COMEDY: Miller, Genuine

Ann Coulter beat him in doll sales, but don’t count Dennis Miller out yet

Julie Seabaugh

Five-time Emmy winner Dennis Miller and I don't have much in common. He's a political junkie who reads big, important books by the likes of David McCullough and Thomas Friedman; I flip through Entertainment Weekly for the pictures. He's a devoted family man; I get miffed when the baby in the next booth over won't quit staring. He attends Pilates upon completion of our interview; I head to the fridge for a Bud and then to the TV for Gilmore Girls.

The Pittsburgh native is also really, really smart; known for his eclectic cultural references, while I describe things as being "really, really." And he's a great salesman, mentioning his HBO follow-up special to 2003's The Raw Feed—which he will film in Vegas on November 18—four times in our half-hour conversation. Plus David Spade's "whimsical little way" never fails to crack him up.

The man also rode the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live for six years. If for no other reason, the nation's most conspicuous liberal-turned-conservative inexorably inveigles a locus conterminous to my inferior vena cava.

It's the first weekday morning after the end of your CNBC show. What's the feeling in Camp Miller?

Oh, I'm fine. You know, they gave me a shot, it didn't get enough ratings and I got fired. At 51 years old—not that I think that's ancient, but at least you're lucid enough about show business to understand that it's a lot like managing a major-league baseball team. You get hired, you get fired eventually. There are very few Lettermans or Jays out there who have the long run all the way. I have more of a lily-pond approach. I'm looking for the next lily pad, not the far shore. I just don't want to get wet.

I ran across the Dennis Miller Talking Action Figure Doll on the Internet. I'm not really sure what to say.

[Laughs] I know, I've got one sitting here. They used me and Ann Coulter, and Ann vastly outsold me because her doll had a mini-skirt on. Listen, I think that in this business, one should strive to eventually become a novelty item. I'm not saying my face has quite turned up on a whoopee cushion yet, but the doll's the next-best thing.

At one time there was talk of you running for California senator. Any political aspirations?

They asked me, but I can't tell you how little interest I have in that. Well, right after deep-sea fisherman. They always say it's the most dangerous job in the world; I think that's dangerous for active reasons, and being a congressperson would be dangerous for complete inactivity. You do the same sort of mundane thing every day where everybody just says, "My esteemed colleague ..." and they really mean, "This prick here ..."

What's the feeling when you look back on your time spent at Saturday Night Live?

I'm honored that I got on, and I'm always surprised by my such-a-bad hairdo. I watch it with my sons and it's like one of those charts in an anthropology treatise, where they show man evolving over the years. It's like a history of the mullet. I'd say it was the biggest life-changing gig I've ever had. You go from an anonymous comedian in the pack to this job that Chevy Chase did. To this day, people come up to me and talk about it. All of the sudden, you're "inside."

Do you have a disciplined writing process?

I used to have an equation when I'd get stuck for jokes at the beginning. It'd be indignation, the fulcrum of "What am I ...?" and then an arcane reference. So that's kind of [laughs] my monkey trick. I'm glad I stumbled into it, and to this day, that's still kind of what I do: what pisses me off, (then) mix in some odd action language, and a weird cultural reference, and deliver it with some degree of alacrity.

When some comics land movie and TV deals, they never go back to the stage, but what is it about stand-up that still makes it appealing?

I find it an honorable trade. I feel like I'm a carpenter when I do it. You show up, it involves some skills, and you're proud to show them off. It's an honest transaction, and if you suck at it, you'll get by for about four to five minutes on that fame, and then they'll eat you alive. I like that.

You've amassed the writer-actor-producer-author-sports broadcaster-stand up credits; any other creative outlets you've always wanted to experiment with?

Kabuki. That's coming, trust me. One-man show, off-Broadway, an evening of kabuki. There are some beautiful haikus that I want to deliver, and put some white-powdered make-up on [laughs]. I don't know. I don't have any grand plan; I'm just trying to stay employed.

  • Get More Stories from Thu, Jun 9, 2005
Top of Story