Talk show host, former mayor of Cincinnati, inspiration for hit Broadway musical – Jerry Springer has lived one hell of a life. But without the help of the World Jewish Relief organisation, the legendary host of The Jerry Springer Show would never have been born at all. Springer will be speaking at the World Jewish Relief Annual Business Dinner on 21 June. Before flying to London, he chatted to Square Mile about the organisation, Donald Trump and his time in show business.
Tell us about your association with World Jewish Relief?
Well, there are two answers to that question. They got in touch with me a year and a half to two years ago, and asked me to speak to their group, which I gladly did. But I was in touch with them before I was born. Much of my family was exterminated in Nazi concentration camps; my Mum and Dad were able to get out of Germany literally three and a half weeks before Hitler invaded Poland. They got out because of World Jewish Relief – the organisation signed the papers which made it possible for my Mum and Dad to get a visa. Three weeks later no Jews were permitted out of Germany. That organisation saved my parents' lives, and if they hadn't my sister and I wouldn't be here.
What are your thoughts on Donald Trump?
I think his policies on refugees are awful. First of all, it's not what America is meant to be about. The symbol of our country is supposed to be the Statue of Liberty, not a wall. Banning people simply because of their religion is an absurdity, and the countries where they're supposed to put up the ban are countries where they produce absolutely none of those that committed terrorist acts. There's no relationship between his ban and securing the Unites States. One it's wrong because of the bigotry, and two it's wrong because there's nothing to do with our security – and it could also be argued it makes matters worse. If we keep alienating another religion, all that does is help people on the extremes, who can say, "see? They hate us!"
Obviously one can't make direct comparisons, but would your parents recognise the current climate?
Obviously we're nowhere near the stage the Nazis were, so we can't say that. However any time in history where the horror comes to be, there's always a starting point. There were always early signs. In the very early 1930s you could see what was happening in Germany, you could see what was happening in Europe. It didn't just happen overnight. So it's important for civilisation to recognise how these things get started, and if you start picking on a particular group of people, make a judgement about people based on their religion, country, colour of their skin, then it can lead to horrible things. It's very easy for the masses to go along with some discriminatory policy because you've already been conditioned to believe that these people are bad.
Would you ever be tempted to return to politics?
(Laughs.) If I ran against Trump there really would be a wall built, because you'd have to build a wall to keep Americans from trying to get out. Secondly, I could never run for President from Day One, because I was born in England. In fact I left England when I found out I couldn't be King.
It's a depressing moment...
It is, it is! It reshapes your whole life. Now I can never fulfil my ultimate dream.
Did you notice the British election at all?
Well, what is interesting, and a little bit hopeful, is one of the lasting good values and characteristics of democracy is that whenever it starts going too much in one direction it self-corrects. It seems to me that [the election] was kind of a reaction to the Brexit vote, certainly among young people. It seems to me this election was 'woah, I know we just had the Brexit vote, but this is not the direction we want to be going in.' It's almost like young people suddenly came forward and said, 'hey, what are you all doing? We're not anti-other European countries. Love of Britain doesn't mean you can't be part of something bigger.' I think there was a reaction, and I think we'll see that reaction in the United States as well.
The Jerry Springer Show is a TV institution. Do you have a favourite episode?
No, not really. We've done over 5,000 shows because this is our 27th year so I'd have to be making one up. What's enjoyable about the show is the personality of the guest. We're social beings, and throughout time, thousands of years ago, people have always be interested in the behaviour of other people, and the more it seems out of the ordinary the more fascination we seem to have for this. That has been reflected in literature, in the Bible, Shakespeare – there's nothing you ever see on a television show that hasn't already appeared some place. What's different is the medium by which we observe it – but that's really the only change in human behaviour.
So do you think that human element has ensured the show's popularity?
I have no idea why this show continues. The show's silly, it has no redeeming social value. It's fun to do, people obviously like it, but it's like chewing gum: it won't hurt you but it isn't going to save the world either. It's a one-hour escape from what's going on.
Have there been any moments when you worried you'd crossed the line?
Well, first of all we don't deal with serious issues. We deal with dating. I don't want to suddenly say, 'oh, we have these serious things.' There are talk shows that deal with serious issues; we don't. We're a circus. I'm not allowed to know what the show is about. They just hand me a card with the names of the guests, and I never know what their stories are. My job is to ask question that you would ask sitting at home watching, and then make jokes. Basically, I'm hired to be a comedian.
The rules on the show are it has to be outside the norms of normal behaviour. The show is about outrageousness; so it has to be outrageous, it has to be truthful, and no censorship is allowed. We'll bleep out the bad language, and we'll digitally cover-up the nudity, but you're not allowed to have any censorship on the issues. So the question can never be answered, because you're not allowed to censure it, even if the producers thought something was over the line. You're not allowed to say, we disagree with this point of view, we're not going to run it.
Is there anything you haven't encountered?
The honest answer is you can't be a grown-up in today's world and be surprised by anything you hear. Now you may be surprised it happened you know; but there's no circumstances I could describe that you would be like, 'oh my gosh, I didn't that stuff happens.' All you've got to do is open the newspaper any day of the week, and by the time you get to page threes I've got 20 shows. There's nothing that's shocking; it's only shocking if it happens to someone you know.
Do you watch similar shows to yours? Jeremy Kyle, for example?
I guess I've seen them, but when I watch television it's either the political stations, because I love politics, or sports. And then we enjoyed watching movies. We love Doc Martin. He's wonderful – that show is just the best. We binge watch Doc Martin. That's not what I watch on television, talk shows. I'm just not interested in that. But I'm 73 – if I were in college would I watch my show, or shows like it? Yeah! I know what I was like when I was younger. At this age I'm going to be watching movies, sports and politics.
You've appeared as yourself in numerous films and TV shows. Do you have a highlight?
(Laughs.) Oh, probably when I was in the Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me. Yeah. That was great fun to do.
Any final advice to impart to our readers?
The way to look at politics is to ask the question: how is what you're doing now going to help the most people? It drives me crazy when I see people running for political office, and they want to institute something that would cut the ability of lower and middle income people to get the adequate care they need. You're part of a community: how can we all help each other? Those that are better off should be doing more to help those that aren't better off. We're in this together. Just remember what your mother told you when you were in the third grade: be nice to people. Don't pass a law that isn't nice. It's not hard! It's not hard to follow that rule.
People in their own personal lives are really very decent to each other. If your neighbour's in trouble and they need help, you immediately help. You don't ask, why didn't you work harder in life and you'd be able to afford to help yourself? You don't get into political discussion. You just help. What happens between the decency we have in our core, what happens on the way to the voting booth? All of a sudden we forget all of that, and become really hardened, selfish. Grow up trying to make the world better. That's all.
Listen to the Jerry Springer podcast: jerryspringer.com
Book a ticket to the World Jewish Relief Dinner: worldjewishrelief.org
Donate to the World Jewish Relief worldjewishrelief.org/support-us/donate