LOS ANGELES — Dennis Miller is embarking on a journey of reinvention, one starting with a quick U-turn from his new standup special.
“Fake News-Real Jokes,” out Tuesday on Amazon, Google, iTunes and other streaming platforms and as an album, will be followed by a self-described “mental exercise” to see what it’s like to ease away from political humor and try something on the lighter side.
Miller cites the example of Orson Bean, 90, the droll actor-comedian who was a game-show and late-night staple in the Johnny Carson “Tonight” era, and whom Miller calls a friend.
The simple goal is “just be funny and not talk about the issues as much,” said Miller, who turns 65 today.
That might be easier said than done for a man who made his name as a smart-aleck “Weekend Update” anchor on “Saturday Night Live” from 1985-91 and later gained favor with conservatives sharing his post-Sept. 11 perspective in his act and in “The O’Reilly Factor” appearances. He now hosts a podcast and has a syndicated radio feature.
Miller, who describes himself as “socially liberal, fiscally conservative,” mused that Hollywood might be eyeing a makeover of its own after the midterm elections. The five-time Emmy winner also discussed his work M.O. in an interview with The Associated Press and showed he couldn’t resist tweaking an activist-actress. Remarks were edited for clarity and brevity.
Associated Press: It’s been several years since your last standup special was released. Why is this the right time for a new one?
Miller: Well, this is my ninth, and I’d like to do 10 in my life, I think that’d be good. Nobody’s going to touch George (Carlin, who did 14). But if I did 10 I’d be close to second, and that would mean something to me. Specials are hard to do — once you’ve done one, you’re fried.
AP: What is it about the process of honing a routine that takes it out of you?
Miller: I don’t get to hone as much as I used to because “used to” would be on the road 100 days a year when you were young, or in comedy clubs because you live in L.A. I don’t live near L.A. and I don’t go out that much anymore. So I have to listen to it at home, read it at home and then try to find myself a comedy club or small venue where I can go up around five times over the course of a weekend. Then I try to put a half-dozen dates together in theaters.
AP: I’ve heard you try out jokes on Twitter.
Miller: I put a joke up once, that for Trump to receive a welcome in California right now he’d have to come in illegally, and it got 50,000 likes. Well, that’s not akin to laughter, obviously, once 50,000 people do that like thing you think I’ve got a good joke there.
AP: Are you frustrated when you finish a special and there’s an event that might be a tempting target, such as Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings?
Miller: Too much of the country is so fractious right now that I’m not as interested in it as some people are. And certainly in the postmortems, it doesn’t sound like joke central to me. It’s almost like social media is a speed trap waiting for people to have some sort of wisdom about an event that’s highly polarizing. And then at least half the country jumps on the other half, and that seems tedious to me. I would say I was surprised to see that Alyssa Milano was back on TV.
AP: You said we live in a time when people on the left keep a “pretty tight watch” on what’s being said. Does that view make you more cautious in writing your material?
Miller: I did a special, and I’m proud of it. I thought it was funny, and I dabbled in the real world. But I think you better make two-thirds of the special just generically funny, funny for all, and then you can put your opinions out there. I’ve been on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and (audiences) know me as a current-events guy, so you have to say something. But there are certain jokes now I would excise from a show because you’d be in a complete fecal storm? Yeah, there are.
AP: There are few conservative voices heard in the entertainment industry. Why do you think that is?
Miller: I don’t know the reason, but I know the actuality. There’s a decent chance that Donald Trump is going to be the president for the next six years. Some people are going to say, ‘Oh, that’s impossible.’ OK, go ahead and say that, but I’m telling you there’s a chance. You might have to find a counterintuitive way to (approach) Donald Trump if he’s the president for the next, what, 2,200 days.
AP: What are the odds of that happening in Hollywood?
Miller: I think a lot of people on the left think there’s a blue wave coming on early November, and we’ll see. And I think the day after that, people might start adjusting their business models if in fact there is not a big blue wave.