By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
When satirizing the media, The Daily Showis brilliant, but when it comes to Osama bin Laden et al., Stewart just can’t wrap his head around the idea of an enemy, particularly a Third World one. Simply thinking about it makes him queasy, uncomfortable, and challenges his most deeply held belief, which is that it’s unseemly to get ticked off at anyone who isn’t rich, Caucasian and, hopefully, Republican. The municipal authorities of his own city may be working around the clock to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear attack, but Stewart can’t find it in his heart to resent the people who make those preparations necessary. Deep down, he’d prefer to think it’s all Dick Cheney’s fault: If we hadn’t invaded Iraq, 9/11 would never have happened.
Which is where Miller comes in. Not only is he comfortable with the idea of enemies and war, he doesn’t even have a problem with the elusive Cheney. In an interview with Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff about David Kay’s WMD report, Miller argued that today’s CIA is ineffectual because of legislation that prevented the agency from getting down and dirty with the world’s bad guys. “Isn’t that the problem over there, that we got out of the dirty-people business?” Miller asked.
“Certainly, if you’re Dick Cheney, that would be the analysis,” Isikoff conceded.
“Well, I am Dick Cheney!” Miller replied, pretending to pull off a facemask and cracking himself up in the process.
Miller begins each episode of his program with “The Daily Rorschach,” a segment in which he sits at a desk and delivers wordy — some would say laborious — riffs on the news, much as he once did on Saturday Night Liveand Dennis Miller Liveon HBO. (Sample jokes: “A new poll shows that Senator Kerry’s support in the South is strongest among blacks. Kerry’s appeal to Southern blacks is obvious: He’s a white man who lives far, far away. Kerry’s campaign is also gaining support among women. However, Kucinich is still tops among post-op trannies.”) This part of the program, at least, could benefit mightily from a live audience, because without some laughter to feed off, Miller the comedian can seem a little lost, even with crew members providing some consolation chuckles offscreen.
But could he even attract a studio audience four days a week, particularly one that would laugh at his jokes? Studio audiences in L.A. and New York will howl at any anti-Bush joke, and cheer any anti-Bush remark, no matter how lame. How would they react to the jokes of an openly Republican comedian, even one who’s laid-back on the cultural issues and is down with gay marriage? We’ll soon find out. Mo was recently seen holding up a sign with a toll-free telephone number, and when the show returns from a 10-day hiatus on March 9, it will be with a nightclub-style audience of 100 or so in attendance — as well as former Early Show and Today guru Steve Friedman as consulting producer.
After he gets through with the jokes, Miller generally interviews somebody who can illuminate a particular issue — Congressman Barney Frank on gay marriage, former U.N. inspector Scott Ritter on the missing WMD, historian Victor Davis Hanson on immigration. The second half of the show is then mostly taken up by the “Varsity Panel,” when Miller and three guests discuss topics from the day’s news. Contributors have included Naomi Wolf, David Horowitz, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Lawrence O’Donnell, Mickey Kaus, Jill Stewart, Martin Short, Mark Cuban, Kellyanne Conway, David Denby and others. Here Miller acts less like a host than a fellow conversationalist, and seems as happy to listen as to interrupt. But he does get in a few wisecracks.
When Gates, the chair of Harvard’s Afro-American Studies Department, mildly reproved his fellow (all white) panelists for never reading Ebonyor Jet, Miller quipped: “I read the Cliffs Notes to Jet.” Later in the same episode, Gates predicted that Al Sharpton would get 15 to 25 percent of the vote in the South Carolina primary. “Isn’t that one of the signs of Armageddon?” Miller asked innocently.
The nice thing about the “Varsity Panel” (depending on his guests) is the relatively relaxed and straightforward attitude that Miller brings to it. Although he worked briefly as a commentator for Hannity and Colmeson Fox, he’s far from being a Murdochian attack dog, and he often sits there and sucks it up while people tell him just how awful the administration of his beloved commander-in-chief really is. (Naomi Wolfe almost went into meltdown mode as she assailed John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act.) Miller, it turns out, is considerably more interested in “diversity” than some of his liberal counterparts.
On a recent episode of Topic A With Tina Brown (CNBC), there were, by my count, seven guests who were Democrats, two Brits who would almost certainly vote Labour (Brown herself and Greg Dyke, the ousted head of the BBC), along with one lone Republican, Betsy McCaughey, who was more or less told to shut up by Nora Ephron. A typical Miller panel, on the other hand, will be 50-50, meaning one Republican guest, two Democrats, and Miller himself to balance things out.