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Stephanie Miller talks comedy, Republicans, and sexy liberals

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Talk-radio host and comedian Stephanie Miller took a long road to get back where she came from. A fast talker with a quick and cutting wit tempered by a positive outlook, the daughter of William Miller, the vice presidential nominee on Barry Goldwater's Republican ticket in 1964, began her career trying to emulate her idol, Carol Burnett. After graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in theater, her career as a standup comic and radio personality led her into talk radio, where, she says, politics was inevitable.

Before long, the daughter of the Vice Presidential candidate on the ticket that helped define Republican Party ideology throughout much of the '60s and '70s found herself moving further into the world of political commentary--of the leftist variety. Now she headlines the popular program The Stephanie Miller Show, broadcast locally on AM950 KTNF, a comedy-themed radio broadcast that touches on entertainment and pop-culture but largely focuses on social and political issues with a liberal bent. Though she is at least tangentially in the family business, Miller has thoroughly established her career and reputation apart from that of her prominent pop.

Miller's latest endeavor is the Sexy Liberal Tour, a series of live shows that features the acerbic host and two of her favorite recurring guests, actors/comedians Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang. Before rolling into town, Miller caught up with City Pages to talk about her start in standup, the errors of the modern-day Republican Party, and what conservatives would make of Ronald Reagan today.

[jump] You got your start in standup when you were younger. Were you doing political material, or did that come later?

I came to politics by accident. I sort of started doing standup and radio at the same time, so I've never really done the road and made my living as a comedian, I've always made my living on radio or TV.

Politics is in my blood. My dad ran for vice president with Barry Goldwater, but I wasn't political when I was younger. I wanted to be Carol Burnett. I got my degree in theater from USC. Then I got into talk radio in the '90s. My political conversion has been gradual.

A lot of people don't think [the Republican party is] my dad and Goldwater's party anymore. I don't even think it's Reagan's party anymore. He'd be Tea Partied right out now.

How's the tour been so far?

Great! We just started. We did Madison and Syracuse and the next one is Raleigh-Durham, then Minneapolis, and then Chicago. We've really been taken completely by surprise by this thing. We started it on a lark and it's selling out months in advance in a lot of these cities, and we're booked all the way through the year. You get the feeling that we're catching a wave, like it's more than a show. It looks like we just sold out in L.A. and the show isn't until October. And I just realized Netroots Nation is that weekend. It's the big progressive event conference, and it's in Minneapolis that weekend.

Was that a coincidence or did you schedule it that way?

I think we actually did it in conjunction with the station, so they might have scheduled it that way. We have a great station partner there in Janet Robert at AM 950. I think Thom Hartmann and some of the other progressive talk show hosts that you know will be there.

You mentioned feeling like you were catching a wave -- what wave is that?

If you look at the polling across the country, there's a lot of Republican overreach going on that there's a lot of reaction to. We started this in Madison because that's ground zero for workers' rights, and we donated some of the money to that. In every city we donate some of the money to a progressive cause, like in New York we did a marriage-equality charity.

I'm told by people in the touring biz they've never seen anything like this, shows don't sell out five months in advance. I'd like to take total credit, but I think it probably has a lot to do with -- if you look at polling against Paul Ryan's Medicare plan and budget, the NY26 race, there's a lot of reaction to Republican overreach going on. Also, I think it's sort of a niche that nobody has done before. John Fugelsang says it's like the Redneck Comedy Tour for smart people with good taste in music.

It started with a show in New York City, and I think it was Fugelsang who suggested we do one in Madison. Now we're getting unprecedented demand for these shows -- even in markets that don't get the radio show. We're on so many less stations than the conservatives.

Not to sound too Randian, but if there is this wave out there, why hasn't the market taken advantage of it?

This is brand new, and I think the radio business is paying attention, especially that the VIP tickets are selling out first. We joke about how this is the show the right wing doesn't want you to see, but it is. Somebody tried to bribe our tour director to get him to stop booking the show, and somebody hacked our Twitter account. There was a big board fight in one city because the right-wing owners of the theater didn't want the show in there. One thing that seems to piss off right wingers is when liberals succeed at capitalism.

Someone tried to bribe your tour director?

They offered him $10,000 to stop booking the show. We read the letter on the air.

IF YOU GO:

The Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour

8 p.m. Saturday, June 18

State Theatre

805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

$29-$79

For tickets and more information, visit www.hennepintheatredistrict.com