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Dennis Miller wows Moontower crowd with politically-charged humor

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Dale Roe

Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 24, 2014

When’s the last time you were at a public event in Austin where Ayn Rand was cheered and Nancy Pelosi loudly booed?

Such was the crowd at the Dennis Miller headlining show Thursday at the Paramount Theatre, part of the 3rd Annual Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, where all 1,200 of the city’s conservatives seemed to be in attendance.

Comedy and oddity? For liberal Austin, Miller was both.

The former “Saturday Night Live” star and current syndicated radio host walked onstage to tumultuous applause, then reached up and lowered the microphone a yard or so from his opening act, Mac Blake (more about him later).

He lauded Blake’s act, describing him as “Vince Vaughn meets John Corbett.” Knowing Miller’s penchant for deep-cut historical and pop culture references, he could have been referring to John Corbett the 19th century English industrialist, John Corbett the turn of the century boxer, John Corbett the British Admiral, John Corbett the football coach or, most likely, John Corbett the actor.

It didn’t take long for the right-leaning comic (he says he’s conservative on some issues and liberal on others) to get political. Environmentalists bore the early brunt of his routine. He took on global warming; compact fluorescent bulbs (I’m not going to buy those curly-q lightbulbs where, if I drop one, I have to drag out the [expletive] E.T. tent to clean it up”); and Al Gore (“He has a bigger carbon footprint than Emmett Kelly with plantar fasciitis”) among other targets.

He dropped the politics for awhile, delivering great lines on the Spurs (“they hit more 3s than Bill Clinton when there were no 4s available”); the Air and Space Museum (“Not as empty as they make it sound”); and Bruce Jenner (“When did he become Mr. Dysdale’s secretary?”)

On seeing piles of jeans at CostCo with 46-inch waists and 32-inch inseams, Miller said, “I guess the Penguin’s going to a dude ranch.”

Miller did not disappoint with those aforementioned references, often stringing them together into lengthy and unwieldy descriptors that he delivered expertly. Here are some of the more memorable among them:

  • “Fitzcarraldo”
  • “The technicolor film classic ‘Boy on a Dolphin’”
  • “Ricola horns”
  • “Yogis on niacin drips”

He made other jokes that might play questionably to an Austin crowd, referring to tattoos and calling body piercers “Johnny Tacklebox.”

Before launching into a more vehement (but no less hilarious) rant on liberals, Miller briefly took his own party to task, comparing the current GOP leadership to “the town elders from ‘Footloose’” and — referring to John Boehner’s crying — calling him “Tammy Faye Boehner.”

In spite of good lines in which, for instance, he compared liberal political strategist James Carville to “a muppet accidentally washed on hot,” the final segment of Miller’s set pushed the envelope.

He referred to liberals as “mindless sycophants” who turn into “raccoons at your recycling bin at 3 a.m.” when confronted. Joe Biden, he said, is “shakier than a rescue dog at Phil Spector’s house.” And referring to a 2010 incident when the head of NASA said that President Obama told him to make “reaching out to the Muslim world” one of the space agency’s top priorities, Miller joked that “Muslims will want to go to the moon the day after the Jews move Jerusalem there.”

The fairly full house laughed gut-bustingly at every word, often cheering and breaking into spontaneous applause, giving the final third of Miller’s show almost more of a political rally feel than that of a stand-up show.

You’ve got to hand it to Miller: he has the courage of his convictions and — agree or disagree with him politically — the guy is an expert at crafting and telling jokes.

Mac Blake, the reigning Funniest Person in Austin, did a great job opening for Miller. It can’t easy trying to entertain a crowd that is clearly there to see somebody else, but you never would have known it from Blake’s hilarious and confident set. One of the best things about Moontower is the intermingling of locals and national names, and Blake did Austin proud.