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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 15:12 GMT
Jerry Springer: Stage set for more outrage
Jerry Springer

An opera based on the Jerry Springer talk show is to be staged at London's Royal National Theatre. The man said by some to epitomise the lowest of low-brow now finds himself at the centre of one of the temples of high culture.
Andrea wants to woo her ex-boyfriend Chuck by revealing to him, in front of a baying audience and millions of TV viewers, that his new girlfriend Tasha has been cheating on him with his best pal.

That pal is Andrea's brother who lauds his treachery in front of his so-called best friend by strutting around like the prize victor in a cock-fight.

Next to Chuck sits Richard who wants to win back his wife and mother of their child. She recently ran off with another man who beats her.

Jerry Springer
Jerry Springer was once a serious politician
The wife then reveals to all that she is pregnant again but she's uncertain who the father is because she has resumed sleeping with Richard, for money.

This is the staple diet of the Jerry Springer Show which, over the years, has had audiences from some 30 countries to which the programme is syndicated, open-mouthed at the depravities to which people can sink.

"If it's not outrageous, it doesn't get on the show," the host once said.

These outrages have included such themes as "I married a horse" and "They stole my husband's eyes".

Sadly, one of the few boundaries imposed on the show, which often descends into fisticuffs, is that the guests must be telling the truth.

Presidential dreams

It is all a far-cry from the man who was once a serious politician and who might have dreamed of one day becoming president had it not been for the fact that he is precluded by not being born in America.

For Jerry Springer began his life in 1944 during an air raid in London. His parents were German Jews who had escaped to England before the Holocaust began. Some of their relatives were not so lucky and died in Auschwitz.

Ralf Panitz
Ralf Panitz whose ex-wife was murdered after they appeared on Springer's show
At the age of five, Jerry and his family sailed to New York where he remembers being woken up to gaze at the Statue of Liberty. When he asked his mother what it meant, he remembers her replying "One day everything".

He studied law at university in Chicago after which, as a fervent Democrat, he helped out on Bobby Kennedy's 1968 Presidential campaign.

Kennedy's assassination did not curb Springer's appetite for politics and, within six months, he was running for Congress, albeit unsuccessfully, on an anti-Vietnam War platform.

Media star

A few years later, having risen up the greasy pole of Ohio state politics, he was elected mayor of Cincinnati and tipped to become state governor.

He was thwarted in this ambition by a scandal more in keeping with his future career. He was discovered to have had "extras" in a massage parlour, having only recently been married.

The show is so popular because it's so stupid

Jerry Springer
His political career survived, he later claimed, because he was honest about his shortcomings.

By 1982, with a mixture of charm and authority, he veered his career towards television. He became Cincinnati's most popular newsreader, and after 10 years, was given his own chat show which delved into the serious political issues of the day.

But in a highly competitive field, the ratings didn't hold up. He was told not so much to shape up or ship out, more dumb down and bottom out.

He never looked back. "The show is so popular because it is so stupid," he has said. "No one takes it seriously."

The Jerry Springer Show eclipsed the previously uneclipsable Oprah in 1998. Even when he was secretly caught on film having sex with a 21 year-old porn star with her 28 year-old stepmother looking on (both were featured in one of his shows), his popularity didn't suffer.

Writer Stewart Lee
Neither were the ratings seriously affected when, two years ago, a woman was battered to death after appearing on a Springer show featuring Secret Mistresses Uncovered.

Jerry Springer - the Opera is the brainchild of composer Richard Thomas and he has joined forces with comic writer Stewart Lee who will be making his directorial debut with the show.

"There's such a refreshing honesty about him," says Thomas. "He's not about that brainwashing, self-help attitude of American culture you see on Oprah."

The show was a great hit, as a work in progress, at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

Among its showstoppers are a diaper fetishist confessing to his true love, a chorus refrain of "My Mum used to be my Dad/I was jilted by a lesbian dwarf" and Jesus launching into a swearing tirade against the Devil. One wonders what the Japanese tourists will make of it.

With a degree of wit all too rare on the Jerry Springer Show itself, Stewart Lee said "I'm really pleased to be directing Jerry Springer - the Opera at the National Theatre as it is on the 243 bus route that goes directly to my home in Hackney."

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