Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Is Bill Maher the new "old Dennis Miller?"

Now, as far as I'm aware, no one is interested in actually having another new (i.e., post-9/11) Dennis Miller. The world has humorless rightwing jab-meisters aplenty already, even if we don't count the ones on the Bush administration payroll.

But the old Dennis Miller, who hit his stride around the time of his "Mr. Miller Goes to Washington" HBO special (later released on CD as "The Off-White Album")--him, we could probably use.

In the meantime. this is obviously Maher's style, not Miller's:

I was up all night on Wikipedia doing an exhaustive study of former presidents, and while other presidents have sucked in their own individual ways, Bush is like a smorgasbord of suck. He combines the corruption of Warren G. Harding, the abuse of power of Richard Nixon and the warmongering of James K. Polk.

I mean, who would you rank lower than George W. Bush? Nixon got in trouble for illegally wiretapping Democratic headquarters; Bush is illegally wiretapping the entire country. Nixon opened up relations with the Chinese; Bush let them poison your dog. Herbert Hoover sat on his ass through four years of calamity, but he was an actual engineer. If someone told him about global warming, he would have understood it before the penguins caught on fire. Ulysses Grant was a miserable drunk, but at least he didn't trade booze for Jesus and embolden the snake handlers -- he did the honorable thing and stayed a miserable drunk. Grant let his cronies loot the republic, but he won his civil war.

For some inexplicable reason Republicans have taken to comparing Bush to Harry Truman -- a comparison that would make sense only if Harry Truman had A) started World War II and B) lost World War II. Harding sucked, but he once said, "I am not fit for this office and never should have been here." So at least he knew he sucked. He never walked offstage like Bush does after one of his embarrassing press conferences with a look on his face like, "Nailed it." Bush still acts like every failure is just a friend he hasn't met yet.

But it does remind me of the sort of thing that Miller used to be good at 20 years ago: Left-wing political satire as a fast, sustained volley of middle-brow, wish-you'd-paid-better- attention-in-college allusions, laced with snarky righteous anger and black humor, and leavened with a readiness to bite a deserving Democrat on the ass when they've got it coming, as opposed to sticking to jeering at the approved enemies list. And, of course, it's pretty funny--the thing most painfully missing from the new Miller.

Funny thing, too, because 9/11 hit both Maher and Miller hard, but in different ways: Maher lost his job at ABC because he wasn't sufficiently jingoistic and anti-Islamic, while Miller's career fell on hard times in part because he became plenty jingoistic and anti-Islamic.

Maher obviously bounced back; Miller, not so much.



Torrid said...

the sad part is that Maher at his rapier best is never as NYT-crossword-difficulty obscure, and thus never quite as smart and willing to free-form it. Bill does do some ad-libbing, but it's usually safe, or if ribald rather crudely so. Miller was willing to go on a limb for his references, moreso.

But today's Bill is better to have than none, in the loss of old Miller--you're spot on.

Nothstine said...

Good point.

It's true--Miller was always the smarter one, at least in that NYT-crossword way. In a world where Mick Jagger, graudate of London School of Economics, is worth far more from his investments than from his recording income, it's hard to predict where "smarts" can get you.

And Maher has always had a play-it-safe side--worse in the couple of years following his firing from ABC, but getting better. Miller was the better comedic actor; Miller was the better stand-up artist. But Maher got the talk-show groove, well enough that even when he got kicked out of it, he quickly made his way back.

The talk show format, and its extreme variant of Monday Night Football, never agreed with Miller. Remember the end of his first late-night talk show [hint: it involved a painfully self-conscious parody of the people being rescued off the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon in 1975]?

Maybe part of Miller's problem is that he only interacts well with others when he's *acting* like he's interacting well with others, whereas Maher does seem genuinely interested in the people he brings in. He stayed bemusedly civil to Ann Coulter long past the point where anyone else would speak to her.


Bpaul said...

I find Maher very flat. I agree with his politics in general, but I get the impression that without partisan politics he'd be dead in the water. It's like he's just reading the news and people are clapping. I find it really trite, unimaginative, and boring.

I wish he was as good as the old Miller. I want better... of course we have John Stewart and Colbert, which is always a comfort.

Nothstine said...

Hi, Bpaul--

You bring up an interesting question: Is Maher better to read [in transcript] than to listen to? Sometimes I think so.


Torrid said...

holy crap, I have to post this somewhere before I forget about it--someone brought up Colbert.

I saw him late last night on an episode of Law and Order. It was one of the spinoffs, Criminal Intent I think, and Colbert was the criminal! Woot! It's called the Saint, and he plays an expert forger who lives with his crazy ass mom who gives all his shit away to the religious thrift store.

Stephen Colbert and Vincent D'Onofrio. Yay!

(He's awesome. Just brilliant, btw)