“Wanna go see my shrine?”
Mariann Tepedino trots up the staircase of her home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and opens the door to her pride and joy. Plastered all over the walls is the face of one man: Howard Stern.
Hanging are all the signs she’s accumulated over the past 22 years, following Stern to “all the shows”—Letterman, Fallon, “whatever he’s got going on.” The centerpiece of the wall is her “America’s Got Howard” poster, which she took with her to America’s Got Talent tapings last summer, when Stern was named the reality show’s new judge. He made her his “queen,” she says, and gave her box seats to all 18 tapings in Newark, New Jersey. “It was on my bucket list,” she brags, as she puts on the tiara she wore to the studio each week and poses with the doll a girlfriend made in her likeness as Howard’s AGT queen.
She shows off the tangled bundle of all-access badges she’s collected following Stern in the past decades. There are photo collages of her with Stern regulars and “Wack Packers”—his most devoted fans—over the years: High Pitch Eric, Bobo, Crackhead Bob. Above the door is the sign she made for his transition to Sirius radio, which includes the word “Sirius” handwritten 100 times. “Could you really believe all the Siriuses on this?” she says. “I’ve got a clear fucking head, right?”
Actually, she does.
She’s “Mariann from Brooklyn.” She is AGT queen. She is “mother of the Wack Packers.” She is in her own words—which few would dispute—Howard Stern’s biggest fan.
It all started almost 22 years ago. She was listening to Stern’s Channel 9 show when wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the guest. A woman called in to read Stone Cold the riot act for not giving her family autographs at an event. Mariann had recently brought her son to see the wrestler and had the polar-opposite experience. “So I called out of the clear blue sky with no agenda,” she remembers, as she holds up her Maltese, Max, for smooches. “I called to say how great he was to the kids.”
The call screener asked her name, and she said, “Mariann from Brooklyn,” giving herself the nickname that would stick for the next two decades and beyond. Something else would stick: the incessant teasing from Stern and his staff for her unmistakable, harsh, Bensonhurst-born voice.
“He picked up right away and was like, ‘MY GOD do you hear her voice?’” she recalls. “Then he tells Stone Cold, ‘You’re never gonna get a hard-on again, and you’re going to go back to your wife.’ All funny things, and it didn’t bother me. I had a thick skin. It made me laugh. And so the next day I called about something else, and that’s how it all started.”
Now when she calls in to the show, Stern frequently plays crows cawing as she speaks.
Fair enough. Every story that Mariann so theatrically tells is a veritable arpeggio of squawks—whether she’s explaining having to defend her love for Stern to the other parents at her daughter’s Catholic school or recalling writing letters to the FCC in his defense over the years. They vary in pitch and intelligibility as they reach their excited climaxes—or when she interrupts them to coo at Max.
Mariann can’t even count the number of times she’s called into the show, and she has been featured in numerous segments on Howard TV, Stern’s uncensored On Demand channel. Plus, she’ll remind you, she is AGT queen! As one of the Stern community’s most loyal presences, she’s amassed a fan following of her own. Currently her Twitter handle has over 47,000 followers.
As such, she’s recognized frequently while out and about in her bedazzled Ugg boots. All she has to do is open her mouth. “I go out like this, like a mess, I’m always a mess,” she says, “7-11, wherever I go. Whenever I say, ‘Oh, can I have my lotto number, the newspaper?’ people recognize me.”
In fact, it recently happened while she was in the audience of a taping of the Rachael Ray show. A big Stern fan herself, Ray ran to Mariann and scooped her up in a big hug. “My daughter says, ‘Mom, can you believe she knows and likes you?’ It’s crazy!”
Which raises the obvious question: all this must embarrass her family, right?
“No, not at all,” says her daughter, Nicole, a student at the New York fashion-merchandising school LIM College. Her husband, director of corporate wholesale for an automotive group, teasingly calls her crazy, but supports her fully. Her son, Patrick, who works at Deutsche Bank, is equally diplomatic: “As long as my mom is a great mom, she can do whatever she wants.” Nicole scoffs. “Well, that sounds preplanned.” Mariann beams. “Here’s your $10 now, Patrick.”
Plus, Patrick says, his mom “stays out of that sex stuff” that Stern is so notorious for. “I never cross that line,” Mariann agrees. “I try not to.”
“Try” being the operative word here. This is, after all, who wrote her own song in honor of Stern, “All I Need Is Howard in My Life” (set to the tune of Enrique Iglesias’s “Rhythm Divine”): “All I neeeeed is Howard in my life/All I need is Howard's little dick. It’ll do the trick/All I need is Howard in the morn. He makes me feel so horn.” And then there was the time she showed up at Stern’s studio dressed as Kathie Lee Gifford with a giant stuffed penis around her neck for a Halloween costume contest.
“Everybody wants to talk about sex,” she says. “Whatever sex talk there is, it’s about fun. It’s laughing. It’s not about hurting anybody. It’s being free. Here’s a perfect example. A 54-year-old woman. I can’t take off my clothes. I mean I have a family, and of course everybody would throw up. If I looked Pamela Anderson, then maybe I would, but ...”
The almost unintentionally hilarious bluntness hints that the notoriety she’s receiving now is kind of a lifelong destiny. Before she got married—“really young,” she says—Mariann wanted to be the next Joan Rivers and had pipe dreams of moving to L.A. to try out her luck: “I was the class clown. My father was at school every day because I was in trouble. Then I went to Adelphi Academy, and I said, I’m going to have a voice and be creative.” Now? “Maybe I’m a very, very 54-year-old late bloomer.”
Take Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony. She began tweeting about Anne Hathaway’s insufferability (“’I ditched Valentino for Prada.’ Who gives a fuck?”) and her distaste for Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne’s red-carpet coverage (“I would rather see Joan Rivers, because she has Chanel and Gucci and the best clothes ever and the greatest taste”) when she had an epiphany. “I did this commentary with my girlfriends in 1975. Now everyone’s reading my tweets.” Yes, thanks to Howard Stern and her own larger-than-life personality, Mariann is having a bit of her own Joan Rivers moment.
It just so happens that she’s having that moment while explaining a grammatical error on the Howard Stern tattoo she recently got on her ankle. “All I Need is Howard” has improper capitalization on “is.” Howard was distraught when her learned of the mistake, saying he “felt so sad” after seeing footage of the tattoo. “It’s going to be there every single day, and there’s a fucking mistake.”
But Mariann? “I wouldn’t let them change it, because I liked it. That’s my signature now, the small ‘i.’ It doesn’t bother me.”
To some this level of devotion may come off maniacal. But, really, it’s just enthusiastic. “For Mariann, every single day is the World Series, and The Howard Stern Show is her New York Yankees,” says Doctor Ivan, fellow Stern super-fan and graphic designer specializing in Stern-related images. “I love her passion ... These days I enjoy seeing anyone have true passion for anything. It’s sadly become a rarity. People are too jaded to be that happy most days.”
True. It’s an infectious joie de vivre. “That’s why they like me. I’m a regular housewife,” she says, cleaning up the sandwiches she made for the lunch interview—one ham, one tomato and mozzarella, “in case you’re vegan”—and asking if I might need to borrow a sweater for the trip back to the office. “It’s always chillier than you think.”
It’s eminently clear that Mariann From Brooklyn is no psycho fan or celebrity stalker, but just a person with a passion who couldn’t be sweeter. So how does one reconcile that with 22 years of intense devotion to a shock jock so notorious for crossing the line?
"What crossing the line? Boobs and ass? He’s not killing anyone. I’m a modest person, and he doesn’t offend me,” she says, insisting that if I joined her in her queen’s box this season at America’s Got Talent (I’ll be there in a heartbeat), I’d see that he’s “very kind.”
After all, he did make her queen.