The comedic pundit Dennis Miller has racked up an impressive string of failures over the past two-and-a-half decades, from the six-month run of his eponymous talk show to his infamous stint as a commentator for Monday Night Football. Miller’s trademark routine of mumbling needlessly obscure references, a tradition he started on Saturday Night Live in 1985, is a poor method of commentary for just any topic, and yet his spirit — and the tatters of his career — remain unbroken. After the 2015 cancellation of his talk radio show left him with several years of nothing but the occasional guest appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, the 64-year-old has returned to broadcasting in the form of a new political podcast, The Dennis Miller Option, launched April 25 on the podcast network PodcastOne. The show’s description promises that Miller will provide his “no-holds-barred, uncensored take on current events, politics, pop culture, and anything else that's on his mind.”
I have listened to every episode, and it is so bad. First things first: the production value is very low. Most episodes are recorded remotely, with Miller’s longtime radio producer Christian Bladt running the boards at an unknown location while Miller calls in from his home in Santa Barbara. This means that Bladt’s voice is crystal clear while Miller’s is extremely fuzzy. As Miller is the one speaking 90 percent of the time, this makes for an unpleasant aural experience. When Bladt does chime in, it is usually only to provide a forced laugh or coach a confused Miller through any reference more recent than 1975. As a result, Option feels less like a podcast and more like an awkward, obligatory phone call between a young man and his elderly relative.
The content of The Dennis Miller Option exists in a strange purgatory between right-wing provocation and confused-grandpa doddering. Miller, who perhaps cannily became a Republican during the George W. Bush era, clearly wants to jump on the pro-Trump bandwagon as so many other washed-up celebrities have done before him, but he lacks the basic knowledge and passion to pull it off. Right-wing audiences want manic energy in their commentators; failing that, they’re willing to settle for someone who has a keen sense of which culture-war bugaboos hit the racist Boomer pleasure centers. Miller lacks both of these qualities. He encapsulated his ineptitude rather nicely when in the premiere episode he tried to quote Andrew Breitbart’s famous truism “politics is downstream from culture,” but mangled it horribly: “As the great Andrew Breitbart always said, that the culture war’s downstream — or the culture war’s downstream from the culture war.”
Progressives are shooting themselves in the foot more frequently than a centipede who quite frankly is "getting no relief whatsoever" from a topical application of a generic anti-fungal toenail cream. #DennisMillerOption— Dennis Miller (@DennisDMZ) June 2, 2018
Somehow, even after eight years on talk radio and numerous appearances on Fox News, Miller seems completely out of his element when talking about politics. The bulk of each show is dedicated to discussing that week’s news, and this typically means Miller reading a headline in real time (“What else is in the news...”), guessing the details of a story with help from Bladt, and then trailing off before he can craft a take. But when he does come up with a traditional right-wing opinion, as he did in the June 5 episode on Trump disinviting the Philadelphia Eagles from the traditional post-Superbowl White House visit, the results are catastrophic. On athletes’ distaste for Trump, he said: “It’s creepy how much they hate him. I think they probably hate him more than Acha — Achadimejad [sic] or, uh, any of our enemies,” referring to Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who left office in 2013. He mercilessly continued: “No blacks are gonna go [to the White House] anymore, because somehow they’ve convinced — I must have missed this, but how is Trump racist again?” Before he could get to the bottom of that, his voice started warbling. “Sorry, I just had a piece of peanut butter toast. I don’t even know if it’s a burp if it’s halfway lodged down my gullet like a Dreamsicle in a seagull. It’s stuck there.”
Naturally, the podcast is rich with Miller’s special brand of impenetrable mad-lib analogies. These — as the only thing differentiating Option from sitting across from your racist uncle while he reads the newspaper — are the main attraction, if only perversely so. On Democrats’ refusal to move on from the Russia scandal, he says: “CNN couldn’t be any more in the ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ business if they were Jackson Pollock testing a strand of pasta to see if it was al dente while he made his lunch on a hot plate in the spin art booth at the state fair.” The overlap between people familiar with Jackson Pollock and people actively seeking out new material from Dennis Miller has got to be in the single digits, and as one of those people, making sense of the joke has brought me no joy. Being able to understand a Dennis Miller analogy is like being able to recognize a brain tumor on your own CT scan — the sense of accomplishment only lasts a few seconds before the existential dread sets in.
Hmm...does anyone else think the NFL resembles a Stradivarius these days? #DennisMillerOption— Dennis Miller (@DennisDMZ) June 5, 2018
More often than not, Miller’s analogies make absolutely no sense. After bumping his microphone and momentarily silencing his audio in the latest episode, he says “Our thing’s fragile, it’s like Sylvia Plath in a rainstorm.” What? When discussing Trump’s ability to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump nicknamed “Mr. Magoo,” he refers to him as “I thought I saw a puddy tat Jeff Sessions,” which is the catchphrase of Tweety Bird, an entirely different character. When reacting to the news that Miss America will no longer have a swimsuit competition, he attempts to reference Scooby Doo: “Are you watching the Miss America pageant for the winner to be Shaggy’s girlfriend, or the studious girl?” Bladt explains that the Scooby Doo character he was thinking of was named Daphne. “Was Daphne Shaggy’s chick?” Bladt explains that Daphne was Fred’s girlfriend. “Was Fred Shaggy’s real name?” Even if he had been familiar with the show, it would have been absurd to reference a children’s cartoon from 1969 to convey the concept of “an attractive woman.” To do so without having seen the show defies explanation.
Miller brings incoherence to unseen heights near the end of the podcast’s seventh episode. Bladt mentions a “mailbag” of reader feedback, and this word sends Miller into a Proustian reverie. “Speaking of mailbag. Lana Turner. Postman. When she first steps into the room, Garfield ogles her.” Miller is referencing the 1946 film The Postman Always Rings Twice, which starred Lana Turner and John Garfield. “She’s hot, and uhh, Garfield perfectly receives her. You know what I mean? It’s a perfect degree between primal Piltdown Man, cave, limbic, lizard, aesthetic appraisal. You know, the whole thing.” Here, Miller is referencing a 1912 hoax in which an orangutan skull was attached to a human skeleton and passed off as a newly discovered species. It is unclear how this relates to the movie.
Somehow, Miller’s tangent keeps going. “Garfield, he died early. I think he died at 39. Is that possible? He was a bit of a young Bolshevik. I think a lot of those guys were, you know, trying to get laid at these meetings, right?” Miller then appears to hallucinate an assistant named Sean, whose name does not appear in any information about the podcast. “I’m on the radio, I look over, he’s got a PowerPoint presentation on Lana Turner’s areolas. He’s got a red laser pointer out, and overhead slide projector. I have not seen microfiche since I worked at a college work study job at the Social Security Administration in 1972. But yeah, Garfield ended up dying early.”
I take my earlier statement back. In chronicling the disintegration of his own mental faculties, Dennis Miller has created a postmodern spectacle like no other. By collapsing every pop-culture item he misremembers into one all-encompassing Reference, which somehow refers to everything and nothing at once, Miller has created the greatest podcast of all time.