"Stuttering John" Melendez Talks Prank-Calling Trump, "Secret Service" Visit and Why He Called Michael Avenatti
The comedian who impersonated a U.S. Senator and convinced Jared Kushner to put him through to the president believes he’s done a service by pointing out flaws at the White House: "If Kushner was not married to his daughter, he'd be gone.”
It was the prank call that put the White House on high alert.
On Friday, comedian John Melendez, known to fans of The Howard Stern Show as "Stuttering John," began tweeting that he had reached Donald Trump on the phone while posing as Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and uploaded the conversation to his podcast to prove it. As media outlets confirmed the claims, the White House scrambled to learn how the Stuttering John podcast host got through to the U.S. President.
While the White House has yet to comment on the prank, Melendez kept the story in the headlines by claiming the Secret Service knocked on his front door to "arrest" him Friday night. And on Saturday, he added that he had consulted a "legal team" about his situation.
Now the comedian tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview that he consulted with Stormy Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti and another lawyer friend and no longer fears he'll be put in prison. (Avenatti has been tweeting in Melendez’s defense this weekend.) Instead, Melendez, 52, says he’s happy his prank revealed how insecure the president's phone lines are. (He’s also not likely to stop talking about the stunt, since he’s got a memoir coming out in the fall.)
Excerpts of the interview are below, as well as Melendez's podcast conversation with Trump.
How did you get the idea to prank call Donald Trump?
Well I do The Stuttering John Podcast once a week on Tuesdays and we didn't have a guest. My producer's like, "What do you want to do?" He had mentioned a couple weeks before, "Do you want to call the White House?" So I said, "Let's just call the White House." So initially it was just I called him at first as me, as Stuttering John. I've had a relationship with Trump, I've had drinks with him; I've talked to him on the phone a number of times. So I initially called the White House saying the same thing I just said and they said, "I'm sorry he's busy" and they hung up. So my producer, Royce, was like, "He doesn't want to talk to Melendez, how about Menendez?" You know, because it's a letter off. So then we go, "All right, we'll try that."
So I call back with the worst English accent known to man and say, "Hello this is Shawn Moore calling from the Senator Bob Menendez." And they said, "What?" And I said, "Sean as in Connery, Moore as in Roger, I'm a big Bond fan." As soon as I said, "I'm a big Bond fan," you would think they would imagine, wait, he didn't pick his own name, that doesn't make any sense. But they continue, and I said, “The Senator would like to talk to the President.” Then they said they're going to call me back.
So about five to 10 minutes into the podcast, they call me back and they go, "We have one question, why are you calling from an 818 number on your cellphone when the senator is in New Jersey?" Which, by the way, I would never have even known which state the senator represents. That's how bad their screening is, if they just asked me what state, I would have been stumped. So I said, "Oh, it's 818 it's because we're on holiday." And they go, "OK."
That shows the ineptitude of their screening staff: I'm saying I'm on holiday and they're buying that as an excuse, like as if your cellphone area code changes in whatever state you're in. So they go, “We'll have somebody call you.” So then we end the podcast, I go home, I take a shower and I'm on my way to a date in Beverly Hills and suddenly I get a call and it's obviously a D.C. area code, and it's a weird number, so I'm assuming it's important, and the person on the other line said: “All right, this is Jared Kushner, we're trying to get in touch with Senator Menendez. What does the senator want to talk about?” And I go, “We had a long conversation with the president about immigration two or three weeks ago, he just wants some closure on it.” And he goes, “All right, I can pull him out of a meeting on Air Force One right now, or he can call you back.” And I go, “No, please call me back” because I know that I have to call my friend in New York to record it.
So then I'm driving, I'm almost at the restaurant I'm going to, and then, boom, I get a call from Air Force One again, and they go, “Hey, we have President Trump on the line for Senator Menendez.” And now I'm doing my bad English accent and I'm falling in and out of it, and I quickly go, “Yes hello this is Sean, let me get Menendez on.” Within the next 20 seconds it's Donald Trump.
How could you be sure it was him?
A., it's from a Washington, D.C., area code, B., Jared Kushner, I recognize his voice because I watch the news all the time, and C., being the most important, is that I have hung out with Donald Trump on so many occasions that I know his voice. If you listen to the phone call, I don’t think there's a doubt in anybody's mind that that's Donald Trump. I think I did Donald Trump a service by exposing how inadequate his screening staff is. And if Jared Kushner was not married to his daughter, he'd be gone.
How did you figure out what to say?
Look, I'm a liberal, I'm a Democrat, as Donald once was, and I was like, I'm going to get my points across now and try and get some discourse with the president. He does not even realize that you have a guy who's not nearly as articulate as Senator Bob Mendendez, with a bad Long Island accent, and a voice that you would think he would know.
And then we had a conversation. I talked to him about immigration, I say, “I'm very concerned about these kids, I want them all back with their parents.” And then he gives me his stump-speech answer. And then I go, “But also, Donald, as you know, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy is stepping down, I really want you to pick a moderate.” I said, “Kennedy was a regular appointee, he was a moderate, I think we need balance in the Supreme Court. You will have my vote if you pick someone who's more moderate.” He said, “We have big people we're going to choose from,” like dumb Donald talk. According to language analysts, he speaks like a fourth grader. So he says, “We have big choices, it's all going to come out in two weeks.” And that was it. I said, “Thanks, Donald for the call.” At the very end, I did something from the old Stern show, but he didn't recognize it.
The new [podcast] on Tuesday that we're going to record is going to me calling Senator Bob Menendez as President Trump, see if I can get him on the phone.
Why did you think it was the Secret Service showing up at your door last night?
I got home at like 7 or 8 p.m. after doing all this media. And then when I got home, two of the neighborhood kids are in front of [my] door. I said, “What's going on?” They said “There were two guys in suit jackets banging on your door.” I asked who they were, and they said they were from the Secret Service and they showed their badges.
So now I'm like, “Holy crap.” So I go in and I start tweeting, like, “I'm going to get arrested now.” I go in, I lock the door, I went on my bed, I heard knocking and it could have been anybody, but I wasn't about to answer it. When one of my son's friends showed up at my place, I told my youngest son, “Just answer it and tell them I'm not here.” Because, like, I'm waiting for it.
I have consulted with attorney Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney, along with my friend who's an attorney and they say it's a very, very hard case for them to win. First of all, I'm protected under the First Amendment, I'm a comedian, and this is a comedy bit. Secondly, when the president gets on the phone, I don't say anything, and I didn't make any money from the call, there was no harm done, there was no harmful thing said that could be construed as something inflammatory or whatever. I have a friend who has a good friend who is one of Donald Trump's Secret Service guys who has said, “If the Secret Service would show up, they wouldn't be showing up to arrest you, they'd be showing up to find out how the hell you got through.”
Are you taking security precautions? From, say, angry Trump supporters?
No, because if anybody is angry, I've been friends with Donald, they don't even know him. To be angry at me pulling off a prank is kind of ridiculous. Keep in mind, on the Stern show, I pulled pranks on celebrities no matter what their political affiliation was. I interviewed the [former New York City] Mayor Ed Koch, and pissed him off, and he's a Democrat.
I will give President Trump credit in one area, which is that he did at least have a conversation with who he thought was a Democratic senator. Senator Bob Menendez has recently said, “I wish I could have a conversation with Donald Trump about immigration.” But here's my thing, why doesn't Senator Mendendez just pick up the phone like I did? It sends a very sad note about why Washington is so dysfunctional. They could have a conversation, they could find a middle ground if they just talked to each other.
What's the response been to your stunt? Have you gotten new comedy opportunities?
I've doubled my Twitter followers already and I've done every media outlet I could think of. Even Japan emailed me asking if they could use the audio from my podcast. This has become a worldwide story: My mom, who's Danish, has said already it's all over the Danish news. So, I mean, it's one of those things.
I'm kind of happy that instead of doing jokes and goofing on the president, I had a real conversation. And I'm thrilled CNN said, “Mr. Melendez is actually making some really good points and headway with the president, maybe he wants to run for Senator.”