by Dennis Miller
Published by Doubleday
224 pages, 1998
Buy it online
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
Literate and arcane, Dennis Miller's humor isn't for everyone. On the printed page, as on television and in movies, Miller is sophisticated and urbane. Where other comedians might use profanity almost as a punchline, Miller uses it like punctuation: carefully embedded for maximum effect. A lot of his humor plays in that way. Nor does he bother to play down to an audience or a reader. He regularly makes obscure references and uses ten dollar -- and even foreign -- words without stopping for breath. Dennis Miller is, in many ways, the thinking person's comedian and if the literate references bug you, you might as well get off the bus.
The sunshine boy he's not. We first got to see Dennis Miller as the anchor man of The Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. It was there he seemed to develop his trademark style: the rant honed to fine art. Howling at the moon in a well-cut jacket and questioning everything -- common and uncommon both -- in educated and modulated tones. Enter ranting.
Since then Miller has done lots of stand up comedy that includes four seasons hosting Dennis Miller Live on HBO. He's also made a string of fairly forgettable movies and written a couple of books.
Understand please, if you're not crazy about Dennis Miller on the screen or if you don't get his scathing, intellectual humor there's nothing much for you in print. Ranting Again is just like Miller's standup: but without pictures. And when I say, "Just like," that's entirely what I mean. While you read, it's easy to picture him up there on stage in that same well-cut jacket, ranting away about everything from the Internet to gun control. In print, Miller is no less urbane, no less scathing, no less of anything. In fact, he's entirely the same. Tediously so. Every chapter begins with his trademark, "Now I don't want to get off on a rant here..." and ends with his familiar, "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."
Beyond this trite open and closing of chapters, however, there's some awesomely funny stuff. Take this gem on hype:
Now, last year there was a celestial load of hype surrounding Mars. While I'm all for a certain amount of scientific exploration, this is way out of hand. Mars is. Is it really important to anybody except a bunch of Buzz Lightweight guys from the A.V. Squad? I mean, we didn't learn anything that's going to improve our lives in any way. We've spent billions of dollars so a robot could hump rocks that a bunch of geeks argued whether to call Snagglepuss or Secret Squirrel. I mean, what is the big deal? You know why it's the red planet? It was embarrassed by all the undeserved attention.
Classic Miller. Or this to Generation X:
You haven't developed the prerequisite thick hide of the cynical, callused bastard yet, and your future seems bleaker than Ingmar Bergman listening to an acoustic set performed by Leonard Cohen.
Add to the angst bouillabaisse the current prospects of a flatlining economy, an environment that's choking to death on its own shit, and a sexual atmosphere that's about as warm, safe, and inviting as a Zagreb bunker. Christ, if I were in my twenties now, I'd be bitching so hard, I'd make Beck sound like Tony Newley.
While Ranting Again is entirely funny stuff and will be eaten alive by his fans, I'm looking forward to a Dennis Miller book that doesn't sound as though it had been written to be performed. I enjoy Miller's humor immensely, and would love to see him stretch himself in literature where so much is possible. Ranting Again is filled with strong material and is quite worthy of the rantmeister, but it would be fun to see what he could do without the restrictions that the format he's chosen must place on him.
Of course, that's just my opinion. I could -- you know -- be mistaken. | September 12, 1998
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.