In many ways, Stephanie Miller is the anti–Rush Limbaugh: Her show is smart, funny, and unashamedly liberal. On March 26, Current TV started televising her massively popular radio show, and she’s already zooming to new heights.
AfterEllen.com: Congratulations on your Current TV launch!
AE: You’re coming up on the end of the second week. How do you feel like it’s going?
It’s fine. I’m at the honey badger phase of my career: I just don’t give a s–t. [Laughs] I kid. We’re having a blast. We’re having fun. I got the best letter – I thought you guys would love it. It said, “My kids learn everything they need to know from you and Ellen and Rachel Maddow. Only the lesbians can save us now.”
AE: You had already been broadcasting on Ustream, so you were fairly used to doing the show while on camera, is that right?
But it is amazing how people seem to love seeing it, or seeing behind the scenes, or seeing what it looks like. It’s so funny to me, because I remember way back when, I was like, “Radio on television? Really?” But, you know, [Don] Imus always got great ratings. It’s interesting how many times I’ve heard from a TV executive “God, we should have just televised your radio show.” Because, I think it is really a blast. And, you know, many times what happens in TV is there are too many cooks in the kitchen and they water it down and they over-produce it.
I’ve had a whole variety of experiences in TV. This is really the most fun, because I do the show, as you know, in my baseball cap. They said, “We want it the way you normally do it.” You know, I’m in radio. I go to spin class every day after the show; I already get up at four in the morning. We do the show the way we normally do. We’re really not doing anything different. Everyone keeps saying, “How are you doing it differently?” We’re not doing anything different. Whether that’s smart or not.
AE: It is very interesting to watch. It’s made me late more than once.
And some of these are people that don’t even like me. That are friends of mine, that actually have to spend time with me. “It’s too addictive! I’m late for this, I’m watching too long…” Isn’t that funny? It’s such a weird thing to me. Because there are people that listen to the show, but for some reason — I think one reason that our show may be more interesting visually is that we have a voice guy [Jim Ward]. It’s kind of fun to see him do these great impressions and stuff. I think there are a lot of visual elements we have that are unusual.
AE: You’ve mentioned on the show that booking guests is suddenly easier.
I think that it’s interesting, because we’ve always gotten great guests. I’m a fan of guests, primarily. I think we have a lot of the smartest, funniest people in the country, and that’s what makes it fun. We have Hal Sparks and John Fugelsang and Aisha Tyler and Kathleen Madigan and political strategists, you know: David Bender and Karl Frisch and Charlie Pierce — just a lot of really smart, great, writers, comedians, strategists, that kind of thing.
AE: You came out publicly in the summer of 2010. What made you come to that decision?
I think it was a combination of all the stuff we were talking about on the air at the time: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and marriage equality, and I just suddenly went — It just didn’t seem like I could talk about those issues politically and authentically anymore without saying “I’m not just for that, I am that.”
And I think politically, that’s what they’re showing too. In poll after poll, the biggest predicator of being open to gay rights is that you know somebody. It’s your favorite daytime TV host, it’s your favorite radio host, it’s your favorite country singer.
I remember one of the things that affected me was seeing Chely Wright, who is my good friend now, on Ellen. And I remember almost crying, because she touched me so much. I thought, “That takes bravery.” Not like a liberal radio host – everyone thinks we’re French and gay anyway. But to be a country singer and come out was obviously a big thing. It was very powerful. It was very powerful for her to say, “I’m a Christian, and I’m gay, and I’m a country singer.” And she was certainly one of the people that — my listeners call her The Gay Whisperer. She was the one that shot down all my arguments: “Yeah, yeah, I get that argument. Yeah, I thought that too.”
You know, there comes a time for everybody when it’s time to stop cheering from the sidelines and get down on the field and be a part of it. She made a good point, too, that it makes a difference. It makes a difference to that kid in Kansas who thinks there’s nobody like him. You may not think it makes a big difference, but —
I did an appearance right after I came out, and this beautiful 16-year-old girl and her whole family came up, and they were all crying. And they hugged me, and they said, “You just gave our daughter the courage to come out to us this weekend.” Oh, it was just so — Randi Rhodes was sitting right next to me – we were doing an appearance for a radio station up there – and she said, “That was beautiful. You just gave that 16-year-old girl the hope that she can be beautiful, successful, and have a life someday. It really was a touching moment for me. I just looked at her and said, “It’s going to be OK. You’re going to be OK. You’re going to have a great life now.”
That’s all you can do, right? Speak from your own personal truth.
And look at how badly Ellen’s career has gone since she came out. Obviously, Ellen has been huge in this country. She’s someone who everyone has always loved. It’s put a human face on it. And a bad dancer. She put a human face and bad dancing on it.
AE: Maybe if the dancing had been more intimidating, things would have gone a different way.
AE: Still, any performer gets advised that coming out is going to be a career killer. Were you worried about that?
Yeah, I’m sure that’s part of it, is you think, “I don’t want to be defined that way.” It’s a business thing, but at some point you reach your own perfect storm and you say, “This is silly that I’m not speaking my truth.”
AE: How is being out to friends, family, and coworkers different from being out as a public figure?
AE: That’s great.
And that was the other thing Chely said that resonated with me: “It’s incumbent on those of us who can hide not to.” Meaning those of us who don’t necessarily look like someone else’s stereotype of what a lesbian looks like. And I think she’s right. That’s important. Otherwise, the people that we need to reach just think, “Oh, it’s all these freaks I see in parades on TV,” and they need to know “Oh, it’s my sister, oh, it’s my doctor, it’s my brother.” It puts a more human face on it for all of us to stand together.
AE: How do you decide how you’re going to shape the show each day and what does or doesn’t get in?
No – that’s the thing that people in radio hate the most: “Oh, you only work three hours a day!” We obviously work the other 20-however many hours getting ready, because it’s news. I’m watching cable news and pulling stories and doing prep pretty much all the time. And that being said, you’ve got to be ready, because there’s breaking news.
So, obviously, we don’t have writers. It’s radio, so most of it is improvised, but we obviously prepare a lot, especially for guests you have booked already. But that being said, you have to be fast on your feet in terms of taking callers and covering breaking news and all that. Honestly, that’s why I love radio, because it’s the most creatively free to me. They can’t possibly over-produce it like they can with television sometimes.
AE: So even with the preparation, you have to talk and improvise for three hours a day.
AE: Do you have sympathy for someone like Rush Limbaugh, who routinely says horrible things?
But the thing about Sandra Fluk is that it wasn’t just an offhand comment that any of us could go “Oops, I shouldn’t have said that,” when you talk for three hours a day. That was a sustained, several-day attack on somebody. And more importantly, on someone that’s powerless, that wasn’t a public figure. It’s a private citizen.
That’s the thing – it becomes like that mob movie: “You send one of ours to the hospital; we’ll send one of yours to the morgue.” There’s a right-wing group called NewsBusters that takes stuff from my show every day.
AE: And there was that odd chorus of “Well, Bill Maher said something misogynist once!”
AE: You mention your girlfriend Lisa occasionally.
AE: What is maintaining a relationship like when you have to get up at 4 a.m.?
AE: Your dad was Representative William E. Miller, who became Barry Goldwater’s running mate in the ’64 Presidential election. You must have been politically aware from a very young age.
No, I joke, but I didn’t really get political until later. I was a comedian; I got a degree in theater from USC. I thought I was going to do whatever: stand-up, sitcoms… Things just sort of developed. Someone said to me, “I think it’s in your blood.” I started doing talk radio in the mid-‘90s, and that’s the first time I really started talking about politics. And one thing kind of just led to another.
AE: You grew up in a Republican family. How did you make the shift to your current point of view?
So I think that my politics have developed like a lot of people’s have. It wasn’t a conscious development.
Yeah, my mom doesn’t care that I’m gay. She just wants me to be a Republican. She’s like, “Ugh, whatever.”
AE: You do seem to be very good at talking to the Republicans and conservatives who call in.
AE: What do you think liberals miss when they’re failing to get through to Republicans?
You know, there are a lot of really good — I hate to admit this, but I talked to Sean Hannity for an hour the other day, because I’m trying to get him to come on the show. He’s, you know, we’re friends of a sort. I’m sure we each hate what the other does politically, but we’re friends. We actually really like each other.
AE: I got annoyed the other day because you mentioned on the show that he had called and been very nice to you after your dog died, and I was forced to like him a little bit.
AE: As many people have pointed out, support of LGBT rights is old-school conservative in a way.
AE: Why do you think that doesn’t resonate with the current crop of Republican politicians?
So that’s the thing that’s good news for me politically: They’re just completely out of step with the rest of the country on just about every issue. One of the best headlines I’ve read recently in Politico was that Republicans have kind of retreated on gay marriage. They see the same polls you and I see. There is majority support for marriage equality in this country now. That’s on every issue: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — I think they realize they’re losing the fight on that.
I’ve got to tell you, even Sean Hannity said to me the other day – and we hadn’t talked since I came out – and he’s like “Ah, I don’t really care if you get married.” It’s not an issue.
They’re just getting more and more out of step. I mean, Rick Santorum, are you kidding me? I think, particularly in this economy, the fact that they’re so focused on these social issues… And, again, not just social issues, but social issues from 1952. Social issues that the American people are largely against them on.
AE: You seem to let a surprising number of eccentric, cranky people through. What are your standards for screening your calls?
It’s sometimes just Parade of Crazy in the morning.
AE: There seems to be a population of people who just call up and try to rattle off as many talking points as possible.
AE: There do seem to be organizing websites set up that say, “Call a liberal radio show and say these five things.”
AE: But they do have a battle plan. Do you think liberals should be more mobilized?
AE: Do you have a favorite phone call ever?
AE: In addition to your weekday show, you’re dashing off on weekends to do The Sexy Liberal Tour.
It started up in Wisconsin, and next Saturday, that’s where we’re going. It started with the recalls for Scott Walker and the Wisconsin 8. And then we give to a different liberal cause in every city. We’ve given to the Trevor Project here in L.A., and marriage equality, and animal rescue, and anti-fracking. Yeah, we’re really having a ball. It’s become pretty crazy – sold out wherever we go. So, yeah, sexyliberal.com, Sexy Liberal on Facebook! Check it out!
AE: Any words of wisdom for any AfterEllen.com readers who are thinking about coming out or in the first stages of coming out?
Don’t sweat wherever you are in the process. We’ll be waiting for you with a nice, cold beer for you when you get here.
Talking Liberally: The Stephanie Miller Show airs weekday mornings on Current TV, 9am–12pm ET/6am–9am PT.