If you’re wondering what Dennis Miller was doing in Austin for the Moontower Comedy Festival on Thursday night, look no further than his younger brother, Rich.
Rich Miller is a co-owner of Austin’s Cap City Comedy Club who also books, manages or owns comedy clubs across the country — and is one of the Moontower festival producers. So the festival caught up backstage with the Miller brothers last night.
The Millers waxed nostalgic then about moving to New York City together in 1979 to kickstart their individual comedy careers, and about hell gigs back in and around their native Pittsburgh.
But here and now it’s 2014. And Dennis Miller is about to release his 10th solo stand-up special and first on EPIX in June, Dennis Miller: America 180°. The previous nine specials debuted on HBO and have proven to show how Miller’s politics have grown progressively conservative over the years, even if his proclivity for perfectly obscure pop-culture references remains the same.
Progressively conservative. Austin seems a most appropriate place for Dennis Miller to reach his fans now — residents of a city that encourages them to keep it weird, while surrounded by and governed by a staunchly rogue conservative government (and current governor in Rick Perry). Miller and his comedy fit in here like the ol’ enigma wrapped in a riddle and tossed into a jigsaw puzzle box.
Carroll O’Connor was only 46 when his “Archie Bunker” captivated American TV audiences on the hit sitcom, All In The Family, railing against the liberal hippies of the Baby Boom generation.
Miller is one of those Baby Boomers, now 60, and it’s his turn to rail against the liberal hippies of his peer group, as well as the kids these days who get multiple tattoos and piercings without earning their rebel status first.
But Miller is not your father’s Archie Bunker.
He is almost three decades removed from his breakout performance as the guy who raised the bar for all Saturday Night Live Weekend Update anchors who have followed him; and a little more than a decade from when his personal politics took a sharp right turn in favor of the Republicans and the War on Terror. If not capital-R Right, then patriotic right, to be certain.
He’s still that way, but his comedy, if it hasn’t taken the same 180-degree turn that his EPIX special says America itself has rounded, today exhibits a bit of the old and new Dennis Millers.
There’s the guy who appears regularly on FOX News and on the road with Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor‘s “Miller Time” segment, offering up quips on that week’s headlines. Here is his appearance on Wednesday night’s show.
On Thursday in Austin’s Paramount Theatre, reading off notes from a music stand, his 53-minute performance showed us glimpses of Miller as conservative talking mouthpiece, Miller as professional zing-master, and Miller as pragmatic entertainer.
Opening with a nod to his previous appearance in Austin at a private technology gig, Miller took a whimsical approach to our own flighty attitudes toward high-tech updates and how they’re virtually replacing our real-life activities — from playing catch with his son via videogames, to the futuristic idea of having sex with our computers (a premise also tackled by his opening act last night, Austin comedian Mac Blake). Miller’s punchline on virtual sex? “It’s going to make crank look like Sanka.”
His political stance is without question, or so you’d think.
Miller earned an applause break early by saying that his “green” hotel is really green because it “makes you envious for people staying in good hotels.” A “green” magazine should be no magazine at all, he astutely observed. Another crack about Sheryl Crow’s advice from a few years back to conserve toilet paper seemed timely once more, only because Crow was performing in concert just blocks away last night for Austin City Limits. A jab at his home state of California’s income tax earned roars from the Texas crowd. Cheap shots at MSNBC anchors? Not so much. Safer and broader to mock the owners of so-called Smart Cars, as Miller did with a gag musing that he’d gotten into a car accident with one. Maybe? It’s so hard to know if it’s a car accident when the other car is “a Fisher-Price toy,” Miller cracked.
Miller dropped some local sports references on the crowd, too, to help land some political zingers.
On the NBA Playoffs, now underway, Miller noted that the aging San Antonio Spurs continue to impress spring after spring: “The Spurs hit more 3s in the playoffs than Bill Clinton did in office when there were no 4s available.” SWISH!
On Obamacare, Miller scored points first by joking: “I’ll start calling it the Affordable Care Act when the president changes his name to Barack Affordable.” Tagged with a big D for Dallas zinger. “Not a good rollout. Like Tony Romo going to his left.” TOUCHDOWN!
It’s more than fair to say Miller enjoys going after big D Democrats more than Republicans these days, although he has enough roast lines to go around. His best-received line Thursday in this regard singled out the Democratic leader in Congress: “Nancy Pelosi is batshit crazy. I guarantee you she sleeps upside down.” But he also described Speaker of the House John Boehner as “the Washington Redskin.” And he noted that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s potential adversaries for the top GOP slot in the country are “trying to throw him under the bus…” if only they can figure out the physical logistics of it. A barb comparing Vice President Joe Biden to “Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite” may have merit, but his idea that the Obama Administration hides Biden in Camp David during a crisis fails to pass the factual test when just this week, Biden was in Ukraine.
Who’s going to let facts get in the way of a good political joke, though, right?!
At any rate, Miller has his eyes set forward to 2016 and the seeming inevitability of another, more successful presidential campaign from Hillary Clinton. Which he actually welcomes more than Obama. Seems nostalgic for the Clintons, even. Would definitely have blown President Bill Clinton. Just for the novelty of it.
Miller wants audiences to know he’s much more Ayn Rand-ian about his political philosophy. Leave him alone to pursue his happiness. So he’s cool with gay marriage; so, too, the new Pope Francis. As for religion and evolution? “I believe something created Charles Darwin,” Miller mused. He’s agnostic but willing to believe in a higher power when his end time comes. “I’m a prognostic.”
He’s holding fast to the notion that America is the greatest nation in the world. Even if we’re all getting fatter and not aging gracefully. Himself included.
In the end, Miller figures now, he and we are much better off not arguing politics with each other. Just put a blank smile on your face and go about your business.
Turns out he really doesn’t want to go off on a rant here any longer.