10 Questions with ... Dennis Miller
March 27, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Comedian, actor, commentator. Hosted and appeared on shows on KDKA-TV/Pittsburgh, then started standup career and became "Saturday Night Live" cast member and "Weekend Update" anchor. Hosted syndicated late night show for Tribune Entertainment and talk show for HBO. Commentator on ABC's "Monday Night Football," 2000-2001. Hosted CNBC show, 2004-05. Hosted game shows "Grand Slam" and "Amne$ia." Launched "The Dennis Miller Show" on radio for Westwood One on March 26, 2007.
1. You've been doing this radio thing for five years now. What were the toughest adjustments you had to make in becoming a three-hours-a-day radio host, and what stuff wasn't as hard as you'd feared or expected?
In the beginning, you're so nervous about the prospect of filling three hours that you tend to map it out in your head. And I found really soon that if that's what you're going to do, you can't do the job; It's got to be stream of consciousness, extemporaneous, you gotta roll with it... It happens in the moment and you have to trust that, so that that was illuminative to me.
So I would say the hardest part was, upfront, convincing yourself that you could do it if you just sort of played that trust exercise in "The Office," when they tell you to fall back. That's the tough part, trusting that you will be able to come up with stuff on the fly, and the easiest part was everything after that. Once you trust that it's kind of fun. It's the same stuff you used to tell a shrink for 250 bucks an hour.
2. You get to talk to a wide range of interview subjects every day, some more famous than others. Who among the lesser-known guests has been the most interesting to you -- which subjects have had you thinking that you'd like to just keep talking to them for hours?
I have nothing to do with any of the interviews, I don't request anybody, I don't ask. Once in a while when I'm reading something on the air, but off the air I don't have anything to say about it. I find out who's going to be on the air that morning.
Best interviews: I don't have many expectations about anybody, good or bad. People who make me laugh, Dana Carvey makes me laugh, and Norm McDonald... I know comedians, but as far as other people I read about in the news, until I talk to them, I don't know anything about them.
3. The show has its own Twitter and Facebook accounts, but do you personally delve into social media? Do you use Twitter or Facebook yourself?
I talk to (my staff) about it and tell them what I think should be on there, like stuff I say on the radio, "you should tweet that," but now, I can't go on Twitter because it's an angry place. I find it so angry that I avoid (it).
4. How, if at all, have your radio show and your O'Reilly appearances changed the audiences that come out to see your standup?
It's a different crowd. I find them more pragmatic. My crowd's got more pragmatic over the years. Listen, I think of radio as good solid basic American folks. I listen to a lot of talk radio and... I find that people who listen to me and make comments on the radio to be a little less strident and a little less vituperative than I find (on Twitter and Facebook). You can go on Twitter and read something and think, "geez, that person doesn't even know me, how do they hate me that much?" That's why I quit doing that. On the radio, yeah, once in a while you get people calling up saying they disagree with you, but at least they're willing to lock antlers, have a bit of a tete-a-tete.... the listeners to my show seem at least common sense and pragmatic.
5. You've said in the past that you don't have any interest in running for office, but is there any part of you that looks at the candidates and thinks "I could do a better job than these guys"? What are the most compelling reasons for you NOT to run for office, other than giving up a lucrative career on the air and in comedy?
Can you imagine a worse job? No, really, stop and think about it. Can you imagine a worse way to lead your life? I don't admire politicians. I admire some individuals who have become politicians, that of the 535 people who are up on that Hill being our leaders, I'd say there are 35 intellects I'm interested in.
6. Is it possible for someone who isn't doctrinaire liberal or conservative -- being, for example, fiscally conservative but socially libertarian -- to get elected to national office anymore?
Yeah, sure, I don't find Romney doctrinaire and he might be the next president. I think he has a chance. Listen, Obama's acolytes, his devotees, he could quite frankly do anything. 45 out of a hundred are never going to waver in their allegiance towards him. 45 out of a hundred are never gonna vote for him. There's 10 people left, and you need 51 out of a hundred. Can that be Romney? Sure. You know why? Because it's not going great right now. I know some people are going to look you in the eye and say, this is my dream date, this is as good as it gets. And they're faking it. America's not great right now. This guy, I have no hatred for him, I have no agenda; Some people get so riled up about him. I look at him as an employee, and he's a reasonably inept employee.
7. We've been talking for years -- longer, surely, than you've been on the air -- about the polarization of political discourse. From what you see as a talk host and in everyday life, do you think that polarization is a problem, or is it limited to a particular subset of the general population?
Couldn't be more polarized. We're in a civilized civil war. Thank God we've gotten civilized. We're no longer grabbing muskets in Gettysburg. But we could not be more polarized than it is right now. I got my kid saying to me, "Dad, I found your picture on the Web, you're in a Nazi uniform." I remember thinking, "it can't get much worse than that."
8. Is there anything you've done in your career that you'd like to be able to do over -- your biggest misstep or just something you think you could have done better, given the chance?
Nah, I don't think that way. I've had a blessed career. Show business is a cosmic wave, I've been on it for thirty years, it seems. I've had shows shot out from under me... I view the top rung of show business pain to not even be within vague hailing distance of the bottom rung of real-life pain. It's a lucky break you're in it. Some people hate what you do, you sidle up and say, fine, not everyone is gonna like me. I've always operated on the mean line of approval and disapproval, and I'm fine with that. There are people out there who bust their ass their entire life and never get a pat on the back, never make all that much money. I've had a cosmic break, and I'm thankful for that every day.
9. Who have been the most influential people, or those who have helped the most, in developing your talk radio capabilities? From whom have you gotten the most helpful assistance/advice/direction?
Norm Pattiz. He's always been the guy who has helped me the most. Another nice cat who's helped me a lot, who knows the ins and outs of it, who was at Westwood One and is now at Dial Global, is Bart Tessler. And Jim Bohannon let me do his show first. I'll be eternally indebted to Jim, because I had never even sat at a microphone except on the other side of it where you do eight minutes and it's easy. Jimbo had me in and had me do one hour, then two hours, then three hours one night. That was very, very kind of him. He'll always be the guy who pushed me out of harbor.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
It's not all that painful at the end of the day. You got into it, it involves the approval of others to be a success, you roll the dice... I view show business as a lily pond, and I never view the far shore, because that doesn't interest me. I'm on a pad, and I want to stay dry, and I'm looking for the next pad in case this one starts to go under.