John Melendez's fourth-grade teacher summed up his classroom performance thusly: ''John tends to ask outrageous and penetrating questions. And he stutters.'' Eighteen years later, that still just about covers it. Melendez, 27, better known as Stuttering John of Howard Stern's nationally syndicated in-your-face radio talk show (and former TV show), now gets paid for doing exactly that: ambushing celebrities with rude, funny, and, okay, sophomoric questions. And stuttering. In 1988, when he was an NYU film student, Melendez interned with Stern. For his first interview, Stern sent him to an appearance by Carly Simon with a tape recorder and a list of out-there questions-and an antistar was born. Who writes your questions, anyway? Howard, writers Fred Norris and Jackie Martling, and I come up with them. Fred was responsible for my best question to Gennifer Flowers, ''Does Governor Clinton wear a condom?'' Any other highlights? At this really very quiet and reverential press conference in New York for the Dalai Lama, I stood up and asked if anyone ever came up to him and said, ''Hello, Dalai.'' I asked the widow of Edgar Bergen if he ever put his hand up her back and worked her like a puppet. And I asked Imelda Marcos if she ever passed wind in front of company and blamed it on the dog.
Now that publicists know what you look like, how do you get access to celebrities? I go in disguise. I snuck into one club wearing a chef's outfit.
Has anyone ever been so angry they've become violent? Morton Downey Jr. actually attacked me on camera. Spike Lee's people followed me outside and tried to take my tape. But I never saw a guy get so pissed off as when I asked Ed Bradley if he'd ever seen Lesley Stahl naked. I never even got to ask how was his brother Milton.
Who have been the best sports? Alec Baldwin and Paul McCartney were cool. ZZ , Top laughed at everything. Joan Rivers gave the best answer. I asked her if she thought ugly people should be allowed to have children and she said, ''No. I told your mother that.''
Have you ever interviewed an idol? Yes, Ringo Starr. I asked him, ''What did you do with the money?'' He said, ''What money?'' And I said, ''The money your mother gave you for singing lessons.''
Does the stutter ever frustrate you? Yeah, sometimes I get so mad at myself because I get stuck. I was asking Liza Minnelli a question and I couldn't get it out and she walked away in the middle.
Does it bother you that Stern finds your stutter so funny? No-thank God he does.
Who would be your dream interview? I'm sure Howard would love me to talk to Bill Clinton, but my favorite would be Al Gore. I'd ask him, ''If Hillary dies, would you become the next President?''