That brings to mind another humble observation I’ll make about myself. I’m fearless. Or out of my mind. One way or the other, I think people appreciate the fact that every night I go out and put my head right back on the chopping block by firmly coming out for or against a stock. A lot of commentators shy away from making definitive pronouncements because it’s inherently risky. They’re afraid of picking a stock and then being really, demonstrably wrong. When you pick stocks in the public eye, especially when you do it five days a week like I do, getting some of them wrong is not a risk, it’s a certainty. Being wrong occasionally is simply the price of ever being right. You just have to be tough or foolish enough to tolerate the public humiliation. Another thing I do that no one else does is admit my mistakes. Every Thursday, I reserve a segment of Mad Money for owning up to the stocks I get wrong and trying to learn from my errors. When I blow a call, I joke that such bad stock-picking drives me to sipping cheap blended Scotch on my dirty linoleum floor at home; but that’s plain false. It’s a parquet floor, and it’s expensive single-malt Lagavulin.
But if it was only about the money, I wouldn’t have the college kids chanting. If it was just the money, there would not be half a dozen people clamoring for my head every time I say something provocative. And that’s why I think I’m benefiting from a second trend, this one cultural. There is an interesting split in the media and entertainment in general that I am not the first to point out. Although I probably am the first in financial media, which is a key to my success. There’s a widespread hunger for authenticity, originality, and even surprise from the purveyors of traditional media. Prime-time entertainment shows, the news, politicians—all of them are more scripted and produced than ever before. Barely a word is spoken that hasn’t been poll-tested and focus-grouped before being released to the audience. I know, some revelation.
On the other hand, there’s YouTube, the altar of everything unprepared, unpolished, and off-guard. We get more out of listening to Alec Baldwin scold his daughter in a private voice-mail message (was I the only one who felt like he was in the right?) than we do from even the best television shows. Why? Not just because we are voyeurs (although we are), but because old-school media has left us starved for authenticity. The MTV generation is already having children. The YouTube generation is watching TV, and they have different values. Even though I have a television show, I see myself as being on their side.
On my show, I rant and rave and run around and sweat and scream. I say absurdly digressive things people couldn’t possibly expect me to say, about topics that have nothing to do with the actual subject of Mad Money: stocks. I break all the rules of TV journalism because I break the cardinal rule: I don’t take myself or the medium seriously. In fact, I think the medium is absurd, along with the conventions that rule it, which are unchanged from pre-Internet days and therefore hopelessly troglodyte. My audience, everyone’s audience for that matter, craves spontaneity, they crave madness, because the usual ordered packaging of old-media content has become stale. Because I essentially like attention and am constitutionally manic and basically have no shame, I’m willing to cross whatever lines need crossing, to go completely over the top. For some reason, I find myself alone in this. My audience skews young—about 28 years old, with about 40 percent being college kids. At least that’s who calls in. That’s not just because the young are as greedy as the rest of us. It’s also because they’re hungry for spectacles. These young people don’t want to be millionaires, they want to be billionaires and won’t waste their time in the seven-to-nine figures.
Forget Real World or Survivor—all these reality-TV shows go only part of the way because they’re so heavily produced. I have an hour-and-a-half tape delay. I say whatever pops into my head, and we keep it in the show even if it makes me look like an unsophisticated moron, a way too sophisticated know-it-all, or the worst: when I come off as a Marxist-Leninist, even though I’m a Trotskyite at heart (an easy mistake to make given my close resemblance to Lenin). On some level, the show is dedicated to the proposition that 98 percent of my education, or at least the parts my parents paid for, was not irrelevant, or at least the Western-civ stuff, along with that Shakespeare course, because it lets me confuse the bard with C.R. Bard, the medical-supplies company. Look at Mad Money in contrast to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, two programs that ought to be able to sue for libel after being included in the same sentence with Mad Money. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are both very smart, they’re both entertaining, and they both appeal to the kids. But at the end of the day, even they are heavily produced. On Mad Money, we cannot be produced because we are pretty much at the whim of whoever decides to phone in and ask me a question. And even the parts of the show I control are a lot more off the cuff than you would expect or even believe.