The Dennis Miller Rope-A-Dope: Insult You While Making You Laugh
As we were ending a short interview Tuesday, he left me with a parting jab that I couldn't help laughing at, even as I realized he was going for the jugular, comedy-wise. More on that later.
We had convened to talk about his new gig as the self-described "Andy Rooney" of Fox News Channel, providing commentaries once a week for Hannity and Colmes, beginning Friday night. He's also appearing in concert Oct. 6 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and Oct. 8 at Ven Wetzel Hall in Sarasota.
And he couldn't help reacting to a quote from Bill Maher, which Maher backpedaled from and then un-recanted, in which he complained CBS wouldn't allow him to speak about religion in its Free Speech segment on Katie Couric's new newscast.
"Bill’s my friend, but I saw him ask a question: If this is CBS, what am I to assume about Fox?" said Miller, calling from his home office. "And since I’m the guy who does the –- I think we’re probably going to wind up calling the thing Real Free Speech now -- but since I do real free speech on the Fox network, I’m just answering the question. Never, ever, has anyone even asked me what (my commentaries are) about, for God’s sake. It just makes me laugh where Fox is thought to be this unholy cabal where people are told what to do and given marching orders. Nobody ever said a word to me. They just hired me and said talk about what you want to talk about.”
But isn't it easier for Fox News Channel to give somebody free reign when they know the commentator's view is already close to a perspective they support -- especially given Miller's outspoken support of both President Bush and the war in Iraq.
"“They don’t’ know – I’m politically all over the map," he said. "I’m for gay marriage, I think abortion is wrong but I’m pro-choice. I have pretty eclectic politics. I’m proactive about the war on terror. (It's) hard to nail me down, but I can tell you they’ve never said one thing to me about what are you going to talk about, or how are you going to talk about it. So, that’s about all you can ask of an employer, right?”
What remains surprising about Miller is how completely he has jettisoned the smartass intellectualism of his early days. Early routines may have evoked French philosphy and classic novels; these days, he spends more time time talking about his post-9/11 fear of terrorism and the working class values imported from his native Pittsburgh.
"The good thing about Pittsburgh,it's a good place to be raised…it doesn’t tolerate assholes," he said "You’re either a good guy or you're a bad guy...(And) when I’m in Los Angeles having these incredibly surreal moments where nobody’s saying anything and everybody’s talking incessantly, I always have that Pittsburgh voice in my head – shut up, smile, get the job, move on.”
And the relation to 9/11?
“It steels you in the pragmatics of life," Miller said. "Maybe that’s why I jumped ship (from liberal politics) after 9/11. It just seemed pragmatic to me. It’s the same thing I tell my kids – if a bully comes up to you five or six times, just walk away. If he pushes you, still walk away. If he pushes you again, you’ve got to turn around and kick him in the nuts. And I think that’s what Bush is doing.”
I'm going to try pulling together a small feature on the Miller-man for the newspaper, so I don't want to tip too much. But as I began to ask him whether fear isn't pushing us into abandoning core values of freedom and fairness -- and whether the Bush administration isn't exploiting that fear to boost its approval ratings -- Miller peeled off the kid gloves, just a little bit.
The opening I gave him: a question about the rumor that George "macaca" Allen asked him to run for the U.S. Senate against Barbara Boxer in California.
"It seems like a jive job. Seems like you’re sitting in a room all day with the kids from grade school who, if the teacher had forgotten to give homework, would remind them...(And) I don’t think I’m equipped. I think they need better folks than me. If you’re saying the shit’s hit the fan, let’s start getting stand up (comics) in there, that’s as wacky as your other view. What are we going to do next, make you Secretary of Defense?”
Ouch. But a fitting end to an interview with a comic whose words used to send me to the dictionary and now just make me shake my head in bewilderment.
New Name Same as the Old Name for Weekly Planet
If you've seen their website today, you already know this is true: The Weekly Planet this week is changing its name back to the name it started with in the late '80s, Creative Loafing.
News of this impending change leaked back in May, when the Tampa-based alternative newsweekly accidentally printed a full run of more than 84,000 papers with the Creative Loafing masthead.
As some may know, the Atlanta-based company which owns the Planet is called Creative Loafing Media, along with its other newspapers in Atlanta and Charlotte. Back in May, publisher Ben Eason and editor David Warner told me the name change was mostly about putting the same brand on all their print products.
"It’s not a name change at all, but a return to a name the newspaper once had," Warner said. "In identifying ourselves to users of the web site and national advertisers, Creative Loafing as a name was more recognizable. At the same time, kind of personally -- the Weekly Planet frequently confuses people and reminds them of Superman’s publication. There’s just so long you can (tell people) 'No it’s the WEEKLY Planet not the DAILY Planet,' before you say OK. Time to change."
And about that mistaken press run in May? "“Brain fart is the word I used," Warner said, laughing. "Maybe on some subconscious level we’re used to seeing it on the other papers. I really believe it was a massive brain fart.”
(click on photos to enlarge)
Real Damon Meltdown or a Clever Kimmel Bit?
The latest bit of viral video making the rounds these days is a clip of Matt Damon appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live after getting bumped 12 times for a lack of time. And Kimmel, prankster that he is, spends so much time showing the old clips of him bumpnig Damon and stretching out his introduction, that when Damon sits down, Kimmel has no time left for him.
Damon is shown blowing a gasket as the credits roll and storming off. But my money is on then otino that this is a clever bit.
First, Ben Stiller is shown in the audience checking his watch, obviously signalling the coming joke (how did the director know to cut to him?) Second, last I looked at a Jimmy Kimmel guest list, names like Xzibit and Johnny Knoxville were topping the list; with a roster like that, you're going to bump Matt Damon? Not once, but 13 times?
Even Kimmel doesn't have the stones to tempt the showbiz gods like that.