Entertainment » Celebrities

Talk Radio’s Stephanie Miller :: Out, sexy, liberal & at a theater near you

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Wednesday Jul 13, 2011

"I thought my mission in life is to tell fart jokes," quipped Stephanie Miller on her morning talk show earlier this week.

Fart jokes (and other examples of low humor) are integral to the success of her show, which airs three hours each morning on progressive radio stations around the country; but so is pointed (and funny) commentary on the issues of the day, which is one reason her show is one of the top-rated in the highly competitive Los Angeles market and why she received Talkers' Magazine "Judy Jarvis Memorial Award for Outstanding Contributions to Talk Radio by a Woman," also referred to as the "Woman of the Year" award in the talk radio industry.

Talking politics may be part of Miller's DNA: she is the daughter of William Miller, the New York congressman who had the distinction of being Barry Goldwater's running mate in 1964. Miller was three years old at the time of that election, which turned out to be one of the most lopsided Presidential defeats of the last century. (Goldwater/Miller carried six states for a total of 52 electoral votes.)

You might think that growing up in a Republican household, Miller would be a card-carrying member of the GOP. Instead she's an out and proud liberal - out as in being gay and proud as being one of the most outspoken liberal voices on the radio. When Obama won the election in 2008, she changed her show's theme from "We're Not Gonna Take It" to "Walking on Sunshine."

Part of what makes her show must-hear radio is her chemistry with her "mooks" -- impressionist Jim Ward and producer Chris Lavoie -- who join her every morning for the skewering of the political and pop culture scene. This week, for instance, Ward was quick to capture the queer cadence of Michelle Bachmann's husband Marcus's voice in his impersonation, as well as the voices of such politicos as John Boehner and Newt Gingrich and pop culture figures as Tom Brokaw and George Takei.

In addition joining Miller is a revolving team of co-hosts: actors Edie McClurg ("Mondays with McClurg") and Aisha Tyler ("Tuesdays with Tyler"); plus comedians Hal Sparks ("Hump Days with Hal") and John Fugelsang ("Fridays with Fugelsang").

This summer Miller has taken her show on the road with the Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour, which is making its way across the country. (It comes to Boston's Wilbur Theatre on Saturday, July 16, 2011.) Joining Miller on the tour is Sparks and Fugelsang for a mash-up of political humor, social commentary and (yes) fart jokes.

EDGE spoke to Miller this week about her success on the radio, her coming out and what audiences can expect to see on the Sexy Comedy Tour.

Getting up at insane o’clock

EDGE: Being based in LA, you have to get up pretty damn early to do a morning drive show. How do you do it?

Stephanie Miller: Like I always say, I get up at insane o’clock and go to bed at stupid o’clock. It’s amazing what you do for a pay check. I did morning drive a long time ago and said I’d never, never do this again. Then I was out of work for a few years and someone asked me to do it, and I said, ’what time do you want me there?’

It’s a tough schedule. The good news is that I’m old now, so I’m kind of like an elderly shut-in anyway, so I’m not a late night person anymore.

EDGE: And now you’re doing this tour on top of the morning show...

Stephanie Miller: I know. It’s a little crazy. I think someone said recently that no one had done a national drive radio show and a national comedy tour at the same time. I think I’m a science experiment and if it kills me people will know not to do it in the future. I’m a cautionary tale.

EDGE: Well, I saw on YouTube your demonstration with Hal Sparks of teabagging... Can we expect that in Boston?

Stephanie Miller: Well, I think we’re there to educate and provide a public service, and Hal helps me all the time with these important educational duties.

EDGE: One thing that stands out from listening to your show is how much fun you have.

Stephanie Miller: It’s true. I joke around, but really and truly I’m one of the luckiest persons in the world. I get paid to go tell fart jokes with my best friends every morning.

Story continues on following page.

Watch this clip of The Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour where Stephanie Miller and Hal Sparks demonstrate teabagging:

Pray the gay away?

EDGE: And the Republicans are giving you so much good material. I mean, isn’t Michelle Bachmann becoming the comedy gift that keeps giving?

Stephanie Miller: She’s comedy manna from heaven. Like I said to a caller this morning, it’s like a SNL skit if it wasn’t so sad and scary that she’s married to an obviously gay man who is doing Christian reparative therapy with government money on gay people when she’s anti-government. And what she’s doing is so incredibly dangerous and harmful. But that he’s such a huge comedy target that he’s so flamboyantly gay - it’s beyond my wildest dreams.

EDGE: His theory is to pray the gay away. Have you?

Stephanie Miller: laughs I have never tried to pray the gay away.

EDGE: Now you came out last year. Is it true that Chely Wright’s coming out was a big factor in you going public with being gay?

Stephanie Miller: Yes. I had been out to my friends and family and co-workers for years. I just didn’t talk about it on the radio. I’ve just been a private person, but Chely help me see that it made a difference - that it makes a difference to say I’m for that and I am that. I have been obviously outspoken for gay rights for years - it wasn’t like I was saying anything different. You know I am in a very male-oriented field. The ads for my show say, making men rise in the morning. And I have such great ratings with men. It’s not my choice to market myself that way, but that was part of my not coming out - the fear of being defined a certain way. But I think I hit my own tipping point - between ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and marriage equality, all the things we were talking about on the show. It was actually the day after Prop 8 was overturned out here, and I just said, I couldn’t authentically talk about these issues anymore without coming out. You finally go, this is just silly. It was hard to talk about these issues without addressing the whole truth. I never lied - I never made up a boyfriend or a husband. I just didn’t talk about my personal life, which is that I am an elderly, childless loser.

EDGE: You often joke about your mother on the show - that she’s a sweet senior Republican lady who liked George Bush. And your brother, who is also a conservative. What was it like coming out to your family?

Stephanie Miller: I always tell the story - I came out to my family about 15 years ago. I didn’t before that because I was afraid that they were going to judge me. They were Republicans and Catholics and all that. But they were all great when I came out. They were mad I didn’t tell them sooner. And I realized that I was judging them. They never really suspected because I was one of those people who was just career-oriented enough and had enough boyfriends that they didn’t really know. People assumed I was straight because I didn’t fit a stereotype. That’s why it’s important for those of us who can hide not to.

On Obama

EDGE: Now you work in an industry - talk radio - that is male-oriented and extremely right wing. Has it been difficult to get your footing in the industry?

Stephanie Miller: Everyone knows there’s a huge imbalance. Right-wing radio has been out there for 20-30 years. They have hundreds and hundreds of stations; we have maybe 60 in the whole country. There’s a huge imbalance. But we are fighting the battle every day and we are winning in a lot of markets, despite being on inferior signals and all that in a lot of places. We are scrapping it out. Our success differs from city to city, depending on the signal and the amount of promotion, but we doing well in a lot of cities. It just depends. I often say a lot of us are beating the right-wing shows in our time slots in a lot of markets throughout the country. Why aren’t we on 600 stations? If they were to put a great progressive line-up on all the best signals in all the best cities, trust me, we’d do great. And a lot of us - like me and Ed Schultz and Randy Rhodes - were on right-wing stations and got great ratings. Progressive radio has only been seven or eight years old. I was on KFI and KABC (two LA stations) - and I was the only liberal on the station and I got great ratings. So it’s frustrating.

And now they won’t put you on a radio station that isn’t progressive. Progressive radio was created to give us a place to be, but it has also fragmented radio. And for me, it’s not politics - it’s entertainment. Who cares if it’s left or right or whatever. And it gets ratings and sells stuff.

EDGE: George Bush was a great target for the mooks and you. Do you miss him?

Stephanie Miller: Oh, God, no. Like I say if you’re a good entertainer... when people said to me, ’Now what are you going to do without Bush?’ And I say, ’Oh, my God. Are you kidding me?’ The Republican field for 2012 is like the Insane Clown Posse. There’s Michelle Bachmann and her big gay husband - there are plenty of targets. If you’re a good radio personality and entertainer, that’s what you do. There’s a lot of crazy to go around that’s funny.

EDGE: And the pundits you speak to are terrific...

Stephanie Miller: We have some of the smartest and funniest people in the country on the show and to get their take every day is fun for me and I hope it’s fun for the audience.

EDGE: What can audiences expect from the Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour?

Stephanie Miller: It’s the radio show without the FCC. It will be filthy and funny. What has been amazing about it is that it is selling out in every city. In Boston I’ve heard that there are only some single seats remaining. We’ve had to add second shows in some cities. We have people going from city to city - we’ve got StephHeads - because it is different in every city. It’s always topical and local to some degree. We always gear our material to local stuff, it will be Massachusetts-related in this case. I’ll be doing some Billy Bulger jokes. I write a new thing every week. John does stand-up, Hal does stand-up, I do some stand-up; and then we do a panel with Q&A with the audience. It’s just a great show. Some people bring conservative friends and family and we get letters about how much fun it is. It’s not all politics, obviously - it’s a comedy show.

EDGE: Have you been happy with Obama’s presidency thus far?

Stephanie Miller: I know I get called an Obama apologist every day, but I don’t think I have anything to apologize for. He’s doing a tremendous job against tremendous obstructionism. And it just doesn’t matter what his accomplishments are, like getting Bin Laden, like we should have shot him in the other eye. Like what, really? It’s amazing. Any economist can tell you that he pulled us back from the brink of the next Depression. We are not where we need to be yet. He got health care done against enormous opposition.

I often said that my dad, who ran with Goldwater would not recognize today’s Republican party. This is not my father’s Republican party; it’s not Reagan’s Republican party; it’s not even George Bush’s Republican party anymore. They’ve gone so far to the right. Like this debt ceiling issue - it never was an issue before this. It’s never ever been held hostage before. It’s ridiculous. If you look at the polls, the American people agree with us. 70% don’t want Social Security and Medicare touched. They think rich people should pay their fair share to balance the budget. The Republicans are wrong on their priorities. They keep talking about jobs. But they’ve had these Bush tax cuts, where are the jobs? It’s the same arguments over and over again. Tax cuts for the rich. Gotta cut Social Security and Medicare. Got to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly. And it’s clear that any economist can tell you it’s been Bush policies that ran up these deficits in the first place. Tax cuts for the rich and the unnecessary wars.

EDGE: Do you think the Republicans obstructionist policies, especially this week on the debt ceiling issue, is going to hurt them in the Presidential election next year?

Stephanie Miller: I don’t see who can beat Obama from this field of Republicans. We’ll see how it all shakes out. First they have to end the fight between the Republican party and the Tea party. I mean Michelle Bachmann looks like she can win Iowa and there’s a great Matt Taibbi piece recently in Rolling Stone that she could win the nomination. I’m just, like, wow. She’s certifiably crazy. She started as a punch line and now, oh, my God. A punch line can win a primary in the Republican field this year.

Remaining dates for The Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour with Stephanie Miller, Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang, July 16, 2011, Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; August 6, 2011, The Lensic, Santa Fe, NM; August 20, 2011, Detroit Opera House, Detroit, MI; September 24, 2011, Ashville Civic Center, Ashville, NC; September 30 - October 1, 2011, The Moore Theatre, Seattle, WA; October 21 - 22, 2011, Wadsworth Theater, Los Angeles, CA; October 28 - 29, 2011, Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco, CA; November 11, 2011, The Long Center, Austin TX; November 19, 2011, Shea’s Performing Arts Center Place, Buffalo, NY.

For more information, visit The Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour website.

Watch Stephanie Miller talk about her coming out on The Ed Show, August 2010:

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].


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