There was a time when Dennis Miller was the comedian known for dropping arcane pop culture-and-historical references so effortlessly in his metaphors and punch lines that he made you long for Wikipedia, decades before Wikipedia existed.
Miller, who appears at Durham Performing Arts Center Saturday, is still the ranting scholar, and he makes it sound easy, too. (“You know, when Sandra Fluke first got into law school, the predominant system of jurisprudence in the world was the Code of Hammurabi. Can we wrap this education up, and show us your genius out in the real world?”)
But in the years since 9/11, the 58-year-old comedian, actor, political commentator and radio host has become a polarizing figure, too. Arcane references in standup bits are going to be hit-and-miss propositions anyway, but that joke about Sandra Fluke, an advocate for contraception coverage in health care plans, is a good example of why the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and “Weekend Update” anchor has fallen from grace with some of his old fans.
Miller came out as a conservative (although he’s been known to break with the GOP on a few issues, such as gay rights and abortion). He’s a regular on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” where he joins his buddy Bill for a weekly segment of liberal-bashing one-liners and smirking. Needless to say, that doesn’t endear him to those “SNL” fans who once assumed all post-Nixon Administration comedians were liberals like themselves.
Speaking by phone from the studio of his morning radio program “The Dennis Miller Show” ( it airs on AM stations in New Bern, Winston Salem and Southern Pines), Miller responded to a question for his thoughts about the Republican convention in Tampa, before the much-discussed Clint Eastwood appearance had blown up the media for a few days.
“I thought they hit the ball, except for ‘Timmy the Paw’ doing one-liners, and they’re tough to do,” he said, referring to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. “I wouldn’t call that a lowlight, I just think it was a missed assignment. I like the convention so far.”
Miller became more of his ranty old self when asked about what Democrats call the Republican “War on Women.”
“Oh, for God’s sake – they started this with this Sandra Fluke woman,” he riffs about Fluke, whom Rush Limbaugh notoriously called a “slut” on his radio show early this year.
“She’s helpless,” Miller said of Fluke.
“She’s 30 years old. She’s still in school, for the first part. You know?”
Apparently seeing no irony, Miller recently aimed some Twitter fire at liberal-leaning Fox News pundit Juan Williams for calling Ann Romney a “corporate wife” whose “husband takes care of her.”
On his radio show, Miller didn’t let up on Williams (“I think he put the paddles on his brand – clear…clear…”), although he laughingly dismissed a question later about this all being a setup for a potential verbal “shoot-out” between himself and Williams on Fox News.
“You mean if they give me a call and say, ‘Do you want me and Juan to go back-and-forth at one another? Wouldn’t do it. I’m not into fighting on demand. That makes me feel like Spartacus or something.”
He may not be Spartacus, but in an entertainment field seemingly dominated by progressive politics, he gives conservative comedy fans reason to proclaim “I am Dennis Miller.”