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Dennis Miller: Why I 'Ascended' to the Right

Wednesday, 04 February 2004 12:00 AM

Over the years, the King of Quip has traveled from “Saturday Night Live” to HBO to “Monday Night Football.” Along the way he has managed to snag five Emmy Awards.

Now he has a new show on CNBC. True to Miller’s form, the prime-time feature stands out from the pack.

The show is a nightly blend of simile-laden monologues, interviews with top newsmakers and “varsity panel” discussions. Miller analyzes the hot issues of the day with just the right amount of cool. He also throws in a hefty dose of comedy to keep our funny bones lubed.

One special member of Miller’s team is a chimp named Ellie. The ape’s inclusion is a tribute to Dave Garroway’s original “Today” show, which also featured a simian cast member.

The signing of Dennis Miller is looking a lot like a stroke of genius. His debut program drew more than four times the 9 p.m. audience of last season, according to Nielsen Media Research. CNBC clobbered MSNBC in the time slot, with twice the viewers of its sister network.

NewsMax’s James Hirsen recently had the chance to chat with Miller and capture some of his trademark opinions.

NEWSMAX: What made you slide over to the right side of the political spectrum?

DENNIS MILLER: I view it, not as a slide, but rather an ascension. (Laughter) Slide has a negative connotation. By viewing this as a “chutes and ladders” game, I’m saying that I stepped up after 9/11 to a more serious approach to protecting this country.

NEWSMAX: That leads to another question. Since you made your “ascension,” have you been treated …

MILLER: By ascension, I don’t mean like I’m imbued or anything. I don’t want to sound like it’s too ethereal. I just mean I don’t like slides.

NEWSMAX: But since you made the change, that is, moved on certain issues to the right, have you been treated differently?

MILLER: I don’t notice it. Occasionally I’ve been called “naive” at a party, but that’s the extent of it so far.

I would say three times I’ve been at a Hollywood party and three times people I’ve talked to have said, “You are so naive.” But that’s pretty easy. I take it with a grain of salt.

Most people have been very civil and very understanding about it. They don’t agree with it, but at least they are my friends, and they think: “Well, whatever. At least you read up on it.” They know I’m not completely uninformed on it. I at least try to read.

NEWSMAX: You were called an iconoclastic liberal. Do you ever look back on the things you’ve said and now, post-9/11, do you ever regret any of it?


NEWSMAX: Regrets, I have none?

MILLER: Well, I don’t know. Am I going to go back and process jokes that I told in the mid-’90s and say, “God, I wish I hadn’t have said that.” You know, I’ve poked fun at every president who is in there, and indeed I’ve made the same hay off of Bush’s malaprops as anybody else. But I think he’s doing a pretty good job right now, and I’m on the other side.

Would I start poking fun at him again if we completely peel off of each other, belief-wise? Yes.

I’m not a lifer. I respect him because I respect him, and that should be all any candidate or president would ask out of somebody. I’m not saying I’m there for life. If I didn’t respect him, I wouldn’t. I’m not blind about it.

NEWSMAX: Since you are based in Hollywood and are a Republican, you could have done what Republicans in Hollywood do: become an action hero.

MILLER: (Laugh)

NEWSMAX: So why did you choose ...

MILLER: I’m too bulked up.

NEWSMAX: (Laugh) So why did you choose to do a talk show, a daily TV talk show? You have other options.

MILLER: Well, that’s not true. I have one monkey trick. It’s sort of my opinion, and I deliver it in a reasonably sardonic manner. That’s the only thing I have in my talent portfolio.

So when Jeff Zucker, obviously a smart man, somebody whose company I enjoy, steps up with an offer to work for the Peacock again, I’m right there. And to me, no movie or anything else would interest me nearly as much as working for a company like NBC. I worked for them years ago. They were nice to me then, and they are nice to me now. I’m glad to be back.

NEWSMAX: What were you just doing in Washington, D.C.?

MILLER: I went to this end of this world and asked them to be on the show because at some point you have to have guests. I’m also going to do some satellite hook-ups, and I guess that sometimes they have a harder time saying no when you’ve flown across country and had lunch with them.

NEWSMAX: When I watched you work, I was surprised at just how much substance and seriousness that you’re bringing to this show.

MILLER: I don’t want it to be irony-a-palooza like it’s been in the past. I think if I’m going to be on the show on a daily basis, talking about the issues of the world, I think people at least want to know that I did my homework, read a little, and I’m not up there doing a joke a minute and pissing on it.

So I’m going to try to split the difference. I don’t want to become a complete square about it, but I don’t want to become some aging hipster who pisses on everything.

NEWSMAX: You majored in journalism. Is this show sort of going back to your roots?

MILLER: No, I have no urge to be a journalist. (Laugh) I don’t. That’s nothing that interests me. I’m going to be a comedian in a different format. That’s the way I look at it.

It’s the same act that I’ve been doing for years. The act is my belief. I just change the format. I go from a football booth, to cable, to a 24-hours news network. I’ll tell you what. I’m not very much on self-backslapping, but one thing I’ll say is at least I step into different worlds and take my medicine if I have to.

You know, football was really a brave step, to step into that “sanctum sactorem” of Americana. And now the 24-hour news cycle presents its own challenges. But, what the hey. It’s just a career. I’ll give it a try.

NEWSMAX: Did you enjoy the “Monday Night Football” gig?

MILLER: Yeah, I had a blast. It was fun. I mean I had around half of America that hated me and half liked me. As I get older, I find out that I’m comfortable with that split. I used to want everybody to like me, but as you get older you can see there’s something to be said for agitating your enemies.

NEWSMAX: Do you have people that you’ve looked up to as influences?

MILLER: Not really. Jay Leno taught me to work hard. You know I don’t have a real “sword-from-a-stone moment” story about show business. I think it’s hard work, and Jay used to always tell me to stay on the road because everybody else invariably careens off the road onto the berm. And that’s what I try to do.

It’s not a mystical experience for me. It’s a gig, and I have fun doing it. But I don’t really (laughter) - it’s not the magical world that some people seem to imagine show biz is.


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Over the years, the King of Quip has traveled from "Saturday Night Live" to HBO to "Monday Night Football." Along the way he has managed to snag five Emmy Awards. Now he has a new show on CNBC. True to Miller's form, the prime-time feature stands out from the pack....
Wednesday, 04 February 2004 12:00 AM
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