Dennis Miller, late of 'SNL,' brings an attitude to his new late-night talk show

January 20, 1992|By Orange County Register

Dennis Miller has this wacky idea that he seems convinced is going to make an immediate hit of his new syndicated late-night talk effort, "The Dennis Miller Show," which premieres tonight (12:30 a.m., Channel 11).

He's going to be himself.

"I figure that I'm better at being me than anyone else," says the 38-year-old former "Weekend Update" anchor from "Saturday Night Live."

"The people who like me say I'm hip, the people who don't say I'm smug. But at least I'm something. If you have an attitude, people tend to pay attention."

Mr. Miller certainly hopes so. Not that doing stand-up comedy in clubs for 11 years, performing three specials for HBO and appearing in more "SNL" segments than any regular ever has (1985-'91) necessarily have made Mr. Miller a comedy superstar.

Indeed, being a mainstream talk-show host is a job for which Mr. Miller would appear an odd choice. Even he admits to being too iconoclastic for the masses, too New York to appeal to Middle America.

What the sharp-tongued Miller plans to do on his talk show that will help spread the word of mouth is make it a little quirky while still keeping it grounded in the talk norm. His wish list of guests is packed with authors and athletes as well as obscure bands and "unknowns whom I find interesting."

"I'd also like to get some of the more powerful people in this country who never go on television for fear they'll be publicly defrocked," Mr. Miller says, "people like Richard Nixon and [former White House Chief of Staff] John Sununu. I'd love to ask Sununu what he took from his office at the end -- how many legal pads?"

What Mr. Miller also hopes to feature on his show is plenty of attitude with a capital A, since he claims to lack the Hollywood shmoozability of Arsenio, the Midwestern sensibility of Carson and the pure midstream accessibility of Leno.

Viewers of his talk show will discover quickly enough that Mr. Miller's dry delivery masks a particularly scathing tongue. The Pittsburgh native is as controversial as Mr. Carson is mild, taking ardent stands on such issues as a woman's right to wear fur -- seeing it as a matter of personal choice.

For his part, Mr. Miller doesn't see himself as having all that much of an edge.

"I get Christians screaming at me that I'm a blasphemer, fur people charging that I'm an animal killer," says Mr. Miller, "but in the midst of all of this I see myself as a bit of a conservative. I'm not especially visionary. To me, it's common sense."

Mr. Miller has been branded arrogant and difficult in comedy circles, but that doesn't much concern him. He claims he's not interested in being a sweetheart, anyway.

"I sat at that desk on 'Saturday Night Live' for six years, and it demanded that I be a smart-ass," Mr. Miller says. "I saw the guys who tried to be nice guys, and they got taken out in body bags with tags on their toes. So I thought I'd at least act as if I belonged there, and it worked.

"When I'm interviewing people, I'm going to try to peacefully co-exist.But if they're going to hand me a complete line of crap, I think I have to say something. But I'm not planning to ambush guests, either."

Mr. Miller thinks people will be surprised that there is a kinder, gentler side to him that the "SNL" audience never saw.

"I'm not like the kid in 'Old Yeller,' but I do have heart," Mr. Miller says. "Still, I am what I am. I'm not going to change and become a suck-up just for the sake of the mainstream. My fans would just end up hating my guts. I'd rather go out on my shield, proudly."

He also isn't afraid to fail, figuring that one of two things will happen: The audience will like him, or it won't. And if Mr. Miller is himself, he also figures he can't go wrong -- even if he's lousy.

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