Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Dennis Miller - Exit Stage Left

The American Enterprise: Dennis Miller

Remember when Dennis Miller was funny? I remember back when I had first moved to Arizona, some of the guys from work planned a camping trip. We had a blast driving about 3 hours north of Phoenix to Kaibab Lake.

This was back in my hard drinking days. In fact, the whole crew had some issues with boundaries (with 2 Iowans on board, such an outcome is predictable.) After the tents were up, some celebratory libations, and a run for firewood that miraculously ended with no limbs lost; I brought out my Dennis Miller "Off White" CD for some entertainment.

For Miller, it was kind of "broad." As I recall, he was still at SNL and there's never been anyone better doing "Update." His stuff got smarter and better, and maybe he reached a bit with the obscure references -- but like the Cosby Kids "you just might learn something."

Miller had a liberal slant, but none of my right-wing buddies had a problem with him. He was FUNNY.

Then there was The Dennis Miller Show. It still stands as the funniest of his shows to me, and I think a lot of it had to do with Nick Bakay. Alas, that show went down in grand, rapid fashion.

Shortly after that show was axed, I saw Dennis Miller at the Arizona State Fair of all places. That night, I thought I would never see a better live comedic performance. He was ON. That skeptical, acerbic reflection on life connected with me. It was the most political I'd ever seen him, and he was definitely left-leaning. And it didn't matter one bit to the conservative right that is Arizona -- he killed.

I caught him a few times on HBO. "Dennis Miller Live" was still funny, but I always thought the "rant" thing was too hit-or-miss. I couldn't afford cable, though, so I rarely caught the show.

Eventually I landed a place with free cable, and I discovered "Politically Incorrect" with Bill Maher. The baton was passed.

Now, you might think I only felt that way because Maher's views are more liberal. I can't disagree more. Maher and I are not in lockstep, for one thing. I think his views on animal rights and obesity, for instance, are over the top. Sometimes they border on stupidity. But the truth is: Maher is much more successful at being funny even when he is preaching.

Miller's next big gig was the stint on Monday Night Football, which most of my peers found awful. I saw a glimmer of hope. I thought he pulled off quite a bit of humor in a forum that made it difficult.

I saw Miller as a guest on a few talk shows after that, and he wasn't funny at all. I mean I couldn't even crack a smile. Just bitter, caustic attacks on Democrats. Even the pop culture references were gone; you might describe it as hateful.

Now he's on CNBC, and not only do I have cable, but I have ReplayTV. Having any show easily available for viewing on my own time, I gave Miller a shot. It's been about 3 weeks, and things don't look good.

The "Update" segment starts at the beginning of this show, and he calls it the "Daily Rorschach." It's a mix of news satire and attacks on the left, and there are laughs to be had. Too many jokes fall flat, however, and the live audience makes it worse -- it's quiet, too quiet.

I would think by now, with more talent than Limbaugh had when sober, Miller would have the kind of studio audiences that Rush had. Automatons barking, clapping, and cheering unquestioningly. But not so far: Miller is left to painfully fill in numerous awkward moments of silence during this monologue.

The rest of the show is made up of three things: a monkey, his sneering at any guest with a liberal perspective, and fawning over right wingers. I take that back, there is also fawning over celebrities - he's not stupid by any measure.

I think I'm about to delete Miller from my Replay (some columns suggest his ratings will do it for me), but I did get quite a kick out of the last show I watched.

Miller was proselytizing the new "Reagan greatest president ever" shtick the "liberal media" has been hawking 24/7, when he waxed poetic about how much he admires Nancy Reagan. I wanted so much to hear the director break-in with a sound bite from his pre-9/11 "awakening".

"Am I the only one who would like to see Nancy Reagan dress up in Frank Gorshin's old 'Riddler' costume?" - Dennis Miller

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