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Dennis Miller

DENNIS MILLER concludes his famous acid-tongued rants with the same disclaimer every time: "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong." And he means what he says: an avowed conservative libertarian, he fervently believes in every person's right to believe what they want to believe. His harsher critics, however, have nonetheless indicted the razor-witted comedian for being condescending, arrogant, self-indulgent, proselytizing, and worse. One thing is for certain: Miller, a gifted social and political satirist (Playboy dubbed him "a social Darwinist with a funny bone"), doesn't believe in pandering to any crowd. In his own defense, he'll say that he's just trying his damnedest every Friday night to stiffen up the sagging backbone of comedy.

A native son of Pennsylvania, Miller and his younger brother, Jimmy (now Jim Carrey's manager), were raised primarily by their dietitian mother (their father moved on from the family scene early in the game and died when the boys were still quite young). Inspired by Robert Redford's performance in the landmark investigative-reporter biopic All the President's Men, Miller completed a degree in journalism at Pittsburgh's Point Park College. When he discovered that he couldn't pull off the rumpled-suit look quite as convincingly as Redford, and that reporters are paid by the . . . uh . . . inch, he abandoned the occupation before even getting started. He knocked about in several different jobs--working in a dairy and in a grocery store, selling storm windows, driving a delivery truck--before stumbling upon his true calling. After witnessing a truly horrible comedian struggle through his boorish act at a local comedy club, Miller convinced the owner to let him take the mike on slow nights. From then on, there was no looking back. Miller expanded his touring radius to include well-known clubs in New York and L.A. In 1980, he parlayed his growing reputation into a job writing and producing humorous segments for a Pittsburgh program called PM Magazine, and into a hosting gig (the first of many to come) on a teen-slanted weekend show called Punchline.

In the mid-eighties, Miller was bumped up to the major leagues of comedy when he was "discovered" by Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who caught the comedian's act at The Comedy Store in L.A. one night, and subsequently invited him to join the cast. Following the well-worn path blazed by Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and Jane Curtin, Miller stepped in as anchorman for S.N.L.'s popular "Weekend Update" sketch, which provided a perfect showcase for his libertarian soapboxing. He delivered the news of the week with acerbic fury, and by the end of his report, after he had signed off with a trademark pen flourish across his copy and an "I am outta here," viewers didn't feel quite the same about being American.

After six successful seasons on the show, several Miller Lite commercials, and a number of awards-show emceeing gigs, Miller broke from Saturday Night Live to launch his own late-night talk show, The Dennis Miller Show, which boasted "the smartest monologue on television." A galvanizing addition to the staid smorgasbord of late-night programming, the show debuted in January 1992 to a fair share of critical approval, but, it fell prey to low ratings (and, to hear Miller tell it, some rather underhanded tactics by late-shift competitor Jay Leno), and was euthanized within six months.

Miller packed up the family and fled L.A.'s rat race to take up residence in Santa Barbara, where he set about expanding his stand-up career. He didn't have to scramble for long: within thirteen months of his show's cancellation, he had re-entered the ring, rabbit-punching more furiously than ever, with HBO's Dennis Miller Live, and won his first Emmy for the effort (he has since received a second). Now in its fifth season, Dennis Miller Live offers a solid format that includes an introductory socio-political "rant" courtesy of a sneering Miller, a tête-à-tête with the guest du jour followed by viewer phone-in participation, and a closing roast à la "Weekend Update" of the news events of the previous week. Miller's eviscerating topical harangues are notorious for their biting cynicism, intelligence (he takes his vocabulary-building word-of-the-day calendar very seriously), and liberal peppering of cultural esoterica. His tirades became so popular, in fact, that he published them in the book Dennis Miller: The Rants, in 1996. Each of his inspired diatribes is "brief enough to read during one visit to the bathroom," according to the author--now that's quite a recommendation.

In addition to drop-in parts in a handful of forgettable films (Madhouse, The Quest, Broken Highway), Miller has landed memorable, if minuscule, roles in two major features: in 1994's Disclosure, he played Michael Douglas's techno-geek co-worker, and in 1995's The Net, he was Sandra Bullock's ex-boyfriend. His first lead role came in 1996's Tales From the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood, in which Miller essayed a detective who investigates a brothel operated by vampiristic prostitutes, and then kills off the vixens with a Super Soaker filled with holy-water ammo. As a general rule, Miller doesn't give a rat's hindquarters for filmmaking (now, that is refreshing for an S.N.L. alum), and suspects that he got this particular part because one of the Baldwin brothers flaked. His aversion to acting aside, he had a substantial role in the Wesley Snipes flick Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania, in which he played sniveling cop to Snipes' supercop. But Miller cares deeply about two things: his noble profession as a comedian and his family. In fact, he is such a family man that he named his company Happy Family Productions. Miller married Irish-born Ali Espley, a former model, in 1988, and the couple has two sons, Holden and Marlon. Once asked to complete the sentence, "Being powerful in Hollywood means . . . ," the perennially vitriolic comic replied: "Absolutely nothing. What means something is having a wife and kids, and if you can keep that together, that really means something." Of course, that's just his opinion. He could be wrong.

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