You couldn’t have blamed Dennis Miller if he had gloated.
And the comedian did a little of that in his performance at Bass Hall on Thursday — such as when he recalled his post-election enjoyment of seeing a “roomful of visionaries who didn’t see it coming.”
But, on the whole, his 80-minute set was not as political and I-told-you-so as it might have been. After all, Miller was conservative before conservative was cool.
There were just a few mentions of Donald Trump, including a couple of slight criticisms. And President Obama was largely spared, with Miller going so far as to say he did not hate the man, rather he just found him to be “an inept civil servant.” Castro and global warming fared much worse in the routine.
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There were plenty of digs at the left, such as when Miller likened liberalism to a nude beach. “It sounds like a good idea until you go there,” he said, drawing cheers from the audience.
But a lot of his material dealt with more mundane topics, including such stand-up comedy standbys as air travel and erectile dysfunction medications. He made fun of himself in some bits about his modest weight gain, which does not appear to be as great as he made it out to be. And he took shots at tattoos, piercings, tweeting, selfies and about every product made by Apple.
Sprinkled through the barbs and wry observations were numerous pop-culture references. There are not many comedians who could use the actor Keir Dullea to put icing on the cake of a joke, but Miller did.
While the material was effective enough, Miller’s presentation was a bit unusual. He stood behind a podium, and frequently referred to notes he had spread there. He explained that he had done that because so much had happened lately that he had to write it down. But he also later made mention of not having been on stage much lately, and seemed to be test-flying some of his jokes. That was made obvious when he remarked after one failed gag (one of the few), “That one will not see the light of the next show.”
So there was not a steady flow to his routine. Instead, he took up a topic and played it out, looked at his notes, and went on to something else that may or may not have been connected to what came before.
But rarely was there much meanness to Miller’s commentaries on American life and politics, which were seasoned with just a few four-lettered words. About as low as he went was when he noted that Hillary Clinton had been cheated on “more times than a blind woman playing Scrabble with Gypsies.”
There were hardly any of the 63-year-old comedian’s signature rants in the mix. The only time he really took off was when he cut loose on Nancy Pelosi near the very end of his set. Let’s just say that the California congresswoman and Miller are not likely to “friend” one another on Facebook anytime soon.
Miller, who first snarked into the public spotlight as a Saturday Night Live regular in the 1980s, even reminded the audience that, while he is a political conservative, he is socially liberal on some issues. He cited his complete indifference to the subject of gay marriage as evidence of that.
So some patrons may have wanted more-partisan vitriol. But Miller seemed to be as concerned with being funny as he did with being topical and biting, and he succeeded.