote for him? No. Would I in 2020? No. They know that, I’m sure. But we don’t talk about it because there’s more to them. I can’t look at them and think, “Oh, their 100% identity is the fact that they’re Trumps.” No, it’s not, it’s not fair. It’s not fair just because we don’t like the way the President is running the country. Some people may hate us because we say that, but that’s not fair. There’s more to me than that. Trying to get that across in that chapter was a rough time, really rough. It still is. I have friends who are Trump supporters. I have friends who are Trump haters, but they’re my friends. I can’t throw them out.
You went through a total transformation of health, body and mind. Self image is a huge issue, especially in the LGBTQ community. Where is the balance between healthy lifestyle and living up to a socially acceptable image?
ED: Having three quarters of my stomach removed was because I watched my mom and dad die slowly. They were in bad shape because of decisions they made earlier in life. It was really the kick in my ass. I didn’t want to be a burden to people other than being an asshole. I didn’t want to be a burden to people when I wasn’t physically able to do my thing.
As far as the community goes, I believe there are people, gay or straight, who obsess over what they look like for the wrong reasons. I know a lot of guys out there who are beautiful, handsome guys. They’re also the loneliest people I’ve ever met. They feel like as long as they’re working out, they’re buff, they’re tan, they’ve got great clothes on, then they’re a catch. That’s not how you catch a partner or happiness, I don’t think. Do you? Plus, my second reason I lost the weight is because I couldn’t see my penis. I just want to drive that point home. I look at it every day now.
Obviously Alex is a pretty good guy. Seems like you like him enough, right? He came along later on. What do you say to those looking for love in today’s scene?
ED: Just keep looking. I know this is so played out, but I didn’t fully understand what it’s like to love someone, until I loved myself. That was a crazy awakening for me. I remember where I was sitting when I actually looked up, I was in a room by myself. I said, “Oh my God. I love me!” I said it out loud. It was creepy. From that moment on, everything just started to open up. Not only in relationships with guys, but in life. When you stop beating yourself up everything changes. I’ve known Alex for 10 years now. We really worked out well for each other and it really made sense. It took time. We had some crazy moments and there were many times we should have left each other, but we didn’t. I’m thankful for that.
How can we stay in touch?