“It’s good to be back in film fest land for the Salud Carbajal Retrospective,” cracked Santa Barbara resident and nationally known comedian Dennis Miller in opening the show, referring to his local county supervisor. Actually a funny joke if one knows Mr. Carbajal – a sometimes comedic, but shrewd politician – who is certainly not the artistic type. As it turns out this was the first and last local joke of the show. Still, it was fun to see a pro take on the local insider atmosphere.
The Bolder Fresher Tour, TV personality Bill O’Reilly’s intermittent but ongoing roll around the nation made a train stop February 25th in Miller’s hometown. The first show sold out so fast that an earlier afternoon session was added, making the Arlington Theater a very busy place. First up was Miller, introduced as the “fresher part of the Bolderer Fresher Tour.” Direct from the Salud bit, he launched into a rant about whom he loathes more, Nancy Pelosi or…Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Pelosi, of course, got the worse of it, as Miller wondered aloud whether she sleeps upside down with bats in the closet, though bats don’t have facial skin pulled as tight as G-7 force pressure.
Just what the doctor ordered for this crowd, made up of mostly silver haired folks from as far away as San Luis Obispo and Ventura. Hitting hard, fast and clever Miller delivered his unusual spin on a wide range of topics, including illegal immigration, the Pope, even Bruce Jenner and Mickey Rourke, before heading into deeper political terrain.
“Gay marriage and global warming don’t concern me. Obamacare does, because we should be helping the helpless but not the careless and not the clueless.”
Describing President Obama, he gave credit where credit is due: “He’s a good family man. He’s cool. He’s black, which I think is great! He’s also a killing machine overseas! He’s taken on pirates, taken out Bin Laden, and sprung girls kidnapped in North Korea.”
“What I don’t dig about the president is I’m tired of him apologizing. It’s a buzz kill when he apologizes to Hugo Chavez, or to the Islam world…please, I don’t like how they treat women or messed up Cat Stevens.”
It’s obvious from such statements that Miller is neither conservative nor liberal, Republican nor Democrat. Perhaps viewed skeptically by both the right and the left, this is exactly where he plants himself, as does O’Reilly, and it has been the key to their popularity.
Miller’s career is storied: Saturday Night Live, stand up comedy, a Jon Stewart type TV show, now his successful radio program and even a short stint as color commentator on Monday Night Football (he lasted longer than Rush Limbaugh). Miller’s wit and intelligence pulse at a higher level than most of us, which are his blessing and his curse. For fans, he’s a funny guy whose brain operates like a dictionary, phrasing things in a way that makes you think about even the most mundane topics differently. The curse is he’s not as plain spoken as, say a Jon Stewart, who might appeal to a broader audience; hence the demise of his TV show.
Still, he can take it down a notch to great effect, as when he told the story of dining with the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra, once many years ago…with his mother and … his children’s autograph-seeking nanny. There’s a slapstick quality in the guy’s soul: “We went to the Air and Space Museum in DC. Contrary to popular belief there’s a lot of stuff in there!”
After Miller’s fresh rants, it was a surprise that Bill O’Reilly’s patented boldness and bluntness didn’t show up. In fact, while pleasant enough it was a bit of a let down to hear him go on like Tom Brokaw for a half hour about the 2008(what?!) election. Who wants to hear uninteresting stories of John McCain, Sarah Palin and the early Barrack Obama? (“Obama can go on for 20 minutes about shoelaces.”) Or regurgitate what a politically savvy audience already knows about the current Republican primary morass of Romney, Cain, Perry, Paul, Romney again, Gingrich, Santorum, Romney, again…
While nobody expects O’Reilly to be as funny as Miller, the direct, outspoken and arrogant O’Reilly must have remained in New York, for he was as relaxed – and nice (gasp!) – as he’s ever been. Wintering in Santa Barbara does that to people.
But who wants nice from Bill O’Reilly?!? We want blunt! We want cut thru the chatter banter! We want somebody, you Bill, to get in the political talkies faces and call BS on the spin!!!
That didn’t happen at the Arlington. There was very little red meat for the crowd.
One cannot overestimate The O’Reilly Factor’s popularity exactly because of his “no spin zone” and talking points memos. His audience might lean right but there’s no way that over 3.5 million TV viewers are only tea baggers. In fact, at one point during the show O’Reilly challenged Obama to take on the oil companies for maximizing profits at the expense of Americans facing sticker shock at the pump. Not exactly something W would say.
He did have some funny moments, however, when talking about the time Mitt Romney took the wife and kids on a Chevy Chase-esque vacation and strapped the family dog to the station wagon rack for the journey (don’t worry, the dog wasn’t abused nor hurt). And, in closing his monologue he hit a high note, when talking about what Republicans really want in a candidate: “Take Gingrich and Romney to Germany to meet Dr. Frankenstein. Have him put Newt’s brain in Mitt’s body.”
When Miller and O’Reilly finally came out on stage, sitting on stools at a high-topped table, their different styles truly jelled as they do on The Factor. Though the time together was much too brief, the quick and less structured banter from these smart guys was enjoyable as they traveled well-worn topics such as water boarding (“if it’s between water boarding some terrorist or saving our troops what are we talking about here?”), a mosque near NY, NY’s 911 site to Ron Paul’s oversized suits to tree huggers and delta smelt.
As they capped the show it bears reminder that the Bill O’Reilly’s and Dennis Miller’s of today’s news talk arena are first and foremost entertainers, not journalists (at least not anymore in O’Reilly’s case). When viewed through that prism, it was an enjoyable enough show but hey guys, let’s get some bold-fresh-new material!