Tickets to see Dennis Miller and Bill O’Reilly were my brother-in-law’s idea of an inspired Christmas present, possibly but not definitely meant as a joke. As fate would have it, the pair brought their Bolder and Fresher Tour to (where else?) Washington’s Constitution Hall the night before the White House Correspondents Association dinner.
That makes two Americas crammed inside the Beltway on a single weekend.
The glitzy annual correspondents dinner is nicknamed the nerd prom in honor of the workaday journalists who are its ostensible reason for being, but who have grown increasingly irrelevant as Hollywood dominates the event. The Bolder and Fresher Tour is stand-up bromance for the take-back-our-country set. The audience is older, more suburban, less glam and—let’s just say it—far more conservative than most of the White House dinner guests.
Where the two groups intersect is their intense engagement in politics.
Bolder and Fresher is FoxWorld goes to Broadway—raw, risqué, and with more screaming than TV. That said, some of the topics were familiar. I have no idea what these guys will talk about once Nancy Pelosi retires. On second thought, she might endure as a punch line. They still talk about Barney Frank, and he did retire.
The evening started as you would expect. In the men’s room, one hand dryer was blowing out a powerful gust of air, the other just a trickle, and a guy in the hand-drying line thought he’d get a jump on the show. “A little wimpy, that dryer. Must be a Democrat,” he said to my (male) friend, who rushed to our seats to report the conversation.
That might have been the least politically incorrect thing said all evening. I lost count early on of the number of jokes insulting people and the way they look—men, women, Democrats, Republicans ... everyone. Miller is the master of the genre. Pelosi looks like she’s “perpetually witnessing the docking of the Hindenburg” and “is in more over her head than a gay dwarf hitting on Shaq.” James Carville looks like a “satanic Chihuahua under a strobe light” and also a Muppet who accidentally got washed on hot. Biden’s “maniacal glee face” recalls the Cleveland Indians logo.
To be fair, Miller also poked fun at his own spreading bald spot and budding man breasts. Yeah, sorry, I know. Too much information.
Who got booed? President Obama, of course. Also New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Not to mention “Obamacare”—which Miller compared to “a big sweaty encyclopedia salesman” the country accidentally let into the front room and will find tough to get back onto the porch. “My only hope is that Democrats will eventually do it in on their own when they find out to participate in it, you might need a photo ID,” he said, to a burst of knowing laughter and applause.
Believe it or not, judging by laughter volume, one of Miller’s funniest riffs is about Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman at the center of a tragic 1998 right-to-die case. His takeaway: “I no longer mumble around my wife. ‘You know honey, those waffles in the freezer are really old.’ ‘What’s that, you want me to have you put down if you get a cold?’ ‘I didn’t say that. I’m going to live forever. I just want some new Eggos. Read that back to me before you doze off.’ ”
So how does he feel about the right to die? Not clear. Same on religion. He raised the issue of his faith, then summed up his beliefs—vaguely—as, “Somebody created Charles Darwin.”
Miller did come right out and call himself socially liberal, and proved it in a segment on gay marriage. Here’s how he put it: In a world that is absolutely crazy, if human beings with similar genitals love each other enough to want to get married, “that is about 8 billion and 45th on my list of stuff I have time to worry about.” Applause (because it’s Washington, and moderates in metro areas are moving in that direction). “Right above global warming at 8 billion and 46th.” Wild applause (because let’s face it, you can rarely go wrong trashing global warming). And the conclusion: “You’re gay, you’re gay. What’s the big deal?”
O’Reilly started right off shouting (literally) at Obama for not tagging the Boston Marathon attacks “Islamic jihad” right after they occurred. “What kind of a message does this send when the commander in chief will not define the enemy?” he thundered. In his Objective Analyst mode, O’Reilly added that Obama can’t be blamed because he never sold himself as a bold leader. “He didn’t come on like Winston Churchill. That’s not who he pretended to be,” he said.
Which raises the question of how did Obama win reelection. Which leads to a staple of O’Reilly’s shtick since then: a critique of the 2012 GOP field. Ron Paul passed one bill, renaming a post office, in 22 years in Congress. Rick Perry had a problem getting beyond “howdy” and “looking sharp.” Rick Santorum talked about religion, and shouldn’t have. Newt Gingrich “put on eight pounds” every day of the campaign, and “the bigger he got, the testier he got.”
As for Mitt Romney, O’Reilly says he fumbled the Benghazi issue— his best opportunity to make points against Obama—in the foreign-policy debate. In O’Reilly’s view, he also fumbled “an amazing opportunity” and perhaps victory by turning down a full hour with him on Fox just before the election. O’Reilly made the offer and, even after speaking personally to Ann, never got a call back from the campaign. He didn’t take it personally, natch, just chalked it up to Romney being a wimp. “He was scared,” he said. “He thought he’d ride it out and win, and didn’t want the job enough.”
Really, he was kind of funny at times. Just not as often or as wildly as Miller.
Miller was fleeing town before the correspondents dinner, saying he didn’t want to have to “walk around and pretend Wolf Blitzer’s Pliny the Elder instead of an ineffectual U-boat commander.” Asked by an audience member why he was going to be there, O’Reilly replied, “Some things you have to do.”
The pair—O’Reilly in a regular suit and tie, Miller in his boots, jeans, white shirt, and black jacket—delivered all the celebrity this audience needed. “I’m proud you guys are both smart and cool. How do we create more people like you guys?” one person asked during the Q&A. The question spoke to the alternate realities on display back-to-back on one weekend in the capital. Everyone was laughing, which was nice. Just not at the same thing, which was business as usual.