“This smart aleck has an uncommonly sharp eye,” The New York Times once wrote about Dennis Miller. And really, there’s no better way to sum up this comedic jack-of-all-trade’s career, which has spanned manning “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live for six years, hosting the talk show Dennis Miller Live on HBO for nine years, adding uncommonly cerebral commentary alongside Al Michaels and Dan Fouts on Monday Night Football for two years, and writing four New York Times bestselling books.
In between, Miller has applied his scathing wit and laser-beam intellect to everything from stand-up to political commentary, all with a smirk and some with his trademark ranting.
You can catch Miller in all his cantankerous glory on Sunday night at the Hard Rock Live Arena at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 1 Seminole Way, near Hollywood, where he’ll do a stand-up show alongside his old friend and fellow SNL alum Dana Carvey.
Miller talked to Miami.com about the show, his political leanings, whether he ever misses SNL, and his time on Monday Night Football.
You’re teaming up with Dana Carvey for this stand-up tour — how did that come about?
Well, we’ve been best friends for 30 years, so occasionally we go out and do things together just to enjoy each other’s company.
How does the show work — one set for one of you, then the other comes on?
Mmm hmm, and we rotate out on any given evening. Let me see — in Washington, D.C., where we’re at the night before, I think I’ll probably go last, because my stuff’s a little more political than Carv’s, and maybe down there he’ll go last. We just figure it out for each one.
What can we expect from your set — a lot of ranting?
Oh, I don’t know. Over — what is it? — at least 30 years, people kind of know what to expect of me. I try to use arcane references, some degree of agitation, similes and metaphors, and I think I’ve winnowed my crowd down to a jaded, sardonic few [laughs].
You appear on Bill O’Reilly’s show a lot on Fox News…
Once every Wednesday.
Were you always conservative, even back when you were on Saturday Night Live?
Yeah, but I’m not conservative on certain things, and socially I’m probably one of the more liberal people I know. I stay out of people’s lives, and I’m happy that gay people get married and have a lot of gay friends that are married. Abortions — yeah, I think some of them are really wrong, but it’s none of my business. I don’t have a baby in me — women make their choices. I’d like to keep half my money, and I don’t trust radical Islamists. I guess that makes me “conservative,” but I think that makes me “aware.” There’s nothing wrong with a guy saying I’d like to keep half my money. You know, right now, I don’t keep half my money. And people can say, “You’re a pig — why do you want to keep half your money?” And I would say to them: “Yeah? Why should I give it to you?” If anybody’s gonna get the extra 3 cents on a dollar, why strangers? So that doesn’t seem all that conservative to me — I feel more like a pragmatist. If we’re gonna go to one person working in the country and one person not working, and me subsidizing somebody, why don’t we go to a one-on-one thing, where I get to meet the guy once a week and shove the check across the luncheonette table and look at him: “What the f— are you doing?” I used to sponsor a Honduran kid, and when they put a toilet in the village, he’d at least send me a Polaroid. Can I at least get that from you?
When did ranting become your “thing”?
I started doing them on HBO specials — I did one in Washington about Adm. Stockdale and it got a nice round of applause, and then I got that HBO show for 10 seasons, and I needed something to call those little four- to five-minute tirades. “Tirade” didn’t work as well as “rant,” so I guess that’s where that comes from.
Was Saturday Night Live and “Weekend Update” your true big break?
Yeah, sure, that’s anybody in comedy’s biggest break. I would imagine that’s what most kids out there are shooting for right now, and I was lucky enough to get ’em.
Do you ever miss it, or is it just too far in the past?
Ah, no, it’s like missing Little League baseball. I mean, it was so long ago, and you’re supposed to be on there as a young person — they don’t need some 60-year-old. I can’t believe I hosted the MTV Music Awards two years in a row. It’s like if you ask me should I do that next year — “No, I don’t think so!” I’m now the “they” in the “us vs. they” equation.
When you were hosting “Weekend Update,” did they ever try to tame you at all?
No, they just wanted me to be funny [laughs]. I remember the first year I was there, they had bigger holes of the dike to fill, so I kind of got left alone to write my jokes and tell my jokes. If it wasn’t broken, don’t fix it. But that’s hard to do, putting on an hour-and-a-half show each week, and if something’s working, they’re not dedicating a lot of time to it. I’m not trying to bang my chest, but it was not the biggest problem there my first year, so I kind of got left alone.
Monday Night Football: What inspired you to take on that gig?
Oh, anybody would take that. I’d never been to a pro football game, because I grew up in Pittsburgh and I’d been to the University of Pittsburgh games, and Steelers tickets were hard to get then. It’s like Green Bay — they willed ’em down from family to family, and as much as I liked football, I wasn’t getting up at 6:30 in the winter on Sunday in Pittsburgh to go wait in the f—ing line to get somebody who fell out’s tickets. So I had never been to an NFL game, and I remember I auditioned for Don Ohlmeyer — I just had my guy call him and say, “Hey, Dennis Miller would like to try,” and luckily, Ohlmeyer, I guess, was enough of a fan. I went in, I had an audition with [play-by-play announcer] Al [Michaels], we got on great, and I think the audition went really well, and I got it and was there for two years and had been picked up for a third year. But then John Madden left Fox, and as soon as I heard that, I knew we were dead. I called [Dan] Fouts up in Oregon and I said, “We’re dead sometime this afternoon, baby, just like G. Gordon Liddy — tell ’em what corner you’re gonna be on so they don’t hit innocents in the crossfire.” And indeed, we were dead. Listen, and I understand that — if I ever wanted to do comedy in L.A. on any given night and I go into the Improv and John Madden’s onstage? They’d better haul his fat a– off, too. That’s the way the world works.
You got your fair share of criticism during your time on the show…
Listen, read Twitter for like two days. Everybody in the world criticizes everybody in the world about everything in the world. It’s not like I’m gonna sit at home and go, “Hey, I’m not gonna go do Monday Night Football for two years because I might be criticized.” Who gives a s—? I mean, really — who gives a s—? I got to do Monday Night Football for two years! I had a blast. Do I miss it? No, I don’t work my life that way — I’m on to the next thing. I’m a happy man — I’ve had an eclectic career, and part of having an eclectic career is getting some horses shot out from under you, and that was one of them.
You haven’t written a book in a while…
I’m lazy. Listen, the country’s gotten lazy — I’m lazy, too. I’m not looking to do more. Like I said, you don’t get to keep half your money, everybody else is being lazy, I’m freeing myself from job-block, and I’m not gonna sit down and write a f—ing book. I’m gonna watch
the soccer today, have a nice lunch, take a hike up the hill. I might read a book, watch an old movie. I’m not gonna sit down and write a book. Everybody else is turning lazy — I’m gonna do it, too. I don’t wanna separate myself from the herd.
You mentioned soccer. You’re missing Brazil now — they just started.
Yeah, I’m about to turn it on — they didn’t score already, did they? You never know with these games. That’s the great thing about soccer — you can start the game, watch it, go work out on your own, take a shower, eat lunch, come back, and you haven’t missed anything [laughs].
Are you a true fan, or just for the World Cup?
World Cup fan. Just the event. And I was just in Sao Paolo not long ago — went down and vacationed in Patagonia so I’ve got a little bit of it in my head. So yeah — it’s fun to watch the world come together like that. Kinda cool.