A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Generally human nature is that you don't want to be angry all the time, or depressed. In a way, that's on our side. That's the only power we have -- the power to mock them, which means you're taking the power back. You're not letting them make you afraid and depressed. A lot of people say it's the only way you can deal with what's happened to this country over the last however-many-years that Bush has been in, because it is depressing, and it is horrible.
-- Stephanie Miller, Jones Radio Network, 9 am - 12 pm ET
* * *
This week, we are adding Stephanie Miller to the list. Stephanie is based in Los Angeles -- and her background in stand-up comedy heavily influences her show. As we were preparing this introduction, we came across this delightful You-Tube recording of when Randi Rhodes called into Stephanie's show. One thing you quickly note is that progressive talk show hosts have something right wing radio personalities rarely exhibit: a sense of humor.
As we noted, we are presenting these interviews to promote progressive radio to BuzzFlash readers, as sort of an appetizer tray. We very much want progressive talk show hosts to expand their markets and become more commercially viable. You can help by listening to them.
We interviewed Stephanie shortly after her three-day stint on MSNBC, during Imus's former time slot. Miller is a rising star, just on the heels of Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes and Ed Schultz for the top tier of listenership for progressive talk show hosts. (It should be noted that Hartmann, Miller or Schultz can lay claim to being number one, depending upon what criteria are used to determine the ratings.)
Our next progressive talk radio interview will be with a favorite of many BuzzFlash readers, Mike Malloy. It will be posted in about three weeks.
* * *
BuzzFlash: Where can readers find you in their home markets or on the Internet?
Stephanie Miller: You can listen on my website, StephanieMiller.com. There's also a station locator there, so you can find out if I'm on a station near you. You also can listen on Sirius satellite, or, you can buy the stephcast for only $4.95 a month, if you buy a year in advance.
BuzzFlash: Usually, on your show, there would be a chime after that promotion.
Stephanie Miller: Bling!
BuzzFlash: Who does all those sound effects on your show?
Stephanie Miller: We are sort of a wall of sound, aren't we? We were produced by Phil Spector before he started killing people, eventually. I have a sound-effects machine and so does my producer, Chris Lavoie. He does a lot of it, and then I do some of my own.
BuzzFlash: It's so smooth and fluid. Within a millisecond of appropriate commentary, there's a sound effect on that relates to it. How long have you been working together?
Stephanie Miller: Jim Ward, Chris Lavoie and I worked together on my last show on ABC Radio Network, and we've been friends ever since then. We kind of share a brain. We've all been friends, like ten years, going back to ABC Radio Network.
I think a lot of these morning shows just throw people together. And I've certainly had that happen to me, too. But you really can't buy chemistry. Either you have it or you don't. I think part of that does come from just knowing each other, and being friends. Some days, I can't believe I get paid for this. I'm just hanging out with my two best friends, you know, laughing myself silly over something ridiculous.
BuzzFlash: You do seem to heartily enjoy your program.
Stephanie Miller: I think I enjoy it much more than most people do, which is probably not professionally ideal, but it works for me.
BuzzFlash: What do you enjoy about it?
Stephanie Miller: Well, Jim probably says something at least once a morning that makes me fall out of my chair. You know, most of it is ad libbed, so I don't really know what he's going to say, and I don't really know what's going to be in his bits. I bring in the stories, but he chooses ones he wants to do, or writes them. Sometimes I'll give him ideas, or a line or two, but essentially, I don't know what he is going to say. His mind, if you listen -- it's fairly psychotic. It's hilarious.
BuzzFlash: How would you describe the style of your program?
Stephanie Miller: I've always felt like we have to do a comedy show first. It just happens to be hosted by a progressive.
You know, I did my show successfully on right-wing stations, and so did Randi Rhodes, and so did Ed Schultz. But none of us could get syndicated, because there weren't enough stations to be on. Obviously only a very few right-wing stations would put a liberal on. But the ones that did, we did really well.
I had the number-one show on KABC here in Los Angeles before I was on a progressive station. Anyway, my point is, what's happened is it's kind of ghettoized radio in a way. Now it's like, oh, you belong there, and the right-wingers belong here. That's the thing that's a little frustrating right now. Progressive talk had about sixty stations; conservatives were on six hundred. Clearly, we'd all like to expand. You don't have to have all conservative, all liberal. Last time I checked, we're a pretty divided country, you know?
Anyway, I just look at it as entertainment. If you're really just there to do your side's talking points, what's entertaining about that?
BuzzFlash: What is your background? I know you went to USC and were trained in acting.
Stephanie Miller: Yes.
BuzzFlash: What got you into the comic arena? And can you explain your stint with a Disney late-night talk show?
Stephanie Miller: The disastrous Stephanie Miller late night show. Let's see -- where do we start? Well, I wanted to be Carol Burnett growing up -- that's what I thought I was going to do. And then, you know, life is what happens when you're making other plans. I went to USC -- got my degree in theater -- which, as you know, qualifies me to work in any 7-11 in the country.
I just fell into radio by accident out of college. Like any other kid with a degree in theater, I started doing voices and comedy bits on a friend's show back in Buffalo, my hometown. One thing led to another, and then I've obviously done a bunch of different types of TV shows. The late night show came from my first radio show here on KFI. The late-night TV show ran for thirteen weeks.
BuzzFlash: Well, you didn't have an armpit problem.
Stephanie Miller: No, I just had a booking problem, being as I was completely unknown. I was up against Leno and Letterman, of course. And I'd look at them. It'd be like, oh, Letterman has Jim Carrey, and I'd have Roxanne the hog caller.
BuzzFlash: We should explain, for those who didn't see you recently on MSNBC or hear you on your radio program when you returned to LA, that your first day on MSNBC after the Don Imus firing, you had a bit of a perspiration problem.
Stephanie Miller: I did. And I can't believe no one told me. People were calling MSNBC saying, is she having some sort of medical event? Should we call 911? No one told me until after the show was over.
BuzzFlash: Some of the creative people at MSNBC did a blow-up that made the sweat look like Lake Michigan.
Stephanie Miller: Yes, they lovingly Photo-Shopped it.
BuzzFlash: Radio is a very intimate sort of communication with the listener. You just have to have a voice that people can relate to and feel comfortable with.
Stephanie Miller: It's more of a theater of the mind. I'm kind of down on the whole radio-on-TV thing, and I frankly am not sure than MSNBC or anybody else is going to do it again. It's going to be tough, you know? You're going to offend somebody. And it's like everybody's out to play gotcha now. All the right-wing groups, I'm sure, would come after me.
But they just said: Hey, come do your radio show. It's not like we had time to plan how to make this work better on TV. And do you in fact ruin it by trying to make it work for TV? Do you ruin it for both, in a way? That's what I don't know.
It seemed like people were split. A lot of our fans loved it -- loved being able to look behind the curtain and see what it looked like. And then I think there's that other side that felt like they might not want to see the curtain pulled back, because it's the whole theater of the mind thing. It's so designed for radio that you really would have to rethink it if you were doing that for TV all the time, in terms of the sound effects and all that stuff -- it's so audio-only, you know?
BuzzFlash: When you were on MSNBC, you seemed to cut down on your bodily function jokes a bit.
Stephanie Miller: I dialed it back a notch. And who knows why can you get away with that more on the radio? I don't know. But you can. You can just get away with a lot more irreverence on the radio than on TV. Maybe with the visual element -- when you can see somebody -- it seems meaner, or crasser, or something.
BuzzFlash: You mention from time to time on your program that you are the daughter of a prominent Republican.
Stephanie Miller: William E. Miller, who ran with Barry Goldwater in '64. It's not mentioned in the new Newsweek article on the conservative families that have had liberal kids. They only talked to Eisenhowers and people like that.
BuzzFlash: When did you kind of have your conversion?
Stephanie Miller: People just assume, oh, it's a rebellion thing, or whatever. But my dad died when I was 21. I had just graduated from college, and I wasn't political at all. I was just a stand-up comic, a college kid.
I do remember Pat Buchanan's speech at the 1992 convention being kind of a turning point -- of going, God, what happened to my dad's party? That's really mean-spirited and exclusionary -- and I think they've just gotten more and more like that. Barry Goldwater, you know, in the Eighties, was pro-choice and pro-gay rights.
Stephanie Miller: Talk about the undue influence of the religious right on the Republican Party in the Eighties -- you know what I'm saying? I sort of speculate that Barry Goldwater and my dad would be like a lot of people in the party, just feeling like this is not my party anymore. This record-breaking deficit, getting involved in foreign entanglements. The government getting into people's private lives -- it's not anything they stood for. My contention is that this party's moved so far to the right, I think we're all kind of in the center now. I don't feel like I'm some crazy liberal.
BuzzFlash: One of the very interesting things about your show is the segments that you do every day. In some ways, your show reminds me of the old Steve Allen television program. He had segments. He had certain schticks, as he called them.
Stephanie Miller: Well, morning shows generally do. They're called benchmarks. They're kind of what people tune in for.
BuzzFlash: If I tune in at the second hour, there are certain segments I'm going to hear.
Stephanie Miller: Right. Stand Up News is always in the second hour. Tinsel Talk is always in the third hour. And Right Wing World is always in the first hour. On my website, we post all the features after the show for free, so you can always catch those. You can also subscribe to the podcast.
BuzzFlash: What's your approach to handling callers? You've got a screener there so you kind of know what type of call is coming up.
Stephanie Miller: I just say, take me to the top of the line. Generally much more entertaining.
BuzzFlash: There's a certain way to close off a call, and different people have different ways to do this on radio. Some callers are hostile.
Stephanie Miller: Right. I don't talk to right-wing callers all day long. But I think that you have to have some. It's more entertaining. You wouldn't want people kissing your ass all morning -- just sort of preaching to the choir. I think those right-wingers handled well can be some of the funniest calls.
BuzzFlash: Many people are too talkative when they call, even if they're supportive. A guy called you who I think was proposing to you or something. He was serenading you from Washington, D.C.
Stephanie Miller: Right, right.
BuzzFlash: There's a point where you've got to go on with the show.
Stephanie Miller: Sometimes it's so funny, I swear, because some callers have learned how not to breathe. You don't want to sound rude, and just hang up on them in the middle of a sentence. But sometimes you just have to. You hit the dump button when you know they're at last taking a breath. People do get their talk-show techniques down.
BuzzFlash: What are you thinking -- okay, how do I end this call? Or how do I end this gracefully?
Stephanie Miller: You always have to play it by ear. Generally, you don't want to let any caller go on too long, unless you're getting into a good discussion, or it's really funny. You just have to kind of feel it -- and I've been doing it for twenty years.
BuzzFlash: With your background as a stand-up comic and on-air host for so many years, you see things through a comic lens. How do you prepare for the show so that that comes out? I listen to you, and I'm not ending up getting angry or downbeat or anything. You find the humorous side of what is remarkably often dangerous to our country.
Stephanie Miller: I actually got my first negative e-mail about that the other day. They said this country is going to hell and you're making it funny, and you have to stop. But it's just got to be entertainment. Generally human nature is that you don't want to be angry all the time, or depressed. In a way, that's on our side. That's the only power we have -- the power to mock them, which means you're taking the power back. You're not letting them make you afraid and depressed.
A lot of people say it's the only way you can deal with what's happened to this country over the last however-many-years that Bush has been in, because it is depressing, and it is horrible. Again that's my job, to entertain. The other thing is, people will learn something. If you can make them laugh, they don't realize they're learning something. And the people that we want to convert are people on the other side.
BuzzFlash: You have something like a Bill O'Reilly watch almost daily.
Stephanie Miller: Right Wing World.
BuzzFlash: If you had him in your studio, would you tell him to shut up?
Stephanie Miller: Let me just tell you the chances of him ever being in my studio -- probably slim to none.
BuzzFlash: I'd have to say on any given day, you just eviscerate him.
Stephanie Miller: How can you not? It's just such a long, slow spiral into madness. It's so entertaining -- it really is. People are like: Oh, you guys want to shut Fox News down. Are you kidding? What would I do without Fox News and the right-wing circus freak show?
BuzzFlash: Well, Stephanie, best of luck. Great program. We enjoy listening to you.
Stephanie Miller: Thank you, Mark. Great website.
Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.
* * *
On Radio, More Laughter From the Left (Howard Kurtz)
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW