Comedian and progressive radio host Stephanie Miller is a glass-half-full kinda gal. Heck, make that glass-fully-full.
Miller, comic purveyor of anti-conservative jabs and the occasional fart joke, is a positive thinker. The proud liberal daughter of Republican Barry Goldwater's running mate, William Miller, in the 1964 presidential campaign has been "Walking on Sunshine" (as her current theme song goes) ever since Barack Obama was elected in 2008.
As far as she's concerned, there's a progressive awakening happening in this country, and the midterm Republican re-takeover of 2010 has done little to cloud her sunny day.
"It's not just me," she says. "It's a movement, or something."
The star of the funny, irreverent Stephanie Miller Show, which airs 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday on WCHL-AM 1360, is bringing her Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour to the Durham Performing Arts Center on June 4. Judging by clips on YouTube, it's basically a more profane version of her radio show, with rants, jokes and skits. The live show features Miller and her morning-show regulars Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang.
According to Miller, early reports about DPAC ticket sales were encouraging.
"We were outselling Al Pacino," she says, laughing, in a recent telephone interview. Hoo-ah!
Miller remains a staunch supporter of Obama, often pushing back against her own morning crewmen Jim Ward (aka "The Voice Deity," a master impressionist and brilliant comedian) and producer Chris "Boy Toy" Lavoie whenever Obama-bashing from the left commences.
"Maybe I wouldn't reflexively defend him so much if I didn't feel—he just takes so much shit," Miller says. "He really inherited, to me, the biggest flaming bag of political dog poo of any president in our history, just about."
Miller, a radio and TV veteran whose current radio show was launched in 2004, made the big decision to come out as a lesbian on the air last year. She says she understands that civil rights is a "long march" and gives Obama some credit on gay rights issues, despite progressive grumbling on that point.
"Look how much he's done—it's unprecedented," she says, pointing to how the U.S. has moved forward on "don't ask, don't tell" and DOMA.
The former host of Oxygen's I've Got a Secret came to political awareness gradually, by her own account (she says her original career aspiration was "to be Carol Burnett"), even though she grew up in a political family (some of whom, including her beloved "Republican mom," reside in the Charlotte area).
Now that she's a fierce progressive champion, her radio show consists mainly of boffo jokes, morning-jock sound effects, listener calls, interviews with celebrities and pols, and a Fox News recap-heavy segment called "Right Wing World."
It came out of the gate with No. 1 ratings at KABC and KFI in Los Angeles. It earned big numbers in other major markets as well. Her show now airs on 51 stations, and she does good business with her "Stephcast" subscriptions.
Over the years, her basic morning crew has been augmented by featured liberal celebs and pundits, such as actor/ comedian Aisha Tyler; hilarious Boston Globe Sunday Magazine writer Charlie Pierce; blogger Lee "The Rude Pundit" Papa; and of course, Sparks and Fugelsang.
Hal Sparks, probably best known for his role as Michael Novotny on Showtime's Queer as Folk, is also an accomplished heavy metal musician, a political geek and a really funny guy. He's become a fixture of Miller's show in recent years, often subbing for the star when she's away.
John Fugelsang's TV acting and hosting credits are numerous, and he was a frequent panelist on Bill Maher's old Politically Incorrect show on ABC. He appears on Miller's radio show regularly on Fridays.
"We've developed quite a little cast of characters, and that's kind of where the Sexy Liberal show came from," Miller says. They did the first stand-up show "as a joke," and it sold out in New York.
Then, at Fugelsang's suggestion, they took it to Madison, Wis., where labor and Democrats are in a fierce battle with union-busting Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his allies.
"Madison exploded," Miller says, referring to the audience response for that show, and she finds that particularly gratifying. To her, it proves that Republican overreach has strengthened the progressive movement; and it further validates a host whose show has drawn lots of listeners to WXXM-FM 92.1 in Madison.
On radio, Miller competes against nasally right-wing snarker Laura Ingraham in her time slot, where Ingraham has something like a 5-1 advantage in terms of national outlets.
It's not like Miller doesn't compete well with Ingraham in markets they share; it's just that she's often not allowed to compete. Thanks to corporate owners like Clear Channel, right wing dominates talk radio. Shows like Miller's are often relegated to low-wattage stations like WCHL, with little or no marketing budget.
"I really wish that wealthy Democrats would get the message and buy stations," Miller says. "You don't even have to buy them. Lease them."
We can only hope.