Once again, the Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival will feature a healthy mix of comedy legends and newcomers ready to step into the spotlight. This year, one of the legends taking the stage is a comedian who has dabbled in everything from sketch comedy to sportscasting, with plenty of political commentary thrown in.
Dennis Miller broke onto the scene in 1985 when he took over the Weekend Update anchor position on Saturday Night Live. Miller went on to have his own half-hour HBO talk show, stepped in as a color commentator on Monday Night Football in 2000. Now, he appears regularly on Fox News, and his weekly radio program, The Dennis Miller Show. Before his Moontower appearance on Thursday, April 24, he spoke with CultureMap to discuss his lengthy career in showbiz.
CultureMap: How familiar are you with Austin?
Dennis Miller: I’ve come to SXSW three times, so I know it to that degree, and I’ve performed there once before. But, I mostly come to enjoy the music. I couldn’t tell you the exact names of the clubs, but I got to see Kings of Leon, and I saw Wiz Khalifa for the first time at a small place there at SXSW.
CM: And now you’re coming back to perform stand-up, which you don’t do as often. Will your material feature the usual amount of political commentary?
DM: I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a close-minded town or an open-minded town. Most college towns have gotten more close-minded, so if I find that I’ll talk about drive-thru windows, driving and flying — the comedy standards of “What’s with first class?” Sometimes people want to talk current affairs, but usually I’ll find out quickly what kind of crowd I’m dealing with.
CM: Well in terms of politics, Austin is famous for being greatly different from the rest of Texas, but how familiar are you with the rest of the Lone Star State?
DM: I was down recently to perform and I was down their in Dallas, the Big D, for the Final Four, so I dig Texas. It seems like Austin is the most liberal of the bastions there, because I remember being in Dallas and it seemed a little more conservative. But, I would at least hope that Austin hasn’t forgotten the Alamo — I know that’s in San Antonio — but I know that everybody in Texas rallies to speak their mind.
CM: Trying to get a read on a live audience is a major part of stand-up comedy, but how does it compare to your extensive work in front of a camera? Do you have any preferences?
DM: You know I’m kind of a pragmatist about show business. I’ve enjoyed working a lot of scenes. I’m now 60, and I think I’m lucky to be in it. I’ve been fired from jobs, I’ve had long runs in jobs. I don’t put heartbreak over celebration, because I think you’re a lucky person to be a stand-up comedian for 30-35 years. As far as which part of show business that pleases me the most is having a long run. It’s a nice gig. There are shit jobs in the world and this ain’t one of them.
CM: You’ve also had experience moving to online commentary, with your radio show available on air and comments available via social media. How does that experience compare?
DM: I think that the main thing about Twitter is that you can see how fractious things are out there now. I find that many of the people that follow you now are mostly the people that dislike you, which is kind of an interesting schadenfreude-laden concept. It’s people who really like you or don’t like you at all who follow you the most closely. I find that intriguing.
And I used to think of show business as just the people who follow you because they like you, and I think that’s what was the paradigm for show business over the years. But, now I see that your most consistent listeners and followers are people who dislike you, which is an interesting revelation.
CM: With your radio show, do you miss being in front of a camera? That was a large part of your career.
DM: Nah, I’m fine. I like where I’m at. I do the radio show out of my house. I get to go out every now and then to perform on the road. I’m 60 years old now, which you compare to Stephen Colbert who’s 49, which I think is the perfect age to step in to his new role [as host of Late Show]. But, I’m happy where I’m at.