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Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2004 / 14 Shevat 5764

Steve Young

Steve Young
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Consumer Reports

Has The Joker Become a Joke? Reviewers Ripping New Dennis Miller Effort A Bit Premature | Is Dennis Miller's new CNBC show a joke? That's what most every television reviewer who is not writing for Newsmax would have you believe. But if you truly know how a good joke is developed, then you know that, at best, the reviewers have been hasty.

Writing a good joke takes time. So does making a good show.

Dennis actually worked for me during the early days of stand-up. You know, when we were making jokes out of rocks. At the time, the one day more syllables than a mouth should be legally allowed to utter in one breath comic intellect used props. What would have happened if he would have continued on that path? Would President Bush warmed up to Carrot Top no matter how perspicacious? Point is, he was still finding his comic legs, um, mouth.

Same goes for his CNBC act. Miller is trying something new, so he says. And like any new and creative effort, it should be born out of chaos. You throw a lot of stuff against the wall and you keep what sticks. Of course, much of the, um, stuff, that's supposed to fall on the floor has ended up on the show. But I come not to bury Dennis's show. I come to bury Dennis. At least the Dennis who seems to have forgotten what made him a unique talent.

As I found in speaking to many notables from all fields for my book, "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success," mistakes and failures can be the stepping stones to success. In sports they call it practice. In science they call it research. In comedy they call it, amateur night at the Improv. 'Course at the Improv there aren't, a .4 rating looking on

For that reason alone, Miller has taken the first step. I mean the mistake steps. The show is a bit of all over the place. His decision to make the pre-premiere statement to give his pal, the President, "a pass," was, in the least, too early to make that kind of decision. Even non-liberal show hosts like Sean Hannity and O'Reilly make it clear to their audiences that if the President or his administration does something they disagree with they will not shy away from pointing it out. But not Miller.

Instead, Miller has chosen to refine the chaos long before the chaos had even begun. He hadn't hit the air and he already limited his opportunities. He's placed so many of the comic possibilities out of bounds. How tight must Miller's comic chops clench when he's lobbed soft balls that every other political humorist will hit out of the park and he has to remain on the bench?

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His buddy-buddy protection policy demeans the state of political satire, the location where Miller has been at his best. This past week alone, by his own choice, Miller cannot attack...

His pal's voluminous federal budget.

His buddy's new voluminous deficit

His friend's call for legislators to be careful with our money

His chum's new medicare plan miscalculation.

His new best friend's get together with David Kay

His crony's lack of job growth in his economic recovery.

In Miller's former non-partisan, scathing, whip the big boys into shape, offering proof that ALL the emperors wear no clothes, fun and farce, he would have ripped his friend a new multi- syllabic orifice.

Anyone who thinks that Miller's show is not a work in progress is not familiar with how television works or has never seen an inane network note (see the hysterical book "A Martian Wouldn't Say That " by Leonard Stern/Diane Robison). I've got to believe that Dennis won't be happy for long forced to work with half his brain tied behind his back That's for REAL political hacks, not those with a real sense of humor.

Perhaps Miller will rethink his hands-off-the-president decision. Perhaps that will be just part of the chaos and blunders that lead to a success. Perhaps once again, Dennis Miller will be funny.


JWR contributor Steve Young, Prism Award winner and Humanitas Prize nominee for his television writing, is film correspondent for BBC radio. He is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success," "The 130 Tales of Winchell Mink," Harper Collins (Winter, 2003) and the director/writer of "My Dinner With Ovitz." His website is Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Steve Young