Since bursting into the American consciousness as the anchorman for Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment in 1986, Dennis Miller has been one of the sharpest, fastest minds and mouths in the comedy world. He went on to win five Emmys for his own show, Dennis Miller Live, on HBO in the 1990s before heading up his own national radio show in the aughts.
These days, the comic is focused upon his 60-second radio spot, The Miller Report, as well as his weekly podcast, Red Circle Sports with Dennis Miller. He is also preparing for his first new standup special in several years, which tapes in Knoxville in June, by headlining Levity Live Comedy Club later this month. The famously political comic, who has appeared to take a noticeably rightward shift over the past decade, took time to speak with VCR about his career, politics and life in the age of Trump.
It’s been a while since you hit comedy clubs. What motivated your upcoming shows?
I don’t work as much as I used to by choice, but also I’m 64 now and didn’t want to keep up that touring schedule. But I’ve got a special in June I’m shooting for a gentleman who’s selling it to multiple platforms, so I have to get in shape for it. I was talking to Dana Carvey, and he said Levity Live was the perfect room, the equivalent of a boxer hitting the speed bag. Get in there, do a few shows in a few nights and get your rhythm down. I’m looking forward to it, ’cause I’ve been working out the new special for a month and I’m excited to see how it goes then.
So what sets you off these days?
Social media fascinates me. When I look at Twitter, I think, never have lives lived less examined been more chronicled. Lewis and Clark didn’t keep notes as assiduously as the Kardashians do at brunch. I’m fascinated that everybody is famous now. The last time I saw a bar set this low, I was at a dwarf’s wake. It’s an interesting thing. Warhol was pessimistic when he said, in the future everyone’s famous for 15 minutes. Now it’s everyone within 15 seconds.
So how do you feel about the Age of Trump?
Trump is a walking, talking reset button on the political correctness movement. I think he’s Ted Neeley walking in and turning the tables over [as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar]. I don’t get parts of Trump, but I’ll say this about him: I think his outer voice is an accurate depiction of his inner voice, whereas I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s outer voice and inner voice have ever even had a cup of coffee together.
So how are you handling the trend of political correctness in comedy?
I think it’s gonna ratchet down. History will show you, these sorts of things ratchet down. Like Seinfeld I wouldn’t go to a college campus now. You don’t want to see a car light on fire because someone’s too uptight about not liking a joke or throwing a bike rack through a plate-glass window. For me, the only time I’d set foot on a college campus is if I could be a safe-space lifeguard where the kids are drowning in their own bullshit.
In your SNL days, people likely saw you as liberal. Yet you are pretty solidly seen as being on the right now.
I’ve been a pragmatist. I’m a social liberal. If gay people wanna get married, I’m happy for them, I love people in love. As far as abortion goes, none of my business. Do I find some of the late-term abortions disturbing? Yes, I do, but I don’t call strangers and tell them, “Here’s what I think you should do about cosmic issues in your life.” Not my business; I’m an objectivist in that regard. I’d like to keep half my money, which I guess paints me right now as a 1-percenter. Half I’d like to keep. Yeah I’ll give away a buck for every buck I keep but it’s hard to even get to do that now, and I don’t trust radical Islamists as far as I can throw them. That makes me a right-winger now.
As far as SNL goes, it’s your job to make fun of power. That might be confusing to people when [cast members] sing “To Sir With Love” to a portrait of Obama, or when Hillary loses they sing Leonard Cohen as Hillary and when they get to the end, you think here comes the joke and it doesn’t. I don’t think they joke about that anymore. We got paid to make fun of anyone in power. When I was there, it was Reagan for the most part and I indeed made fun of him.
Now, unless you’re gonna make your hay not caring what anyone says about you, better watch your step because they will bully and hector you into watching your step because they want your job. I guess Laura Ingraham’s in the middle of it now. She made fun of the young man who was amid the school shooting and they want her gone. Those are odd times. I don’t think half the country will perceive that, they’ll perceive it as the way it should go. But it’s ratcheting down and if you asked Orwell, I think he’d say that’s the way it should go.
Dennis Miller performs April 20-22 at Levity Live Comedy Club, 591 Collection Blvd., Oxnard. For schedule, tickets and more information, call 457-5550 or visit oxnard.levitylive.com.