Literate and arcane, Dennis Miller's humor
isn't for everyone. On the printed page, as on television
and in movies, Miller is sophisticated and urbane. Where
other comedians might use profanity almost as a punchline,
Miller uses it like punctuation: carefully embedded for
maximum effect. A lot of his humor plays in that way. Nor
does he bother to play down to an audience or a reader. He
regularly makes obscure references and uses ten dollar --
and even foreign -- words without stopping for breath.
Dennis Miller is, in many ways, the thinking person's
comedian and if the literate references bug you, you might
as well get off the bus.
The sunshine boy he's not. We first got to see Dennis Miller
as the anchor man of The Weekend Update on Saturday
Night Live. It was there he seemed to develop his
trademark style: the rant honed to fine art. Howling at the
moon in a well-cut jacket and questioning everything --
common and uncommon both -- in educated and modulated tones.
Since then Miller has done lots of stand up comedy that
includes four seasons hosting Dennis Miller
Live on HBO. He's also made a string of fairly
forgettable movies and written a couple of books.
Understand please, if you're not crazy about Dennis Miller
on the screen or if you don't get his scathing, intellectual
humor there's nothing much for you in print. Ranting
Again is just like Miller's standup: but without
pictures. And when I say, "Just like," that's entirely what
I mean. While you read, it's easy to picture him up there on
stage in that same well-cut jacket, ranting away about
everything from the Internet to gun control. In print,
Miller is no less urbane, no less scathing, no less of
anything. In fact, he's entirely the same. Tediously so.
Every chapter begins with his trademark, "Now I don't want
to get off on a rant here..." and ends with his familiar,
"Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."
Beyond this trite open and closing of chapters, however,
there's some awesomely funny stuff. Take this gem on
Now, last year there was a celestial load
of hype surrounding Mars. While I'm all for a certain
amount of scientific exploration, this is way out of
hand. Mars is. Is it really important to anybody except a
bunch of Buzz Lightweight guys from the A.V. Squad? I
mean, we didn't learn anything that's going to improve
our lives in any way. We've spent billions of dollars so
a robot could hump rocks that a bunch of geeks argued
whether to call Snagglepuss or Secret Squirrel. I mean,
what is the big deal? You know why it's the red planet?
It was embarrassed by all the undeserved attention.
Classic Miller. Or this to Generation X:
You haven't developed the prerequisite
thick hide of the cynical, callused bastard yet, and your
future seems bleaker than Ingmar Bergman listening to an
acoustic set performed by Leonard Cohen.
Add to the angst bouillabaisse the current prospects of a
flatlining economy, an environment that's choking to
death on its own shit, and a sexual atmosphere that's
about as warm, safe, and inviting as a Zagreb bunker.
Christ, if I were in my twenties now, I'd be bitching so
hard, I'd make Beck sound like Tony Newley.
While Ranting Again is entirely funny stuff
and will be eaten alive by his fans, I'm looking forward to
a Dennis Miller book that doesn't sound as though it had
been written to be performed. I enjoy Miller's humor
immensely, and would love to see him stretch himself in
literature where so much is possible. Ranting
Again is filled with strong material and is quite
worthy of the rantmeister, but it would be fun to see what
he could do without the restrictions that the format he's
chosen must place on him.
Of course, that's just my opinion. I could -- you
know -- be mistaken. | September 12, 1998