‘The Left bores me’
Dennis Miller on Trump, Hillary and leaving show business
Dennis Miller’s career has had a strange trajectory. As a comedian, he broke big in 1985 when he landed a job at “Saturday Night Live” and brought a caustic, arrogant sensibility to Weekend Update. After he left SNL in the early 90s, he hosted several talk shows in succession and recorded standup specials for HBO. His signature style of humor involved over-the-top non-sequiturs littered with cultural references, verbosely skewering whatever his target of the moment was. As the 90s wore on, he became more political and less liberal, eventually hosting a conservative talk radio show and becoming a staple of Fox News, popping up frequently as a talking head on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
In 2015, he quit the radio show and semi-retired. Now, he’s going on a cross-country comedy tour with Bill O’Reilly, dubbed “The Spin Stops Here.” Their first performance is in Tulsa at the BOK Center on January 13.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
The Tulsa Voice: I remember watching your standup specials from the early 90s. A lot of our readers might not remember you as the sort of cynical, liberal comedian you were back then. Can you talk about your journey from the left to the right over the last 25 years?
Dennis Miller: First off, I went back and watched one [of the standup specials] because I always hear this thing that I was leftist, but when I watched it I was just tearing Bill Clinton a new asshole. So, I’ve always been sort of a pragmatist.
I don’t know, I guess you just get older and things happen. I remember the World Trade Center blowing up meant something to me. I remember thinking “wow, it’s a much more dangerous world than I thought. We must get our game face on.” I remember the left mocking a man named James Stockdale when he ran as vice president under Ross Perot. He was a heroic figure, we would’ve been blessed to have him as vice president. And he was nervous when Ross Perot appointed him as vice president, and he held a press conference and said, “I don’t even know what I’m doing here.” And God, they just mocked him without even looking into it. I remember thinking, “I guess I’m not hip enough to be liberal anymore.” So I think that was kind of a turning point, I didn’t like his treatment.
TTV: You said repeatedly throughout this campaign year that you were voting “not Hillary, not Hillary,” and now we have Trump. I’m curious where you stand on him right now, what you’re anticipating from him as president.
DM: I think Hillary is not a good person, and evidently some people agreed with me. So that’s why we have what we have. When Obama became the president of the United States, I was lucky enough to be on the radio, so it’s all chronicled where I said, “I did not vote for Barack Obama but I’m going to give him a year here. It’s a complicated world, I wish him well, he’s my president, and I hope he solves some things.” After a year I began to notice that it wasn’t really working for me.
I’m going to do the same for Donald Trump. He’s my president now, I hope that it works, I’m going to give it a year and watch it, and chronicle it. As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to write a book about the first year.
I hope it goes well. But I always wish our presidents well until they prove that they’re not really my cup of tea. Even when they’re not my cup of tea, though, I can honestly say I’ve never hated a president like some people seem to hate Trump. As important as they are, it’s a job. When people say they hate Trump and he’s Hitler-like, I just nod and kind of exit stage left.
So I wish Trump well. I don’t think Hillary would’ve been a good president. She had so many lies in the air, like a juggler. I knew it was going to get ugly and a lot of the balls were gonna fall. So that’s where I stand right now.
TTV: I agree that calling Trump “Hitler” is counter-productive. But I’m personally concerned about Trump, starting on the level of just basic competence—
DM: Listen, if he just doesn’t use a private server located in a bathroom, he’s already a competent step up. I mean I know people are going to say, “Oh, Hillary is genius.” I find it weird that she did that—I find it weird that she deliberately got rid of 33,000 emails, I do. So do I think he can be as competent as the great Hillary Clinton? Yeah, I do. I think that’s an easy one. I didn’t find her as competent as everyone else did.
TTV: Setting Hillary aside, though—for instance, the CIA’s determination that Russia was most likely hacking the election specifically to try to sway it, and Trump’s response to that, is that at all concerning to you? That he would dismiss the CIA as being politically motivated in how they make intelligence assessments?
DM: I’ll say this: until I read that they hacked the vote, until I read the same accusations coming out of, let’s say Moscow, that I read perennially, coming out of Chicago, where dead people are voting, until I read that information—no, it doesn’t bother me at this point. I think it’s an easy alliterative effect to throw out the phrase “hacked the election.” I think people immediately think, “Oh, I see, Hillary would have won but they gave Trump these votes.”
But you know, I would like to talk about—[LAUGHS] if you wanna do a full-bore political interview we can set that up. We’re not on “Meet the Press.” Maybe a couple more on the CIA accusations and all that, but like I said, until I read the CIA accusation that they deliberately somehow got into the Diebold system and gave this many votes to Hillary Clinton and it was enough to change the electoral college in the rustbelt states—and you can really see we’re doing an interview for a comedy show at this point—it’s getting a little in the weeds. [LAUGHS] I think we better parse out a couple hours if you wanna get real in depth.
TTV: That’s fair—
DM: That’s OK, I don’t mind doing it for a couple questions, but I always do these interviews and think “Christ, I wish they would have queried Hillary this hard when she was running, instead of a comedian who just didn’t wanna vote for her.”
Listen, I’m a pragmatist, man. I’m socially liberal. If gay people wanna get married, I’m happy. If somebody’s to the point in their life where they feel like they have to become transgender or they’re going to commit suicide, God bless them, go with God. If some woman, her life dictates that she needs to have an abortion, what business is that of mine?
I’m very socially liberal. But I don’t trust radical Islam as far as I can throw it and I’d like to keep half my money. Somehow that’s painted me as a right-wing lunatic, and that tells me more about the culture than anything else. There’s no deviation anymore from the lockstep on the left. That bores me. I like open thinkers and it’s gotten a little boring over there. The safe space stuff, all that bores me. I’m thinking of getting a job as a safe space lifeguard at the local college so I can jump in and say the kid is drowning in his own bullshit.
TTV: Your radio show ended last year, correct? Why?
DM: I quit because of the exact thing that’s going on, and I’m not saying this pejoratively, you seem like a nice man, but talking about this everyday—it just bores me. The country is what it is. I’m in my early 60s, I wanted to travel more, read some great literature, hike. Sidling up to a three-hour chat everyday about, quite frankly, a situation that’s not going to resolve itself for the foreseeable future—history always resolves things, and I think by and large we’re acting pretty civilly with each other. The country seems angry but it’s not like the old days. In the old days, the question was, what would get a musket pulled on you? It seems like we’ve moved beyond that stage. Nobody’s pulling muskets on each other. So it is what it is but I get sick of talking about it everyday.
For more from Joshua, read his article on Provisions Fine Beverage Purveyors.