Miller, soon to grace the cover of VICE?
Finally! Tonight’s the night that the soulless pod person formerly known as Dennis Miller premieres with his new CNBC show and I couldn’t be more ambivalent about it. Part of me wants to see if this shaggy dog still has some bite, another part of me wants to see him put-down.
Miller was the ur-eighties hep cat comedian when I was growing up. His intelligent, wildly-associative riffs (or “rants,” as he came to call them) were oases of wit in a televisual landscape dotted with bad prop comics and even worse observational comedians standing in front of the exposed brick walls—firing squad style—of two-drink minimum comedy shitholes across the country.
While I’d like to believe that Miller was once a lefty, I know that’s not true. His politics, like his famously unruly hair, was all over the place. I recently caught Miller on an old episode of Late Night with David Letterman on Trio (which rebroadcasts Letterman’s juvenilia as “Classic Dave” every weeknight at 10PM EST) which disabused me of any fantasy that he was once a liberal. Dressed in a wide-shouldered black and gray checked jacket over a black button down (yes, I Love the Eighties), Miller went on a mini-rant about the Ayatollah Khomeini, replete with stereotypical “Indian” accent. (Hey, old Dennis: Khomeini was from Iran, where they have an entirely different accent you can mock for a cheap laugh.)
But what Miller had back then—despite difficulty pinning-down his exact politics—was an anti-authority attitude, an anger at the elites that dominated the eighties from Reagan to Boesky to Milken. Miller’s pre-9/11 outlook can be charitably described as anti-authoritarian/libertarian, but we all know that that’s changed. (For a better analysis of Miller’s conversion, check out Rick Chandler’s Miller’s Crossing over at The Black Table.)
Since Miller has jumped—swooned, actually—into bed with the G.O.P., he’s morphed into something like Lenny Bruce in reverse. Think about it: where Bruce shredded pieties and tore-down the hypocrisies of the 50s and early 60s, the new and improved Miller defends the status quo, and uses his comedic platform to bolster those in power. Forget speaking truth to power: Miller whispers sweet nothings in power’s ear and even writes jokes to come out its mouth from time to time. The shaggy mutt with the wily look in his eyes and the occasional fangs has become a lapdog, happy to roll over and have his tummy rubbed by the President.
Dennis Miller premieres tonight at 9PM EST on CNBC.
Sidebar: If you’re thinking CNBC is the network day traders watch between killing sprees, you’re wrong. It’s now the home of several comedy shows (intentional and otherwise) hosted by has-beens. Some dead drunk may have once said that there are no second acts in American life, but there are, and they’re on CNBC. How long ’till this guy has his own entertainment and politics show and tosses softballs to his cousin on-air?