Why So Serious, Dennis Miller?By John Wenzel | October 5th, 2012 | No Comments »
Dennis Miller has fashioned a career out of verbal acrobatics and dismissive rants, so it might surprise casual followers to know that at heart, he’s a pretty contented guy.
“You can stay in this business for 25 years with a monkey trick,” said Miller, who plays the Paramount Theatre on Friday. “I’ve got one monkey trick and that paid for my house and education, and I’m not changing.”
The comedian, 58, is best known for his tart tongue on shows such as “Saturday Night Live” and his long-running, Emmy-winning HBO talk show. But in recent years he’s broken hard for the political right to deliver comic relief on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor” and a syndicated radio show — which Miller delivers each morning from his California home.
We caught up with him via phone last week to chat about his “monkey trick,” liberal versus conservative comedians, and why he feels like a sherpa these days.
I haven’t seen you here in Denver in awhile. Have you played the Paramount Theatre before?
You know, I’m like the end of that Johnny Cash song on that hotel commercial: I’ve been everywhere, man. But I don’t think I’ve played the Paramount before.
I know you’ve got that bit from last month on your radio show where you remember meeting Roseanne for the first time in Denver at Comedy Works. Not having a car, eating at Wendy’s, ordering on foot through the drive-through…
I remember it being a McDonald’s! But we got our stuff and there was no elevated spaces around so we literally sat on that curb with the yellow line on it and ate our food. It was fun at the time and I really enjoyed having her open for me.
So how hard is it filling three hours every day on your radio show? Are there ever days where you just don’t feel like you have enough to say, as unlikely as some people may find that?
No, I don’t have any of that. I find it easy. It’s in my house. I get up around 20 minutes before I go on, trundle down the hall in a bathrobe with my coffee, check the Drudge Report, flick a toggle switch in my home and start talking. I don’t find it hard at all. To me in essence it used to be the same stuff I’d tell my shrink except for $250 an hour.
You’re one of a handful of well-known, politically conservative comedians. Why aren’t there more out there?
If I was a young comedian starting out right now I’d never talk about politics because you wouldn’t get work. You notice I said young. If you’re starting out there’s a million reasons for casting people, and it simply is the fact that in Hollywood — where they can turn you down for your face in five seconds — that certainly they can turn you down if you’re 180 degrees from their core beliefs.
So you agree with the notion that all of Hollywood is staunchly liberal?
You have to ascend by playing the company game to get ahead, and it’s a company town. I’m not paranoid here. But I think my career’s a little different because it’s predicated on speaking my mind.
Lewis Black and Doug Stanhope and other comics have found success with their rants, but you were holding down that style for years before them. Do you ever feel like you don’t get enough credit? I mean, obviously your own style was influenced by Lenny Bruce and his rants.
Listen, those are kind of clever interview questions, but I’m a 58-year-old man and I’m happy where I’m at. I don’t think about any of that. I go on “O’Reilly” once a week, I do my radio show and I go on the road about 20 dates a year. I’ve winnowed my crowd down to a select few who can support me. If you’re 58 and you’re still worrying about whether you’re popular, what are you, in eighth grade? I must have started in earnest when I was 25 so I’m working on a quarter century here. I still talk and they give me green rectangles.
You’ve seen and covered a lot of presidential elections over the years on various shows. How does this one stack up?
I would say this reminds me of Kevin McCarthy’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” I remember at the beginning of (Obama’s term) giving him a six- to eight-month hold until I made any decisions, because I saw that man speaking in Grant Park on election night and I looked at all those young black faces upturned to the podium and I hoped it was healing. I waited six to eight months, and it’s not been good to me. There’s all this talk about Obama as a game-changer and this god who walks amongst men. And I find it very telling that atheists always deify Obama. He’s an inept civil servant who stinks.
Changing gears: What haven’t you done yet in your career that you’d still like to?
Nothing, I’m perfectly happy where I’m at. I feel like a sherpa on Mount Everest. I’m probably at Camp 5, and Camp 6 is in the dead zone. I have no need to be planting flags and putting footprints in streets. I haven’t found a lump in my armpit while showering. I have no forward motion. I’m very happy right here. I’m a person who their entire life has been cozy in their tent.
So you’re happy with your “monkey trick”?
I’m thankful. It’s reacquainted me with some sort of humility and some sort of faith every once in awhile. I’m not sure what I’m praying to, but when my knees hit the ground I say, “Christ, in a world gone mad I get to do this?!” It’s humbling.
John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and Features blogs editor for The Denver Post.