TV's "Furniture Guy" is stirring up trouble in Chestnut Hill.
Ed Feldman exists to piss people off. This much is clear as he leans into his microphone, calls Dennis Miller a neo-Nazi and rips him apart for failing “at every aspect of show business he’s ever attempted.”
That’s only mildly inflammatory for Feldman. In the same five-minute rant, over the zeroes and ones of his new talk show Morning Feed on Germantown Radio (gtownradio.com), he manages to savage Bo Derek, Pat Sajak, Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Maher, seemingly in one breath.
Feldman hasn’t been sued for defamation yet, but he’s trying really hard.
“I took a piss with Bill Maher once,” he says. “There was no marble slab between us and I looked over. I had to look. No wonder he has to pay for it.”
The penis joke is just an aside, Feldman at his most juvenile. Eventually, he gets to his point: Dennis Miller defected to the right wing not because of his beliefs but because Republicans are “the only people” who will listen to him anymore.
“You know, it’s all about money,” he says. “It has nothing to do with politics. Show business is a big ovum and all the sperm are trying to get in.”
There is, of course, a grand irony here: Feldman is one of those sperm, and he’s willing to whip his enemies mercilessly to sow his own second coming.
Fifteen years ago, Feldman was a celebrity of sorts, a Cable Ace award- winning somebody with a TV show and a devoted following. Each week, a legion of Mr. Fix-Its tuned in to The Learning Channel to see Feldman and his co-host, Joe L’Erario, transform the dreadfully boring topic of furniture repair into something worth watching: 30 minutes of step-by-step instruction propelled by intelligent sketch comedy.
Most Furniture to Go fans grasped that the show was supposed to be piss-your-pants funny. But much like an episode of The Simpsons , there were layers to the comedy, and teasing out the punch line required an encyclopedic knowledge of historical obscurities and not-so-pop culture. Feldman didn’t care if viewers were clueless to why he and L’Erario both dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte, reenacted the cab scene from On the Waterfront in the back of a horse-drawn carriage or dragged a chaise lounge up the Art Museum steps with the Rocky theme blasting in the background. They wrote most of their bits to amuse themselves and other Mensa rejects.
“The goal of the comedy I wrote for my show was jokes that nobody would get,” Feldman says, laughing at himself. “You have to be really fucking smart and know a lot about a lot of shit to get it. But if you do, man, you love it.”
Now 56, Feldman has been out of the business for almost a decade—he and L’Erario quit two years into Men in ToolBelts , a home-building show that made them wealthy yet miserable. He’s enjoyed teaching interior design and furniture-history courses at the University of Pennsylvania, Moore College of Art & Design and Philadelphia University over the past 10 years, but he wants more out of life. He’s convinced that he has a second act in him, another 15 minutes of fame. He has a venue and a concept.
All he needs now is an audience.
It’s no secret Feldman loves to ridicule Chestnut Hill, the affluent Northwest Philly neighborhood where he lived for 12 years at the tail end of his TV career. He sees the Hill as “a cloistered subculture, like the Sopranos or the Mormons,” governed by the “dance of money, pressure and privilege,” and he declares that “some people are for sale, and all it takes is a guy with a checkbook and a boner for them to ask, ‘Which hole?’”
His criticisms of Chestnut Hill are driven in part by a Swiftian need to expose vice and folly, but Feldman’s main motivation seems to be a superiority complex.
“If I couldn’t outthink them all while watching TV and jerking off at the same time, it wouldn’t be so much fun,” he says.
For their part, the Hill’s power brokers resent Feldman for airing their dirty laundry, but many have been reluctant to criticize him on the record. Ron Recko, a longtime ally, attributes this to cowardice and intimidation. He says Feldman is smarter than most of his enemies, and they are repulsed by his affinity for rubbing their noses in it when he’s right.
“I’ve lost friends because of Ed,” Recko confesses. “But he’s someone you want to have on your side, not against you.”
In response to one of Feldman’s many conflict-of-interest diatribes against members of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, Lou Aiello, a longtime member of the quasi-governmental community group, wrote: “Ed has a habit of digging up facts, gathering, studying, and marching through as many details as he can, and then placing his own spin on them.”
Feldman relishes his fights with the business and community associations–many of which can be traced back to his time with Recko on the community association’s board of directors–but no one incurs his wrath more often than Richard Snowden, a prominent property owner who Feldman believes is playing a cruel trick on the Hill people by keeping major properties vacant for years.
“In other communities this guy would be exposed, shunned, shut out, picketed,” Feldman wrote of Snowden. “In the Hill, his possible arrival at functions is as anticipated and hoped for as a shaft of pure light emanating from God’s Own Penis, piercing through the Clouds of Despair.”
Snowden declined to comment for this story, but those close to him say he has more important things to do than bother with Feldman. Snowden’s company, Bowman Properties, is in the process of restoring some of Chestnut Hill’s most storied properties, including the Lorenzon building, an early 20th-century marvel at the corner of Germantown and Willow Grove avenues.
The former tool guy believes that escalating his feud with Snowden is the key to renewed success, but he knows he’ll lose listeners quickly if he turns every episode of his show into a Snowden roast. When he announced on the Northwest Notebook blog that he would be hosting G-Town Radio’s Morning Feed , he acknowledged that “the Hill story will have to be unfolded gradually to those listeners unfamiliar with our shared history.”
Feldman’s penchant for muckraking makes his show a risky proposition, but his producer, Jim Bear, is confident that the former TV star of sorts will not destroy Germantown Radio while testing the limits of free speech.
“We’ve discussed this and we feel pretty comfortable with our position,” Bear says. “While G-town Radio is not in the business of censoring what programmers and hosts say on the air, Ed is also aware of his platform and has no interest in exposing this project to unnecessary risk.
“That being said,” he continues, “we do not have a crystal ball and willingly move ahead with all our shows.”
While there is a degree of risk, Bear thinks the benefits of putting Feldman in front of a microphone outweigh the potential detriment. “He’s an outspoken guy who has a lot to say,” Bear notes. “And he’s fun to listen to, even if you’re not following what he’s saying.”
Feldman’s banking on it. “I figure someone from Air America will listen to me and say, “Hey, we gotta get this Jew on. He’s funnier than Al Franken.”
Feldman is a shameless egomaniac, a master of hyperbole whose mouth is his greatest asset and his biggest weakness, and it often has gotten him in trouble. Some Hillers haven’t been able to resist the urge to respond to Feldman’s incendiary opinion pieces in the Chestnut Hill Local , the Hill’s weekly newspaper. When Feldman’s targets have fired back at him, they’ve invariably accused him of using only those facts that reinforce his beliefs.
“He is a phony who spends his time criticizing others and distorting facts while actually doing nothing,” wrote Kate O’Neill, Peggy Hendrie and Peggy Miller of the Chestnut Hill Business Association after Feldman accused them of being racist for “firing a black man” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2007. “The fact that this was completely untrue was irrelevant to Mr. Feldman. … His ‘mission’ is to expose the immorality at the heart of Chestnut Hill. He claims the moral high ground but he does not deserve it.”
The recriminations provide more fodder for Feldman’s cannon of a mouth, more images to distort in his funhouse mirror. In the end, this is all an elaborate joke to Feldman, and no matter how his enemies react, they still end up looking like clowns in his circus. ■