'Weekend Update's media-shy Dennis Miller insists it isn't so

September 19, 1990|By Bob Dyer | Bob Dyer,Knight-Ridder

AKRON, Ohio -- As comedian Dennis Miller sat in his Chicago hotel room, he must have felt a little like Mamoru Shigemitsu, the top Japanese official at the signing of the unconditional surrender on the deck of the battleship Missouri that ended World War II.

Certainly Miller's "Saturday Night Live" character -- a purveyor of cruel irony and dripping sarcasm -- could appreciate Miller's plight: This man who had consistently thumbed his nose at an entire profession was now asking for its mercy. Or at least its ink.

When we last checked with Miller, he was not giving interviews. Not to little newspapers, not to big newspapers. Not to news magazines. Never mind that he was a journalism major at Point Park College in Pittsburgh. Never mind that his "SNL" character is a reporter.

Why the sudden change of heart?

"I haven't changed heart at all," he said by phone. "A lot of people talk for you in this business and it's expedient for them to say you don't do interviews." He said he wasn't aware of turning down interview requests. "Sometimes when you get agents on the phone and they're in a hurry to go to lunch . . ."

Now, Dennis. We checked the computer libraries. You weren't talking to anyone.

"I don't do interviews because I'm sick of the way our society runs and how everybody's out there flogging their story every week. I don't have a story. I don't find it that interesting."

That's better.

"If I'm playing a club and they say they want me to help do business, I'll do an interview to help business. But I don't seek out interviews to 'get my story out to the American people.' I just find that a little boring."

Uh-huh.

"It just doesn't matter to me. I came from a pretty traditional upbringing in Pittsburgh. We were always taught -- I don't want to sound too apocryphal -- to keep your nose out of other people's business."

Talk to me.

"I didn't want to end up in all these publications with my wife, eating a hot dog from opposite ends, talking about our splendiferous life together."

Any more?

"It's no Howard Hughesian thing. I just find it a little boring. I just don't have that much to say."

Could have fooled us.

For the next 20 minutes, he talked intelligently about a variety of topics, including how he's spending his summer vacation: 35 stand-up gigs on the national comedy-club circuit, gigs booked partly to hone his skills for a Home Box Office special in October.

Yes, this is the part of the story where he gets the plug.

For Miller, 36, the days are full. In addition to gearing up for his sixth "SNL" season this fall, he's planning a pilot for a late-night talk show. The show, he says, would be "a little quieter. I need some quiet time in television, and I presume there are some other people who need some quiet time in television. I'm not decrying anybody's show, but I am just assailed by TV now. It just hits you like a moving party every night, with all sorts of frenetic activity."

Says he's a pretty mellow guy who's ready to calm down by midnight. In fact, he goes to great lengths to point out that he's not the cynical, self-important wienie he plays on "Weekend Update."

"I find a lot of stuff in life disillusioning. I find a lot of it incongruous. So I took a bit of a cynical stance. But it has nothing to do with how I am when I wake up in the morning."

And how does he wake up in the morning? Pretty damn happy, he says. He mentions his 3-month-old son, Holden, and talks about having surpassed all of his professional expectations.

"I never had any great aspirations in show business, I don't have any delusions about my talents. I write a pretty good topical joke, I look OK on television and I don't flinch. For having that sort of short list, I do OK.

"I didn't think I'd get this far. I'm a happy camper -- wait, I hate that phrase -- I'm a happy boy."

Just about then, a major media figure appears on the TV screen in his hotel room. "Dr. Ruth has just come out on the Marsha Warfield show and she has to shoot a basketball. Hey, she reverse dunked! I didn't think she had that leg spring! Spud Webb! Listen, I got one on another line. They got these backed up like planes at O'Hare. I'll talk to you, babe."

Now aren't you glad you finally met him?

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