April 29, 2005
The Late, Great Dennis Miller
I rant, therefore I am. ~ Dennis Miller
I happened upon Miller's Crossing today. It's as dead-on-balls-accurate now as it was when I first read it.
Once upon a time there was no man higher on my CILF list than Dennis Miller. He was smart and cocky and sexy and glib. He knew geeky references you can't look up in books. Even when his writing was obviously aided by others, he carried it off. When his rambling started to skew more smug than fun, that Cheshire cat grin of his just continued to work for me. His anchor time on the SNL news segments will never be equaled as far as I'm concerned. Hell, I was even one of the three people who enjoyed him on Monday Night Football.
He was never a true liberal, although many try to remember him as one. He was an equal opportunity ranter and his politics were down the center. That was okay with me. I am not above laughing at the liberal party. It's very laughable, more's the pity.
Then came 9/11. And something in Miller's demeanor started to go horribly astray. The angry-young-man turned smug-middle-aged-smart-ass was, quite, obviously, frightened by the world he was trying to mock. Because of that, his punchlines started sounding more like the American hate-mongering that was so prevalent at the time than the smart "don't try and bullshit me" bull he'd once been. Yosemite Sam replaced Bugs Bunny in the Looney Toon of Miller's life.
I remember very distinctly watching an episode of the last season of HBO's Dennis Miller Live with Alec Baldwin as the featured guest. The topic was supposed to be "Truth in the Media" but Miller ended up, well, going off on a rant. In fact he was borderline psychotic, casting out ridiculous notions like nuking the Middle East ("sand and fire make glass"). It had never been more obvious that somewhere, deep down, what he was saying wasn't meant to be funny. He wasn't kidding. No, he didn't think we would really nuke the Middle East, but it was clear it would have been okay with him if we had.
Baldwin said something along the lines of "we really have to try to heal some of the anger people like you are feeling because it's scaring the rest of us." I've never been a big Alec Baldwin fan, but I think it was possibly the smartest sentiment he's ever voiced.
After 9/11 I was less afraid of terrorists and way more afraid of Americans. That remains true to this day. Terrorists can only take my life. What my fellow Americans can take from me is far more dear. It was clear that Miller's fears and mine weren't on the same wavelength any longer.
What followed was a horrible path of zig-zagging on his part. He embraced George Bush as a great leader for reasons I'll never be able to fathom. He began spewing GOP talking points as if they made sense. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I believe he grabbed a memo and told Karl Rove he'd suit up, exactly. I just think he was hanging out with too many people who say the same things to each other over and over. It infiltrated his dialog and invaded his sense of humor. His funny was no longer funny. It was just downright depressing.
I have never been a fair-weather fan (my football teams are the Dolphins and Saints for all that's holy. Trust me, I beg for the occasional bout of fair weather!), so, I held on as long as I could. But after an HBO stand-up hour where I didn't laugh but twice (and I think that was more out of sympathy than genuine humor), and a showing on Bill Maher's Real Time where he got served by Ariana Huffington of all people, I was starting to lose my respect for the man. The last nail in the coffin as far as I wan concerned was the first episode of his CNBC talk show. Somewhere around the time he started blowing kisses at his pet ape, I felt ill. I made it to the end, and then decided to mourn what was gone and move on. I really haven't thought about him much since.
I couldn't help feeling pleasantly surprised recently when he popped up on The Daily Show. Of course, that "happy to see you" feeling was not to last. There was Dennis, riffing off old stock jokes, defending George Bush and explaining once again how he thinks global warming is a non-issue in one-liners that really do make sense if you're comfortable thinking in two-dimensional terms instead of the three that are required for complex issues. But what I found most interesting (and disturbingly piteous) in the interview was the almost apologetic way he kept repeating "Hey, I'm a libertarian." I don't watch his CNBC show, but I'm of the opinion that if you have to brand yourself two or three times over a five-minute segment, you're trying to make up for something. At the end of his appearance I couldn't help thinking, "I obviously haven't been missing anything."
I must admit, I caught a glimpse -- just a glimpse -- of something familiar. It might have been hopeful thinking. It probably was.
Among with all else that was lost on 9/11, I have to say that it pains me just a touch to have lost Dennis as well. I continue to hope he heals enough to buy his soul back from whatever machine he sublet it to. Although, it's been my experience your soul is something that, once hocked, is damn hard to buy back.
Then again, I'm not sure Mr. Miller would give a fig about the opinion of your average everyday American phone slut ;-)
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