"It's not like I woke up one morning a Republican or ardent conservative. I'm libertarian on most things except the war."
– Dennis Miller
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Dennis.
Dennis Miller: Hey. Sorry I missed you the other day. I was travelling and got stuck in immigration (snickers), then the place I was working north of Toronto didn't have cell phone service. And I wanted to apologize for that.
GM: I apologize for our country.
GM: You were just signing our guest book, I guess.
DM: Signing your guest book on the way in.
GM: I think they must have toughened up. We had a festival up here a few weeks ago and I heard that several comics had trouble getting in.
DM: Well, we live in times that dictate you adhere to your borders.
GM: But certainly they recognized you.
DM: Well, no, not really.
GM: I saw you on Conan the other night. You've been getting around lately.
DM: Yeah, let's see, I did Africa and Bali and the Himalayas. And my friend Tom Hanks and I rented a tour bus and took our children to six ball games on six different nights. Baseball games on the east coast. I've had a pretty busy year.
GM: How much time did you take off from work?
DM: That's the good thing about show business: You can still work one week out of the month and have three. So I didn't really like stop down the whole process.
GM: On the trips abroad, did you take your family?
DM: My wife and I and a couple friends went to the Himalayas, and my wife and my two sons went to Africa.
GM: Was this something you just always wanted to do?
DM: Yeah. I'd always been looking for the next job and I thought at age 52 it was time to take a breath and finally go see some things.
GM: Does travelling like that change your outlook or world vision?
DM: No, it just reminds me how lucky we are in the States and I assume you feel the same way about Canada. We live in the luckiest places on the planet, in North America.
GM: I certainly feel a lot safer here than I would in Africa right now.
DM: Well, I was in Kenya and Tanzania. I wasn't exactly in the Anderson Cooper tour.
GM: Yeah, but all those dangerous insects!
DM: Yeah, but you know, you start avoiding stuff like that the next thing you know you're Beach Boy Brian Wilson sitting in your bedroom in a sandbox never going out.
"When I go out and do comedy, I'm not sitting up there like Al Haig and Warren Christopher talking about the war on terror. It's around five minutes of an hour. I'm trying to get laughs."
– Dennis Miller
GM: A lot has been made of your political conversion after 9/11.
DM: It's all the same except for the war.
GM: What's all the same?
DM: My politics. It's not like I woke up one morning a Republican or ardent conservative. I'm libertarian on most things except the war.
GM: Still? The war now has its critics even from the right. Are you?
DM: No, I'm not a critic. I think this is what we have to do.
GM: So there's been no problems? Or you just think that there are going to problems in something like that no matter what?
DM: I've been watching Ken Burns' civil war documentary lately on the road, passing time. And, you know, war is brutal. I'm no expert on war. It always goes wrong. The nature of it's wrong. But I believe this is something we have to do. And I think that radical Islam wants to blow up the west (laughs) and I don't want our country just sitting there waiting for it to come to them. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I misinterpret radical Islam but it seems pretty destructive.
GM: So you haven't really changed, but your outspokenness has on it.
DM: No, they just asked me one night on TV and I said I support the troupes and I support the president. And that seemed to set off a wildfire.
GM: But also on your old show, you said the president was off-limits and you weren't going to be making fun of him.
DM: Well, that was when the war just started up. And you know what? When you're sitting in front of a room full of journalists, I did it more to piss them off. (laughs)
GM: (laughs) But you're one of us now!
DM: I don't think I've ever been a real journalist. And I was never a real football announcer. I'm kind of a comedian that floats.
GM: Has it affected any of your relationships in liberal Hollywood?
DM: I've been on the right and I've been on the left. I notice that people on the left are a little angrier when you don't agree with them. But I don't know. Maybe I won't be at Rob Reiner's house, but by and large, no, it hasn't affected my friendships.
GM: And on your old CNBC show, you had lots of your friends on from the left.
DM: Yeah, I don't have any problems with the left. I mean, all you gotta do is speak for yourself. It's not like I'm trying to change anybody's mind or I'm mad at them. This is tough times we live in. Everybody's got to make their own decisions. I just think that left unattended, the war on terror will yield another 9/11 in America and I think we have to be pre-emptive.
GM: I guess the discussion is how, then, you go about attending that.
DM: Well, I guess some people say we should do battle on Al Qaeda. But I saw Steven Spielberg's brilliant film Munich last year, one of my favourite films of the year - brutal to watch but I thought it was a great film. It reminded me, if you're going to do battle with Al Qaeda, they're in every major city in the world. And to think that we're going to be able to go into those cities with small bands and fight them in neighbourhoods where people dwell, you think we have public relations problems now. I can tell you we'd have a lot more then if [we] started blowing up Lisbon, Paris, Brussels, all those places, Hamburgh. The way I look at Iraq is it might not be ideal but at least we've set off some sort of psychotic salt lick in that part of the world where people can come to.
GM: When you're doing comedy, is it important to have an ironic detachment and not care so much about your subject matter?
DM: I don't think so. But maybe I'm a different breed of cat, as they say. I don't sit there and lecture about the war the whole time I'm stage. I'm on stage for an hour. I probably talk about this for five minutes. I just try to do comedy. But when I was doing opinion shows on television with the events of the day, I had to talk to those events. And I guess some of my beliefs came out. But when I go out and do comedy, I'm not sitting up there like Al Haig and Warren Christopher talking about the war on terror (laughs). It's around five minutes, like I said, of an hour. I'm trying to get laughs.
GM: You've done football commentary, you've done your political shows, and now you're doing something on Fox?
DM: Yeah, I'm doing some commentaries for them. I'm trying to be the Andy Rooney, albeit with a better prostate.
GM: (laughs) But your appearance here, you want people to know, is a comedy show. It's not a lecture.
DM: (laughing) No, it's not a lecture.
GM: Or a Janeane Garofalo...
DM: No, I'm not into the unrelenting screeds. I'm just trying to get laughs up there for an hour. It's fun.
GM: I spoke to Tommy Smothers a while back. He said when his show was cancelled, and he got heavy into politics, he stopped being funny for about three years because he was too close to it. Has that ever happened to you?
DM: Uh-uh. Not in my standup act. Like I said, when I'm on TV, when I go do Bill Maher's show, or do a political show, sometimes they ask you questions and I answer them. I've always tried to be pretty straight up. But no, standup comedy I'm out there trying to get laughs.
GM: Do you remember the first analogy or metaphor or simile that you made where a lightbulb went off and you went, "Aha, I might be onto something"? Or is this the way you've always thought?
DM: I just remember when I took my college boards in America. I don't know if they have those in Canada, but they're called SATs in America. And there's a part of it that is built on like or as questions. And I remember I strained at the entire test until I got to the like or as thing and I could just see it unfold in front of me. So maybe that's how I knew I was good at similes and metaphors.
GM: So you're always just thinking of them when you're out in your world?
DM: It's just the way my mind works.
GM: I can imagine not only coming up with the literate wordplay, but also memorizing it has got to be a bitch because one slip and your timing's all off.
DM: Nah, it's easy. It's like my friend Martin Short says, you don't memorize the whole thing in toto. It's just one line leads another. You get to the end of that line and it trips the next line. I don't know how it quite works with your synapses, but I don't find it hard at all.
GM: You're not sitting at home practicing in front of the mirror.
DM: (laughs) No. Like Groucho used to say, "I stayed at home this afternoon and wrote my ad libs."
GM: Are you a big reader?
DM: Non-fiction. I don't read much fiction anymore. I like David McCullough. Biographies. Historical. Sometimes I go back and read some of these biographies, I see the only person who appears to be as hated and thought to be as stupid as Bush was Harry Truman, who history has served pretty well. So I look at Bush and I sometimes don't understand it day-to-day but I admire that he's taking a stand and maybe down the road people will think more of him.
GM: You never know.
DM: Like I said, Truman's approval ratings were down to 29 percent one time. I mean, they talked about him brutally in the States. And he's turned out to be one of the most revered American presidents.
GM: I guess it all depends how this all plays out.
DM: I think this war on terror is probably going on for the next 50 years, so maybe the judgment won't come till way down the line. Bush will probably be passed on. That's one thing I admire about him, that he does things that he thinks are effective today and he doesn't do things to look good. He's probably going to be hated in his lifetime and it appears he's okay with that.
GM: Do you feel like you're alienating half your audience?
DM: I don't know quite what to do. I can start lying. But I don't know these people. They're strangers. I don't know. If I called everybody and said, "What do you believe? I want to believe that so you like me," that's kind of a weird way to lead your life.
GM: I've never been one to have to agree with a comic in order to like them. There are lots of comics I agree with politically that just aren't funny to me, like Margaret Cho...
DM: Yeah, she can be pretty strident.
GM: The audience are like Ditto-heads. They agree with something and wildly applaud.
DM: I'm not looking for applause; I'm looking for laughs. I don't believe in abortion and yet I'm pro-choice because I know it's not my business to tell somebody what to do on such a cosmic issue. I believe in gay marriage. Let's see... Taxes? I think you should probably give 50 percent of your money. It gets above 50 and it starts to get a little Dr. Zhivago to me, so I don't agree with that. I think I'm pretty libertarian on most things. But I don't want to see any more planes flown into buildings.
GM: Your brother is one of the top agents in Hollywood.
DM: Yeah, my brother Jim is doing well.
GM: Do you have any other siblings?
DM: My one brother Rich is a talent manager out of the midwest in Minneapolis and books comedy clubs. And my two sisters are not involved in show business. Jimmy hooked up with Jim Carrey years ago when nobody believed in him, and my brother believed in him. And that led to Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn and Jay Roach and Ali G. He's doing well.
GM: The Miller boys are doing okay.
DM: (laughs) Like The Fabulous Baker Boys.
GM: Have you ever done radio? You'd be a natural.
DM: Somebody is interested in me doing a show right now. I'm mulling it over. But I don't know. I'll have to see. To see if I want to travel more or sit in a studio more. I'm at that cusp in my life. I have to figure out what I want to do.
GM: What's it like travelling for you on planes?
DM: We go up in the air and then we come down.
GM: Really?! So it's changed since I've flown.
DM: That's what plane travel's like for me.
GM: But do you get recognized and hassled a lot?
DM: No. I'm pretty unrecognizable.
GM: I'd recognize you.
DM: Well, you know, I went skiing with Bruce Springsteen. I remember, we went to a cafeteria and nobody in the place recognized him. And it set off a thing in my head where I thought I guess you have to seek it out in some way. You have to have an entourage, you have to have people around you, you have to act bossy. You know what I mean? There's a way to do it, for God's sakes. Bruce Springsteen's one of the five most famous people on the planet Earth. If he can walk around and not get recognized, everybody should be able to.
GM: I heard there was a push for you to run for office.
DM: That George Allen guy, who, I guess, is in his own cluster fuck right now, he called me once. He was head of the Senate recruitment something-or-other and he wanted me to run for Senate in California against Barbara Boxer but I remember thinking, you know, all the people up on Capitol Hill, remember when you were in grade school and it was like two minutes before the end of class and somebody would remind the teacher if they hadn't given homework, that's like all those people up there. I don't know if I'm interested in hanging out with all those people.
GM: So it's up in the air?
DM: No. I'm just not going to do it.
GM: Any more Rant books coming out?
DM: Nope. I'm going to try to write a travel book the next time I go abroad. I keep some notes. Maybe I'll do that.
GM: You're here the same weekend as Gilbert Gottfried, Mike MacDonald, and Don Rickles.
DM: I was wondering. The tickets sales are a little slow on one gig and I thought, "Geez, I wonder what's happening." It sounds like there's a plethora of comedians coming in.
GM: I'm going to try to hit them all.
DM: Well, come over and see if we each do each others' jokes.