Wendy is aware of her eccentricities. “Don’t make it sound so Michael Jackson,” is what she says. Doesn’t she deserve it? “It’s all on me,” Wendy points out. “At the end of the day, it’s not on anybody else.” It’s true. The show has a few standard segments, but it’s mostly unscripted; there are no show meetings. Much of it can seem unproduced. Occasionally there’s dead air. Wendy’s cell phone rings, twice during one show. (“Somebody’s calling who doesn’t know I’m Wendy Williams,” comments Wendy on-air.) Sometimes guests stop by. Sometimes Wendy lets Artie, a foot fetishist in addition to executive producer, suck their toes. Inevitably, she probes their sex lives (and eagerly awaits their departure so she can talk about them). The rapper Q-Tip is asked if he slept with Nicole Kidman. Porn star Jenna Jameson is asked if she prefers guys or girls. Singer Erykah Badu tells about her three boyfriends. Listeners, too, call or fax about their sex lives. One afternoon, Wendy takes up the matter of the listener with the fourteen-inch “Richard.” It’s perfect Wendy material, titillating and freakish, and Wendy ponders it with the utmost seriousness. “I couldn’t get soft and pink,” she decides. “I don’t want that tapping on my back every night.”
To keep the show working every afternoon, Wendy knows she has to keep her head tuned just right. Thus, the chorus of interns and their rules of conduct. There’s another crucial element. She must keep the wars in her head quiet, and so she must banish from her mind—“block out,” she says—the idea of her parents, the one she otherwise wants hovering over her life. If not, Wendy just might lapse. Instead of giddy, salacious Wendy with that ticklish low laugh, listeners might find well-behaved Wendy, devoted mom, steady wife, respectable daughter. Good life, but bad radio.
Her father, Tom, has appeared on Wendy’s show and talked about his novel. “I’d like to take the microphone myself,” he confesses. (Her sister wants anonymity—“Act like you don’t have a sister,” she told Wendy; but Wendy’s younger brother stopped by. He wanted to talk about early experiments bottling farts. Wendy sometimes shut off his mike.) “We are 100 percent behind her,” says mother Shirley, who’s read Wendy’s books, though Wendy refuses to discuss them with her. “We have had to broaden ourselves and have a more open mind,” says Shirley loyally.
Wendy’s parents live in Florida, where the show isn’t available. Recently, Wendy heard that her syndicators were working to get a Florida station onboard. “Oh boy, there goes the product,” she says.
One afternoon, Wendy sets her green Gucci bag next to the microphone and takes a call. She’s in a black Mossimo running suit, actually two; she had to buy two and extend the legs so they’d fit. The caller is a woman whose boyfriend married another woman because she couldn’t have children—“for convenience,” she says. He kept her on the side. Now, to the caller’s shock, she’s pregnant. Wendy may be the first person she’s told. “I just found out two hours ago,” she says, as if Wendy might keep the news to herself.
For all the show’s “scandalosity,” as Wendy likes to say, listeners turn to Wendy for advice. “In my mind, Oprah is my big sister,” Wendy says. Wendy, though, is a sterner version. Empathy isn’t a given. Wendy’s outlook is more the unyielding self-improver. Teen pregnancy, for instance, is almost incomprehensible to her. “No baby was going to stand in my way,” Wendy says. Unintentionally pregnant (as an adult), Wendy chose an abortion.
Most of Wendy’s callers are women caught between a man’s actions and his promises. Wendy has been there. She may be steely in her determination, but she is at the same time ever vulnerable. And since with Wendy there’s no line between public and private, everyone knows. Kevin cheated on her while she was bloated and bedridden with their baby. Wendy has dealt with it. In part she understood; in part she wanted to kill him. (As an alternative, she hired a private detective.) “I have moved on,” she says. Wendy’s listeners often seem stuck. Many don’t have plans, except to wait it out.
When the caller asks if she should wait out her boyfriend’s marriage, Wendy almost can’t believe it. There’s a snarl in her voice. “He doesn’t want you,” she says. “He’s lying to you. Get your child support and go.”
Wendy’s harsh judgments aren’t reserved just for callers. On Wendy’s show, celebrities should behave responsibly, too. Wendy is a gossip and a moralist. That’s Wendy’s beef with Whitney, lately one of the show’s thematic backbones. Whitney is the un-Wendy. Wendy planned and plotted to get where she is. Whitney is the immensely talented woman who let her gifts dissipate. Wendy wants to be kind to Whitney, a sister in the struggle against drugs. Wendy has studied Being Bobby Brown, the reality-TV show about Whitney and her husband. “I like her,” Wendy offers tentatively about Whitney, but can’t pull it off. Wendy mentions Whitney’s round “crack belly,” imitates the sound of her getting high, and—this really gets to Wendy—notes Whitney “smoking [cigarettes] in the car with her kids.”