At some point in the past few years, I became a polarizing figure. True, I’ve never led what you’d call a quiet life. You could say I was born to pick stocks. After a quick stint at Goldman Sachs in the mid-eighties, I struck it rich trading for myself and started my own hedge fund in 1987, which was an emotional roller-coaster. Then, in 1996, I started TheStreet.com, the financial news and commentary Website, to let regular people in on what Wall Street pros are thinking and doing. It tanked at the end of the dot-com bubble and now is doing pretty well again. I retired from my hedge fund at the end of 2000 and got a TV show, with my friend Larry Kudlow, called Kudlow & Cramer. It was a traditional sort of financial-news and stock-picking show, and it did all right. I’ve also written a column for this magazine for years. But in March 2005, things started to get crazy.
I’d decided I wanted to leave Kudlow & Cramer to do a different kind of show—one that still gave me a way to point people to great stocks but also allowed me to express my innate insanity, in all its glory, to everyone who might be interested. Over the objections of just about everyone at CNBC, Jeff Zucker green-lighted the idea after I made a direct appeal to him. Mad Money debuted that month. On the show, I say stupid things, yell “Booyah” with alarming frequency, and occasionally wear a diaper or jump into a pile of lettuce to illustrate the finer points of investing.
God knows why, but there seems to be a market for this kind of idiocy. In that first year, the ratings took off; the network put the show in not one, not two, but three time slots; I made the cover of Business Week; and less than a year later, I was improbably filling college halls with cheering student fans (for some reason, college kids are an especially eager audience for my show). But sometimes it feels like for every person who likes what I do, there are a dozen who hate me for it. Mad Money has spawned legions of haters, people who write about the show and my character in really negative, sometimes pretty nasty ways. These people accuse me of being a clown or an idiot. Usually, I agree with them. When people ask for my autograph, I instantly hate myself. Half the time I don’t believe I even deserve a television show, and the other half I spend believing that no one is more deserving of a show. Slap me and I’ll change my mind like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown. People also accuse me of being irresponsible or giving bad advice. I don’t agree with that. Some of them have even questioned my integrity recently. That I find absurd.
As a 52-year-old father of two, a suburbanite, and a guy whose only big interests are stocks and sports, I find it incredible that I could be popular at all, let alone controversial. It is a mystery to me that I am so loved and hated at the same time, although I’m pretty sure writing an entire story focused on myself, like I’m doing right now, can only push more people into the hate column. When I wrote my first book, Confessions of a Street Addict, a disgruntled former employee came out with his own book about me at roughly the same time. I can’t remember who, but one of the funniest reviewers asked why the heck there was even one book out about Jim Cramer, let alone two! I’m not usually one to go in for humility, but this is the kind of question I find myself asking a lot lately. Don’t get me wrong: I love doing my show and consider it a success, but compare the numbers with the rest of cable news and you can see that there aren’t really that many people watching. And yet it feels like there are as many stories written about me as there are about a guy like Bill O’Reilly, who is much more controversial than I am, talks about more important things, and has a much bigger audience. Maybe it just feels this way to me because so many of the stories written about me are negative (and I’m the one noticing), but it seems as if I get a disproportionate amount of media coverage.
No one with a television show who attacks people and companies as relentlessly as I do has any right to complain about this, but don’t you think the whole thing is a little strange? Why do people care so much about this Cramer bozo? Why do so many people seem to enjoy watching me act like a lunatic on television, and what the heck are so many young people doing watching a 52-year-old man talk about stocks? I’m not cool or charismatic, but those auditoriums full of college students all chant “Booyah” and scream when I make my big entrance. This cannot be just because I make people money, or because I talk about Shakira on the show sometimes. Something bigger is going on.