Dennis Miller: Did he stop being funny? Was he ever funny to begin with? If so, wha' happened?

I was watching Dennis Miller on Bill O’Reilly at the gym last night and remembering how I used to laugh at his material but now it’s sad. It’s not that he’s an outspoken conservative, it’s the fact that he’s just another bitter old fart and he spews out a bunch of sound-byte pregnant partisan douchebaggery that sounds so completely non-spontaneous and over-rehearsed it’s hard to believe the man has done live performances for decades. But I swear that I used to laugh at his material- a lot, especially his rants- and it’s not just the political switch that made him not funny any more.

Was he ever funny to begin with? Or was it just a “you had to be there” thing? If he was funny, what was the big change? He was always libertarian with a conservative tilt in his politics after all.

I mentioned recently in a thread about Matthew Perry that smartassery doesn’t age well, and I think that’s a major part of his problem. You can be young and cute and a cynical smartass, but when you turn middle aged and you’re not cute anymore then you need to have something else- some serious wit and bite behind your comedy, because smartassing (as a verb) in and of itself isn’t funny.

I think another problem that I had with Dennis Miller even before his comedy became partisan was his South-bashing: he couldn’t pass up a chance to make some kind of joke about all Southerners being sister-fooking hicks. One time it bit him in the ass was on a talk show when a man with a southern accent from Huntsville, AL called in to speak to guest Tom Hanks about NASA. Hanks mentioned for the audience benefit that Huntsville is a key research and testing center for NASA and Miller of course makes some kind of “that’s reassuring- Alabama rocket scientists” joke, and then Hanks and the southern guy got into a surprisingly esoteric discussion of rocketry and funding that left Miller in the dust.
Which reminds me of another thing: for somebody who made his bones on esoteric and-or obscure references, it became clear watching him on talk shows that he isn’t particularly well read or well informed. Somehow diminishes from the rants, if only to me.
And trivial but I’ll mention it anyway: he named his kids Holden and Marlon after Caulfield and Brando respectively. I would be hard pressed to name two more “greatest generation” era self absorbed assholes than the fictional Holden and Marlon. But, his kids, his rules.

So in your opinion: Was Miller once funny and now isn’t? Was he never funny? Do you think he’s still funny? And what’s your favorite flavor of Tang?

I’ll just say he had his moments, but they were relatively few and far between. And – he’s much funnier than Adam Sandler.

PS- I do find at least one conservative, P.J. O’Rourke, very funny. Also Al Capp of Li’l Abner fame when he was going after liberal self righteousness.

I loathed Adam Sandler and just cannot fathom how he became as successful as he is. By almost all accounts he’s a super nice guy, though, so I cut him a tad of slack for that.

He used to be funny but now he’s hit and miss.

I still like him.

On 9/12/01, Miller woke up without a sense of humor. The terrorists won.

His HBO show in the 90’s was very intelligent and often hilarious. It had a somewhat liberal and very skeptical bent to it. He also had an hour-long comedy special during that run that I remember being very funny. Kinda sad that he morphed into the conservative talking-point-fluffer he is today. I think his wiring shorted out sometime around his Monday Night Football stint.

I thought he was fine on SNL.

But he lost me when he did MNF. My first thought upon hearing he was going to be on was, “good, someone with comic timing and clever wit that also knows football.” It would be like hanging out with a funny friend. He could riff spontaneously on what is happening on the field. Like I do, except…better. :slight_smile:

But he was horrible! It was obvious from the first day that he did NOT have a spontaneous wit. Every joke he had was scripted. Every joke was forced. More importantly, every joke bombed. He was supposed to fill the show with the funny, but he had like three jokes scripted per game, and that was it. They would have been better served to hire me.

It was later that his politics also made me dislike him. But if he was funny, that wouldn’t have mattered.

Around 88 - 89 was when I really started to watch SNL so that’s “My SNL Era” and Miller was the best at the Weekend Update desk. He had the right attitude, the snark, and the smartness to carry that spot and he didn’t take himself too seriously (his mime character and having Dana Carvey [and Tom Hanks] sit in as him, for example). He went after both sides and he didn’t go easy on Dan Quayle or the Republicans.

Which is why I was surprised to see that he’s this outspoken Right Wing mouthpiece now. Where did this come from? I have no idea. I saw a little of his talk show but that was on when I was overseas so I mostly missed it. I saw him on Monday Night Football and I thought it was an interesting experiment that ultimately wouldn’t work. All of a sudden he’s on cable shows and being not funny.

Maybe the smartassery doesn’t last but I also think there was some kind of personality or politics shift that seemed, at least to me, out of nowhere.

Talk about a low bar. That one’s damn near subterranean.

Used to be moderately funny but not any more.

Yeah, this was probably the catalyst.

I thought he was fine in Weekend Update, and SiriusXM has his stand-up material (admittedly old stuff) in its rotation which is generally funny. when he tries to be a political wonk, I think he’s out of his element.

Good summation.

I used to read James Lileks’ writings constantly. His style matched mine. He could have been me.

Then 9/11 happened, and he turned into this scared conservative hiding under his bed. It was like a switch flipping. I still can’t be bothered to read him any more, so if he’s changed back I won’t know.

I really only remember him from SNL, and he was the first Weekend Update anchor I remember. For a while, he was the standard of how it should be done for me. So, yeah, I used to think he was funny. Those days, much like my 29-inch waist, have been left far in the past.

Even when he’s not yammering about politics or liberals, the few times I’ve heard him in the last five or so years, he sounds kind of like a sad has-been. His radio show (is it still on?) felt like 20% him making a joke, 20% him laughing at a joke he just made, 20% topical content and 40% reminiscing about the time he and some C-Tier celebrity did something no one else would care about back in 1994.

I remember him being funny on SNL but I was a lot younger then. Watching it now probably wouldn’t be a good test since news humor from 1988 probably doesn’t age well.

Another vote for his getting a lot less funny after 9/11. I think having kids took a few MPH off his fastball too, as IMHO they did for P.J. I’ve not listened to his radio show, and from what I’m reading here, it doesn’t sound like I’m missing much.

(Though P.J. can still troll with the best of them.)

I used to like him a lot in the SNL days and his HBO show was fun. When he went almost 100% political, he stopped being funny. The last couple of stand-up specials I saw were cringe inducing. I don’t think there’s any reason that a conservative can’t be funny (I think P.J. O’Rourke is pretty funny most of the time, for instance) but when it’s just a non-stop bash on the other party it ceases to be funny to me.

Same holds true for me with liberal comics, although most of those guys that I’ve seen are willing - even eager - to take shots at the stupid stuff that their side says and does. But while I like Bill Maher’s HBO show, for instance, I can’t stand to watch his stand-up anymore.

Yeah, he was funny.

Then, he just kind of became Republican for some reason. That doesn’t mean he can’t be funny, but it sucked the funnyness out of him for some reason.

Post 9/11, he’s just not as funny.

I haven’t heard the recent material that other in this thread have based their opinions of his current funniness on, but I loved him as the Weekend Update anchor on SNL, so I will at least answer the “was he ever funny to begin with” portion with a resounding “yes”.

I actually saw him in Vegas a couple of years ago, and he killed. When he`s doing straight standup, he’s still funny. Unfortunately, as a pundit he’s not as good. His humor is more forced trying to fit it into an ideological straight jacket.

But mostly, I think the problem is that he just has to fill too much air time. No comedian has enough material to go 2-3 hours per day, every day. So you have to be just a generally likeable person and quick on your feet. If you’re going to play the political pundit game, you have to have some deep background knowledge to be able to talk extemporaneously about it for hours at a time, and Miller doesn’t really have enough depth for that. So he tries to make jokes on the fly. He’s still a funny guy, so sometimes his jokes hit the mark, and sometimes they don’t.

He’s also a similar comedian to David Letterman and George Carlin in a way. All of them made their bones by being cynical young men with biting observations about the world. The thing is, that kind of shtick is a lot easier to tolerate in a 30-something comedian, but often comes across as just angry and bitter when they get old. Letterman and Carlin were both MUCH funnier when they were younger, and so was Miller.

The comedians that seem to keep it going with age are the more lighthearted ones. Guys like Rodney Dangerfield, Bob Newhart, Jerry Seinfeld (although he’s getting cranky with age)… Joan Rivers stayed funny as she aged, as she just aimed her humor at aging. Bob Newhart is a master of timing, and that never gets old.

But the angry young man shtick doesn’t translate well into angry old man. Jay Leno figured that out, and changed his whole routine as he got older. That’s why he had comedic staying power, although his comedy became more trivial and boring for me.

One other thing about Miller: His party trick is being able to conjure up obscure words and references and apply them in a funny way. But a little of that goes a long way, and when he does it for hours at a time, it gets repetitive. And many of his references are getting pretty dated, because he’s getting old.