Comedian and "Saturday Night Live" vet Dennis Miller is known as much today for his political views as for the trademark rhythmic delivery and deliciously arcane references that carved him a unique place in stand-up comedy as well as the hallowed "Weekend Update" chair in the mid-'90s.
To Miller, 58, integrating politics and comedy has been a natural process: "It happened when I got 'Weekend Update,'" he says. "Once you get known in that way in people's minds, you're in the current events business, and that means you talk about politics."
Miller's own views -- a mix of social liberalism and economic and foreign policy conservatism he describes simply as "pragmatic" -- set him apart from his peers early on.
Miller says he finds that left-wingers tend to be more rankled by his mix of left and right wing positions.
"The left gets more pissed off at you than the right does," he says. "I disagree with conservatives and they just sort of shake their heads, but they concede that you're allowed to make your opinion. I disagree with the left, and my kids show me pictures of myself on the Internet dressed in Hitler's garb."
At the end of the day, though, comedy still takes precedence over politics for Miller. In fact, he considers it a much finer art.
"Anyone who can look you in the face and not blink when they tell you a complete lie can be a politician," he says. "Comedians, at some point, need to be a little nimble on their feet. So I'm drawn to [comedy] because it's the harder thing to do."
A break from politics
How did Miller develop the rhythmic, free-associative style that makes him such an amusing speaker? He cites comedian Richard Belzer as well as Jack Kerouac’s Beat classic “On the Road,” but the biggest inspiration seems to have been on-stage tension.
“The palaver first came with nerves on stage,” he says. “Just to keep it moving, because I didn’t like breaks. I be-gan to realize that those ex- trapolated reference runs [got laughs]… they liked that monkey trick. And I’m nothing if not Pavlov’s dog.”