Late last year, Dennis Miller said he was going to make his comedy less political. You know what they say about political promises.
A stand-up comic, Miller will perform at L'Auberge Casino and Hotel at 8 p.m. Saturday, and if you're expecting the right-leaning humorist to totally ignore what's going on in Washington ... well, he never actually committed to that.
"It just seems to me the country is so highly polarized right now, and I don’t need the headache, that I’m going to dial the mix back probably from 50-50 to maybe 66-33," Miller said by telephone from Santa Barbara, California, where he lives. "I still talk about politics, but a little less, because you can’t say anything now where people just don’t go off the Richter scale."
Miller, 65, has had a newsy edge to his comedy since making his big break as the "Weekend Update" anchor on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1980s. Then again, there are plenty of comedy shows whose primary shtick is ridiculing politicians.
The big difference, Miller notes, is that those shows are almost exclusively geared to liberal audiences. Although he started in that camp, Miller's attitudes became more conservative in the 1990s and especially after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In addition to his stand-up career, for several years he had a weekly slot on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor."
If it isolates him in his profession, Miller doesn't mind.
"I’ve never liked being on big teams where you couldn’t question anything," he said. "I’m very liberal on some things. I’m socially liberal. But I cannot wake up every day — nor did I when the man I didn’t vote for was president — and act like it’s the end of the world as we know it. I think the country is the best country in the world. I’m unashamed about that.
"If you’ve lived a life — I’m in my mid-60s — and you’re still shooting your self-esteem, self-worth or belief systems through the approbation of strangers, you’ve missed the point of the journey."
Miller's nonpolitical humor taps into an broad array of interests. He's a prolific reader, and when he hikes near his home, he listens to books on tape, currently those of the British humorist P.G. Wodehouse. Dropping arcane cultural references is a Miller hallmark.
Those lines don't always work as intended. In an odd passage both for the comedian and for ABC Sports, Miller was a color commentator for NFL Monday Night Football games alongside veteran broadcaster Al Michaels and retired quarterback Dan Fouts in 2000 and 2001. In one game, when the camera showed trainers taping a player's ankle, Miller observed: "You know, Al, I haven’t seen that much fabric used since the environmental artist Christo wrapped the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris."
Miller still laughs at his colleagues' reactions.
"Al hits the sneeze button, which cuts out his voice to the home viewer, and he looks at me and says, ‘What the (bleep) are you talking about?'" Miller said. "And I hear (ABC producer Don) Ohlmeyer on our headphones down in the truck, and he fancies himself an art aficionado, and I hear him say, ‘No, Al. Christo, environmental artist. That’s a solid reference, Al.’”
What else makes Miller laugh?
“The fact that we all think we’ve got life knocked," he said. "It’s a well-lit room and you’re navigating life like you have any control over it. But, quite frankly, it’s the same room at night when it’s completely dark and we are five times a night stubbing our toe on the bedpost. That makes me laugh. When I see humans step out there and act avuncular and they’ve got it all together and they know what they’re doing, and they can’t even see the inconsistencies, the incongruities, how thin the veneer is of civilization and having the universe figured out, it makes me laugh.
"Humans are funny in that way. The fact that half this country is looking at Bernie Sanders and thinking he’s their guru and he speaks to them and he’s issuing statements about altruism from one of his three houses, the one that’s on the lake, that makes me laugh uproariously. That the young kids don’t say, 'Wait a second. It seems to me that you’ve gotten rich convincing me I don’t need to be rich to be truly wealthy.'"
There he goes, getting political again. He can't help himself.
8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9
L'Auberge Casino and Hotel, 777 L'Auberge Ave.
Tickets start at $60