For 20 years, Opie & Anthony were responsible for creating some of the most outlandish and ridiculous happenings in shock radio. These are things that, due to the constant evolution of the medium, aren’t able to be replicated today. It just wouldn’t have that same feeling of the careful tightrope between what is and isn’t too far. There was a sense of rebellion that went along with what they were doing, almost to the point of anarchy. And just because you were legally allowed to say something on the radio doesn’t mean you should.
These days, as he has since being fired by SiriusXM in 2014 for tweets he made, Anthony Cumia hosts his own show, The Anthony Cumia Show, on his own platform, Compound Media. And just yesterday, his first book, Permanently Suspended was released. The book chronicles everything he has encountered throughout his life, from his time before radio to the classic incidents and many firings of Opie & Anthony, and finally, the future. The last chapter, particularly, examines the future of media and social media and what that means for all of us. And that’s when you can truly feel the passion literally spring out from him and that speaking out about it is something that means a lot to him.
In the midst of the book tour promoting the book, Anthony has been met with criticism, protests, and of the like. But he is determined to just keep on doing his thing, undeterred it seems. He knows what he wants to say and has to say, and he goes about saying it how he wants to go about saying it. He also knows that some people may not appreciate what he has to say, which he accepts. And he keeps on going.
We recently talked to Anthony all about the book, his current relationship with Opie, how he’s navigating the world post-social media, how social media has changed comedy, and his hope for the future of it all.
How did the book all come together? Had the notion of doing a book been formulating for a while?
I always thought it would be kind of a fun thing to do, one of those bucket list things. Once you start doing radio or pretty much anything in the entertainment field, I don’t know what it is, but the next step is “Hey, I’ve got to write a book about my experiences.” But it has been so crazy over the years that I have been doing radio, and even before that. I touch on some of the childhood stuff in my life and working for a living in construction in Long Island. But I always thought there was this weird take on everything I had been involved in that would make a compelling, interesting book. So when I was approached to do the book, I just agreed to it. I was like “Yeah. I have some things that I would kind of like to get out there and elaborate on as far as the relationship with myself and Opie and how I ended up being the person I am and getting onto the radio.” So yeah, I think it was one of those things that had to happen. And once I was offered the opportunity to write it, I was like “Yeah, let’s do this.”
Did you try to approach it from an angle of not wanting to hold back?
Yeah. There’s always been that part of me and I don’t know where it comes from. And oddly enough, and no one will believe this, I’m really a pretty private person. I know that doesn’t make sense when you read the book, but my every day life is spent with no more than 1 or 2 other people around. It’s strange. But yeah, I figured if we’re going to do it, let’s do it. I put so much of my life out there on the radio over the course of the years that it would kind of be anticlimactic if I didn’t have stuff in the book that was laid out in its open and honest and raw way. I had to put it out there. So yeah you’re going to get blunt honesty in the book.
Is there anything in the book that you’re really happy you got to finally speak about, that you hadn’t discussed in the past?
Yeah, there are a few things. Obviously the relationship between Opie and myself. People picked up on it, understood it, and of course after I got fired from SiriusXM and things kind of came apart at the seams between Opie and myself I had talked about it on Compound Media. But I think that there are a lot of fans that don’t understand everything that went on in that 20 year relationship. So I thought it would be cool to get that out and let people know my side of it and how that went. I’m not sure what Opie’s side would look like, maybe at some point he’ll write a book. But my side was a 20 year relationship with anybody is going to be rough. So I kind of laid that open and let the fans kind of know what was going on behind the scenes on a popular radio show and how two guys try to hold it together over the course of 20 years.
And it also sort of makes sense, because they say the greatest on-screen and on-air partnerships don’t always match up privately, and maybe it works better when it doesn’t.
Yeah, if you look at that Metallica documentary it’s a great example of guys that are making an amazing product as far as their art goes, and they are just at each other’s throats. Guns and Roses and The Eagles, there are just so many examples of amazing bands and teams as far as entertainers go that were having personal difficulties with each other and still putting out a great product and doing great shows. You know, there were days where the show would start and we were just hating each other. But the second that music kicked in and those mics went on, we knew what we had to do and what we wanted to do. Actually the time we were on the air was a great break from the tension of having problems with each other, regardless of what they would be. During those four hours that we would do the show, that went away. And we would do the show. And a lot people had no clue, especially toward the end, that there was literally zero contact aside from what you heard on the air. So it is interesting that we’re not unique in that. There are plenty of people that have done that over the years, but it’s a strange situation when you think about it.
And you mention that you haven’t spoken to Opie off air in 4 years. So did you have that inkling, leading up to the book’s release, to reach out and let him know what you had talked about and what was going on with it or not really at this point?
[Laughs] Not really at this point. I figured he’d find out through social media and press releases and things like that. And I don’t think either of us would be surprised that the other was writing a book. I just happened to get the offer first. I address it in the book that I understand that we both owe each other a lot, as far as the O&A show goes, and what we built together. And I would never try to sell that short or try to reduce his part in it. I acknowledge it in the book. But there are other things that were like “God, it could’ve been so much smoother and it would’ve been so much nicer to go into work on a daily basis if our personalities didn’t clash as much let me just say.” I’m being very diplomatic. But yeah, if he does read it, he’ll probably enjoy some parts. Some parts are very memorable as far as when we were up in Boston and really getting along and things like that. It might bring up a nostalgic smile. And there are other parts where I’m sure he’s going to want to throw the thing through the window. It’s that kind of open honesty that’s in the book that I think everybody is going to like. Except him, maybe.
And it is interesting that even after separating that you guys were still able to sort of reunite for the very first time on his SiriusXM show.
Yeah, people liked that. And it was weird. It was kind of a strange thing to sit there and then have him pop on the phone and be like “Hey, what’s up?” Because we hadn’t spoken since the day I got fired. We had not spoken a word and then there we are in front of whoever’s there listening to our conversation. So it was a little weird. I was always game for, not doing his show as I wasn’t allowed at that point, but him coming on and doing my show. But Opie needs a lot of lead in. There has to be a line of things that needed to be done. We’ve got to get together first for a beer and discuss some things and this and that. And I’m just like “Just turn the mics on and let’s talk and let the listeners in on it. They want to hear it. So it never really happened where we had that face to face. I’ve actually never seen him in almost 5 years. 4 and a half years since we’ve been in the same room.
Maybe Jim Norton can bring you two together for a Sinatra reuniting Dean and Jerry moment.
[Laughs] don’t see that happening. Jimmy’s not that big a fan these days [of Opie].
The book reads very much as a memoir, but the final chapter has you expounding on your views on the media, the state of social media, and everything else. Did you ever consider writing something guided more heavily in that direction?
Well, the weird thing is we’re still in it. That’s a continuing story, this whole social media thing and digital broadcasting. And the utter outrage from people who are addicted to outrage and it’s still happening. So it’s kind of hard to do a complete book on that. I did want to get that in there because it’s so important. The title of the book being Permanently Suspended is based on the fact that I cannot keep a social media account. I am constantly getting “You have been permanently suspended from Twitter and Facebook.” And it’s a testament to what’s going on these days. There’s such an infringement going on, on our freedom of speech and it’s not an infringement against the first amendment. It’s not the government infringing on our right to speak. It’s censorship. A lot of people confuse censorship with infringing on your first amendment rights. They’re different things. You talk about a company censoring somebody and you’ll get somebody that says “Well, the first amendment applies.” I’m not talking about the first amendment. I’m talking about a corporation arbitrarily censoring people based on their ideology. Keeping them from joining a worldwide conversation that now includes world leaders, federal emergency management, alerts on social media with information for people during storms and whatnot. And we’re not allowed to be apart of that because you didn’t like what we said? People are fine with that. “Well, speech has consequences. It’s just the government that can’t do that.” And I go “You’re okay with a company saying what you can and can’t say and what you can and can’t hear and what you can and can’t be apart of as far as a worldwide town hall? Really? And for some reason, that doesn’t sit well with me and I think that something has to be done where everyone is included regardless of their ideology. And if you don’t like it or if you’re offended by it, take it up in lively debate. Social media’s a pariah. It really is. I implore any young person that wants a career anytime in the rest of their life to get the hell off of social media. There’s no upside to it whatsoever. There’s only the gamble.
And I’m sure you’re thankful that it wasn’t around when you were growing up. Because that age is when you’re bound to say stupid stuff.
Yeah. And especially when your dream is a career in some kind of entertainment or comedy. In order to hone that, especially in comedy if you’re a stand-up, you have to work through material that doesn’t work, that might not work, that when you say it is offensive and you realize “Oh, maybe I’ve got to change that. Maybe I’ve got to throw that away.” But you always have the ability to experiment on stage because you aren’t being peered at through all these camera lenses and then putting it out there out of context to destroy your life. Comics back in the time when I was growing up could do that, because the only people that would hear that were in that club at that time. And the comic could gauge how it was going based on the crowd. Now it is being judged by people who were never in the club, never wanted to be in the club, never wanted to hear you, don’t get that kind of humor, don’t understand sarcasm or parody. And you could be destroyed just for experimenting with your own comedy. It’s insane. And it’s definitely put a damper on how far comics are willing to go.
Do you see comedy as getting even worse at a certain point?
Wow, man. That would be bad. But I said it a couple of years ago. I said “I hope it doesn’t get worse.” And it is getting worse. Over the course of the years, I see a group of comics. I have so many comics on my show and we did with O&A. Over the course of the years you see some of them tame things down. They don’t want to be as controversial, they don’t want that guilt by association thing if they come on certain shows. And other ones were like “Screw that. I’m doing what I do and this is what I do. I’m pushing the edge.” And then over the course of the years, you see some of them drop off and go “This is costing me jobs” or “I’m being blacklisted because of my material.” And over the course of the years I’ve seen more and more comics just dial it back and take it easy. And like I said, with new comics, they’re not allowed to go into clubs and experiment with material that people deem offensive. And it’s definitely detrimental to stand up comedy. It’s terrible. And I hope that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
You talk about that in the book and on your show as well, just how important free speech is to you.
I think I’m an absolutist with free speech. Everything has a place. It doesn’t matter how offensive it is. It doesn’t matter how dark it is. There’s room for humor in every single instance. And even if it’s not humor. Even if it’s what people deem hate speech or so offensive to society, it still has a place. And it should be met with debate and not be silenced. But people are so quick to slap a label on something as being hate speech that they’re not willing to then address it and confront it and debate it and call it out for what it is. And let people see you debating something you don’t like and then maybe people will go “Wow, that’s a great point that guy just made. He’s right about that.” But when you silence something, it makes people want to seek it out. They say “Why is he silencing this? Why is he so afraid of this? Does this guy have a point? Is he scaring people?” I don’t understand where that went. Where the opportunity to confront somebody through dialogue went.
Do you feel like you not being allowed on social media has turned out to be a good thing?
Absolutely. I 100 percent think there is. I was becoming OBSESSED with the comments that people would make. Like “You suck.” Instead of taking it for what it was worth, you kind of take it to heart. You’re like “Well who’s this? And then who’s this guy? I’ve got to find out who that is and tell him he sucks. It’s such a huge waste of time and energy. And again it can only get you in trouble. There’s this toxic part of it where it gets in your head. And you think of nothing but vengeance and getting back at somebody. And meanwhile who are they? Who cares? Once I stopped getting that kind of input in my life, I didn’t care about it anymore. It didn’t matter. Are they still doing it out there somewhere in the Ether? Probably. But I don’t see it. I don’t care about it. And it doesn’t really affect what I’m doing. So yeah, getting off of social media in that way was a good thing.
Do you still find ways to be connected with your fan base without social media?
Oh yeah, yeah. Social media was tough, because I don’t think I was connected any more or any less with fans through social media than I was without it. Now, like just the other day we were doing the election show on my show, and we have a bunch of fans come in and we have bleachers and seats and a couch in the studio, and they come in to watch like a live audience. And when we were done, we went across the street to a bar and the people who were on the show, comic Gino Bisconte and Pat Dixon and everybody goes to the bar across the street, and so do the fans. And we all sit there and drink some beers and laugh and talk. I love that. Because we all have that commonality of our twisted sense of humor and our passion for free speech and stuff like that. And then we break off into little groups of fans and guests of the show. It’s just a cool hang. And that’s what I like doing. I think that’s part of what the fans really do enjoy. I worked for a living for many years and I never take for granted that I can make a good living talking for a couple hours a day. So I never take that for granted and I never take the fans for granted either in that respect.
This is something I ask everyone, and I always like hearing how it turns out. What would you say that you’d want your legacy to be?
I think first and foremost that I absolutely think that our freedom to express oneself is the most important thing. I honestly think it transcends just freedom of speech. It’s freedom of expression that involves everything. It’s ideas that makes the world better, it’s political ideologies, comedy. And that all comes from a persons ability to express themselves without fear. And I have always thought that and I’ve lived by that, and I’ve paid the price for it in certain respects. But I never regret it. I’ll never regret what I’ve said over the course of my career because it could either inspire out of anger or inspire out of agreement. But I think everything that people say can inspire people. So I think, as far as I’m concerned, my passion for unfettered freedom of speech.
Anthony Cumia’s book, Permanently Suspended is available now.