It’s been nearly 30 years since Dennis Miller took over Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update chair, and he’s still the gold standard for unapologetically hyper-intelligent comedy. His six-year run on SNL paved the way for TV’s The Dennis Miller Show, the Emmy-winning Dennis Miller Live and his current daily Westwood One syndicated radio yakker The Dennis Miller Show. Not to mention his recurring stints on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. Miller is a regular at the Orleans, where he returns June 13-14, just in time for the June 13 premiere of his special America 180° on Epix. We caught up with Miller to talk the politics of comedy, Carrot Top’s eyebrows and touring with Jack White.
What’s the gist of the new special, America 180°?
Our country looks like it’s flipped in some primal ways to me. It’s not the entire crux of the special. Obviously, my prime directive is to be funny. There’s a lot of comment on how it’s going to take me a little bit to get used to how the country is now constituted.
As someone who operates on the right a bit, does Sheldon Adelson ever come out to see your shows at the Orleans?
Listen, I’m socially liberal and I’m conservative on a couple of basic things. We’ve got to kill the bad guys. I think we should keep 50 percent of our money. I know that’s made me a combination of John Birch and Curtis LeMay. But quite frankly if two people with similar genitals want to get married because they love each other, it’s kind of a nice thing. Or someone wants to abort a baby four months in, it’s none of my business. Somebody will settle up with their maker at some point. There’s a broad brush being used right now, but I think I’m socially liberal in many ways. [People want] to say I’m a pig for wanting to keep half my money. They say you should give more of your earnings back and say, “Why do you want to spoil your kids?” My answer would be, “Why do I want to spoil your kids? I don’t even know your kids. I love my kids.”
Is that a source of frustration when people have trouble parsing a libertarian message like that?
I’m 60 years old. I don’t glean my self-worth, self-awareness or inner placidity off the herd. If you’ve got six decades and you’re still waking up in the morning trying to figure out the collective opinion, you’ve kind of missed the point. If I’m at a cocktail party and somebody comes up to me and says, “Barack Obama is the single greatest president we’ve ever had, a real genius, and I don’t know where we’d be without him.” I know they want me to come up out of the water like a Carcharodon in the Keys. All I do now is I flatten myself out. I don’t even flair an iris. There’s not a hint of sarcasm. I say, “You’re right, a brilliant man. Maybe the most brilliant private citizen we ever had. I just feel lucky I was born during his tenure.” I look them right in the eye. Within two seconds they look at me and go, “What? Are you fucking with me?” They know it’s bad. You’ve just got to get them to say it instead of you.
It’s a small list of comedians doing political material almost exclusively. It’s basically you and Bill Maher, and The Daily Show industrial complex. Why do you think that is?
Once you do a job like Weekend Update for six years, you are a topical comedian. Some people call it political, but I’m in the business of tearing the powers that be a new one. The powers that be now particularly don’t make sense to me. If you are lucky enough to get a foothold as a Weekend Update anchor and decide to go against that and never tell another topical joke again, you’ve got bad instincts.
Neither Norm Macdonald nor Kevin Nealon really seemed to continue on in that vein.
I can’t even get Norm on the phone and he’s a friend of mine. I don’t know what to say about Norm. He’s Garbo. Kevin, if you watched his approach to Weekend Update, it was always a little more whimsical. Everybody’s got to follow their own muse. I’ve got a small monkey trick that allowed me to buy a house and send my kids to school. I’m going to keep hitting it. I could go out tomorrow and be Carrot Top, but Carrot Top is Carrot Top.
You might have a hard time getting a deal at the Luxor doing his same act in a showroom next door.
I don’t have an eyebrow bonsai.
You did an interview on your radio show with Orson Welles biographer Todd Tarbox and you named one of your specials Citizen Arcane. As a Welles fan—
His work, not his imperious nature. I find Welles the enfant terrible artistically intoxicating but personally off-putting. Then again, he bedded Rita Hayworth.
The other person in the cultural landscape who’s an avowed Welles fan is Jack White. You ever think about doing a Welles-themed tour together?
I’m a Jack White fan. I know he has that heavy, you almost need a tetanus shot after you listen to his version of the song from Citizen Kane. It absolutely rocks. I think he’s a genius. He’s one of those guys [who’s the answer when] everybody wonders who do they talk about 50 years from now?
The Orleans Showroom, 8 p.m. June 13-14, $56 and up, 702-365-7075, OrleansCasino.com.