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by M. Faust
The Sexy Liberal Tour
Saturday, November 19, 8PM
Shea's Performing Arts Center
Tickets: 847-0850 or Ticketmaster.com
Stephanie Miller brings her political comedy tour to her native Western New York
“We’re not sure if people are coming to see us or just to be able to get together with people that think like them,” says Stephanie Miller, whose nationally syndicated morning radio program has given birth to a touring comedy show. Dubbed the “Sexy Liberal Tour,” it has been selling out houses from Seattle to Chicago to Boston.
Not bad for a girl from Lockport who got her career start doing funny voices for Sandy Beach.
“On Hot 104 FM, as it was called then,” she recalls. “It was just a fun morning radio show. I was doing awful stuff like Katharine Hepburn in a traffic copter, Linda Blair with the weather. Back then I was working answering the phones at [the since-closed comedy club] Yuk-Yuk’s on Hertel Avenue, living across the street over the pizza parlor for $125 a month. My first real job where I got paid was in Lockport, WLVL. Then my first real real job was in Rochester as Sister Sleaze on the Brother Wease show.”
Her fans may affectionately refer to her as “Momma,” but Miller hasn’t entirely lost touch with her Sister Sleaze roots. Like her radio show, heard weekday mornings from 9am through noon on WWKB-AM, the Sexy Liberal Show isn’t as mindlessly raunchy as the Howard Stern model of radio, but it’s not necessarily something you’d take Grandma to. If you never understood the sniggering over the use of the phrase “teabaggers,” you will be educated as to its true meaning. And if you’re in a front row and have a cell phone to loan the host, you may come away with a very interesting souvenir.
But if the show is moderately sexy, it’s unequivocably liberal. Joined by John Fugelsang and Hal Sparks, both regular guests on her show, Miller uses humor to share outrage at the absurdities that pass as political talking points for the right-wing media outlets that dominate the national airwaves these days. It’s a show that a progressives a chance to laugh and feel good about themselves.
“It’s sexy to be liberal,” she says by phone from Los Angeles, home base for her radio show, “because you’re empathetic and open-minded. There’s no big right-wing sexy tour, is there? We say we’re the Redneck Comedy Tour for smart people with good taste in music. Or maybe the Blue-neck Comedy Tour.
“It’s part comedy show and part town hall meeting. We do Q&A with the audience, so it changes from show to show. We keep it topical and have some local stuff—obviously I’ll have some Buffalo stuff.”
Presumably Chris Collins will not be in the audience.
“If you followed the elections last Tuesday, there’s a real backlash to Republican overreach in a lot of places. And the Republican field of potential candidates is the best for comedy we’ve seen in a long time.”
“Sexy Liberal Tour” is a bit of a misnomer because Miller and crew aren’t actually out on the road: They do the show on weekends while maintaining a radio schedule of three hours a day, five days a week. Admitting to killer jetlag, she says, “I don’t think anyone else has ever done a full-time radio show and a tour at the same time, so if it kills me that will be the warning for everyone else not to try it.”
The show became as a one-time live appearance with Sparks and Fugelsang earlier this year in Manhattan that went over well. “Right at that time all the protests in Madison were starting, which we were in support of, and John just said on the air, ‘Hey, we should go do our sexy liberal show there.’ And we sold out the Barrymore Theater in a day or two. It started out as a fluke, but it’s just broken the million-dollar mark and we’re probably in line to be the number one selling comedy tour of the year with absolutely no advertising of any kind other than the radio show.
“There really aren’t a lot of progressive radio stations—they’re mostly conservative, I’m only on about 60 stations. So what does it say about the demand for this kind of thing when we’re selling out theaters in places where we’re not even on a terrestrial radio station?
“We joke about it calling it ‘the show the right wing doesn’t want you to see,’ but we’ve had our Twitter and Facebook accounts hacked, we’ve had our tour director bribed to stop booking it, people have hacked Google Maps to say the venue’s closed. It’s just hilarious. In Austin we had to find an alternate theater because the conservative board of the theater where we were originally going to appear wouldn’t allow it. Yet we still sold out Austin, even though no station there carries me.
“They’ve dropped progressive radio in some of these cities, claiming there’s no market for it. So how come we’re selling out these venues months in advance? So that’s part of the fight. Right-wing radio has been around for 30 years, progressive radio just a few years, often on low-watt stations, but this tour is proving that there’s clearly a big audience for it. I think we’ll be going back on the air in a lot of these cities, because you can’t argue with capitalism! There’s nothing that pisses the right wing off more than liberals succeeding at capitalism!”
When Miller and company bring their show to Shea’s Buffalo this weekend, we’ll be getting them over a lot of other cities that would like a piece of their limited availability. She’s coming not simply “because I’m from there and can visit old friends while I’m there,” but because social networking studies tell her producers that there has been a huge concentration of listeners in this area asking for it.
That said, “A lot of my school friends will be there at the show. They can’t believe that people will pay to hear the same jokes I’ve been telling for years.”
Miller comes from a political family, but not the kind you might expect. Her father, William E. Miller, was a seven-term Republican congressman who was Barry Goldwater’s running mate in the 1964 presidential election. After losing that, he retired from public office and brought his family, including youngest daughter Stephanie, back to Lockport, where he resumed his law practice.
Admitting that she didn’t develop a political consciousness until later in life—her initial goal was to be the next Carol Burnett—Miller says that the Republican Party her father belonged to is not the one that exists now. Even though Goldwater was considered an extreme right-winger when he ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1964, she says, “He’d be teabagged right out of the Republican Party nowadays. It’s been taken over by this mean-spirited, small-tent attitude.”
In the radio (and occasionally television—she puts the lie to the phrase “a face made for radio”) business where she has thrived since the 1980s, Miller’s political stance is a drawback. “People tell me that if I went back to my ‘right-wing roots,’ I could be on 300 more radio stations tomorrow morning. I know a lot of guys [on conservative radio] who are not necessarily that way but those are only kind of jobs that are available. The difference with me is that I actually believe what I say! It’s the sad state of talk radio, but we’re trying to change that.”
In these increasingly polarized times, does Miller have any advice for families with differing political opinions who will be facing off over the Thanksgiving table this week? She laughs and says, “Well, I recently met my girlfriend’s right-wing father, and I was nervous about that. But the thing we were able to bond over was that George W. Bush was a moron. So that’s always a starting point.”blog comments powered by Disqus
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