Stern Gives Benza the Boot

Radio host permanently bans gossip hound from show after "sucker-punching" sidekick

By Josh Grossberg Jul 26, 2001 12:00 AMTags
A.J. Benza's having a very bad month.

First, the former New York Daily News gossip columnist's show, A.J. After Hours was pulled after a brief run on E!. And now his hot temper has apparently cost him his regular gig on radio, too.

Benza was permanently banned Tuesday from Howard Stern's nationally syndicated radio show after slapping Stern sidekick "Stuttering John" Melendez in the face when a bit spun out of control.

The incident occurred around 7 a.m. ET, as Stern fans called in and blasted Benza, who's been a regular on the radio show since the departure of Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling.

Callers ripped Benza about his just-canceled chatfest. One even called Benza "worse than Chevy Chase."

Benza, who also hosts E!'s Mysteries and Scandals, tried to be self-deprecating, saying Al Sharpton's hunger strike lasted longer than his show, but clearly he was getting perturbed as the calls kept coming. He began defending the show, saying E! execs "just didn't get it."

Then a caller named Chris got through. "I suffer from insomnia and I tried sleeping pills, sedatives, I've tried everything," he said, "and I finally found something that has cured my insomnia--A.J. After Hours."

That ticked off Benza, who accused Melendez of purposely putting through callers to mock him.

· The Howard Stern Show: See A.J. and Stuttering John duke it out Friday at 11 p.m. ET/PT
"Before I leave today, I'm gonna grab Stuttering John in the face and punch him right in his frickin' head...If one more call gets through, you're dead, you fat bastard," Benza said, apparently jokingly.

After a commercial break and a segment on another subject, Melendez, disguising his voice by putting on a thick Brooklyn accent à la Benza and calling himself "Mel", phoned in.

"The only thing more embarrassing than that [last segment] was A.J. After Hours and...even more embarrassing than that show is his hair. It jumped right off his head to get away from him."

Responded Benza, "[Melendez] better leave early. I don't care if I ever work here again. I'm gonna punch him in the face."

Melendez: "A.J. stands for arrogant jerk."

At that point, Benza got up and walked into the adjacent office where Melendez and producer Gary Dell'Abate were stationed. Dell'Abate tried to get between the two, but Benza slapped Melendez across the face and Dell'Abate got caught in the crossfire and took a blow to the ear.

The fight spilled into the hallway of New York's K-Rock studios (where the show is taped), and the two men, clawing to get at each other, were quickly separated.

After settling down, everyone returned to the studio, whereupon Benza and Melendez got into a shouting match over who started what. Benza claimed Melendez "sandbagged" him by screening out all the positive calls, an accusation Melendez flatly denied.

"A lot of calls lately you've been putting through just to piss me off," argued Benza.

"We all get negative stuff," Stern told Benza. "You've got to go to anger-management class."

K-Rock's general manager, Tom Chiusano, then entered the studio, called Benza's action "a sucker punch" and ordered him off the show. Benza finally left after Stern reluctantly agreed with Chiusano.

Benza later told the New York Daily News he regretted the incident. "No one needs to be slapped," he said. "I just wanted to even the score."