Yes, Dennis Miller Did Come To Waukegan

Thursday I got home from work and grabbed The News Sun and brought it inside for a read. I note on the front page that Dennis Miller is coming to the Genesee Theater. “Awesome,” I think to myself, “he must be coming in a few weeks.” Then I read, no, he’s coming tomorrow. Now that’s publicity. Probably my favorite comic in the whole world, I even valet parked cars at the debut of his first syndicated show in 1992 while at college, and I have no clue he’s coming to Waukegan of all places. Advice to the folks at the The Genesee Theater (SMG World), take a good look at your marketing strategy because I don’t think it’s working very well.

Anyway, I go to a place who’s marketing strategy is working very well, TicketsNow (based right in Crystal Lake I might add) and see if they have some tickets. Sure enough they do and not only that but they have front row at $45 a piece which is less than face value. “Must be a scam,” I say and I call them up. Well, it turns out the broker who owns those tickets is in Arizona and unless he sells them and gets them to FedEx in an hour or so of my call he’s going to be out of luck. So yes, that’s the price, $45. I buy them immediately.

So I call my good friend and collaborator Heather and she agrees it sounds like a good time and will go with me. We got there pretty early and this was my first time at the Genesee ever and I haven’t been in that area of Waukegan in many years since I performed with Fairfield Roadkill at the late Café Kismet. Oh, and word to the Kismet owner who still owns Horsefeathers down there, that business might actually work now with the Genesee there! That area of Waukegan has really turned around, I must say.

Anyway we were some of the first to arrive so we got some $5 beers and sat and talked for a while as a large crowd of almost entirely white folks works their way in (aside from my friend Heather I saw one other black person). It got me to thinking about how racially entrenched we seem to be in entertainment. After all, I was coming to see Dennis Miller a guy who’s been on SNL and MNF and I thought would attract a wide swath of backgrounds with his highbrow humor (MNF had set up a portion of their website where a academic would explain some of Dennis’ often obscure references.) but it was clear to me his fan base, at least those who heard about this show, were decidedly white middle and upper class. I think you have to have a certain amount of intellectual acumen to “get” Dennis but that’s not something that knows race or class so I guess I was a little disappointed more folks if diverse backgrounds didn’t like my favorite comic. Of course I could be reading too much into this.

We go to take our seats and we present our tickets to the first usher and she says “Oh wow, I don’t even know where these are,” and she shows us to an usher closer to the front. She takes us all the way to the front row which is in the “pit” section of about three rows of regular padded chairs. She points to the row and says “they’re down a bit I think”. We work our way closer to the center and find seats 102 and 104 and we should have figured it out but those seats are dead center and the mic stand is about five feet directly in front of us. “Oh my god, you the man with these tickets,” Heather says as she sits down. We look around some but its hard to see the theater because we are so far in front but the restoration looks beautiful and the place is lovely.

We talk to some of our neighbors and I brag about how I paid less than face for my tickets. We find out some of the folks around us had won their tickets on Jonathan Brandmeier’s show on WLUP-FM. “Well that could explain the abundance of middle-aged white people,” I think to myself. I never have cared for “Johnny B.” that much to be honest, I think his show has just become way too slick and scripted over the years, almost the antithesis of Howard Stern. Sure, Howard scripts but there’s was always a good amount of improv I always thought when I was a regular listener. To be honest I abandoned morning several years ago for my iPod.

The show starts about on time with an opening act that I had no idea of. Apparently Brandmeier had a contest for someone to warm up for Dennis and this skinny kid with a high pitched voice I only remember as “Buds”, his last name, takes the stage. His material was pretty dang good, actually I was amazed someone who won a radio contest did so well to be honest. He went for about 15 minutes and he handled it very well for something that probably would have made most amateurs nervous as hell.

Dennis takes the stage about 10 minutes later in a white shirt (no tie), black suit, and a pair of gym shoes that I swear are Nike slip-on types. He wears his glasses for the whole set now and has a scribbled outline of his set on the bar stool. He’s shorter than I’m expecting and when you sit that close you see someone as human, a guy you would see in the bar next to you, not larger than life like he is on TV.

He starts the set out with some new material the first joke about being to the Air & Space Museum in Washington DC and saying “despite the misleading name, no, it’s not empty.” The crowd gets it immediately and he gets a big laugh and he would have many throughout the night. Clearly most of the people there were well educated fans as he got great applause throughout the night using a lot of material that the average person (i.e. Leno’s “man on the street”) who would have no clue whatsoever what he was talking about.

A lot of the material is stuff that Dennis has been using over the past couple of years and that disappoints me a bit. Some of his jokes from his bit on airline travel, global warming, etc. It was good material and many laughed but I had heard some of it before in his 2003 HBO special I believe let alone his 2005 one. But, with a recently canceled TV show and the different dates he’s doing he will need some time to work on some new stuff.

The best part of the show, by far, was his encore. In fact he totally killed me and I’m pretty sure he was looking right at me when he delivered his line that made me laugh and cracked himself up as well. He starts to leave after his first set and gets about 3/4 off the stage and then turns back around and says “see, I guarantee my encore by not leaving!” It totally killed me. In his encore he starts by saying he talked to Bill Maher about what he does in his stand-up now and he states that Maher told him he takes questions which Dennis proceeded to do.

Dennis took a few questions then the first being about MNF I think and he told several very funny “behind the scenes” stories. Then someone asked about SNL and he told a few more including a very touching but funny story about Phil Hartman’s funeral and walking Times Square with William Shatner.

Next someone asked about going back to HBO and he said “no man, let’s face it, I’m probably done there.” He took a posture that seemed very serious and sincere and went on to talk about his views on the war aren’t very popular and that is likely going to cost him work. Then he talked about the president some more and about politics. He ended by talking about how acrimonious things have gotten and while you may not agree with someone we’re all Americans and we should be sticking together and working out differences instead of picking each other apart. I’m pretty sure I led the crowd with my applause on that one as he left the stage.

A brilliant and funny guy I enjoyed myself thoroughly and he is certainly a detour from the standard stand-up fare of sex, drugs and everyday life.