Stephanie Miller on her Sexy Liberal tour and the advice she took from Chely Wright


To suggest that Stephanie Miller’s career has been extensive and successful would be an understatement. The political radio host’s analysis and commentary on issues that matter have allowed progressive audiences across the country to feel heard and connected, for upwards of 30 years. In her words, The Stephanie Miller Show creates a “shared humanity.” The morning drive show, her writing, and her upcoming tour center around politics and current events from the perspective of a comedian. 


While her story began as the daughter of conservative parents (her father was Barry Goldwater’s running mate), Stephanie has created her own unique path using her natural ability to make audiences laugh and a strong conviction that liberalism paves the road to a truly free and equitable country. In addition to being a tough female voice in the progressive media, Stephanie is an out lesbian who is irreverently honest and unapologetically herself. You have a background in comedy correct?

Stephanie Miller: Yeah.


AE: So, how did you end up with a career in the progressive media?

SM: Let’s see. I thought I was going to be Carol Burnett; I got a degree in theater.


AE: I love that.

SM: Then all of my dreams died. One of my first girlfriends was a news person on a radio show back in my hometown, in Buffalo. I started doing bits–stupid things like Katharine Hepburn in the traffic chopper and Linda Blair with the weather–things I’m sure are in the broadcasting hall of fame now. 

My dad had passed away and I went back to be with my mom; I was only 21. I always say radio was an accident until they started paying me a lot of money and then it wasn’t an accident anymore. I never really planned on it, but I started in Buffalo. Then, I got my first real show in Rochester, then Chicago, then New York. I always did wacky morning zoos. I hadn’t done talk radio or political talk until I moved out here to LA and I got a job at KFI, the talk station. That’s, I guess, when I started. Interestingly, I was the only liberal on the radio back then. I got great ratings just because it was during the OJ thing. 

Like the Clinton impeachment–I was the only person in the country who was a liberal on the radio with a national show that was for Clinton. I always said I didn’t know whether it was because most people agreed with me–that he shouldn’t have been impeached over his private life–or whether it was just because everyone loves a dick joke. What’s not funny about that story?


AE: Totally. I grew up in a very religious community and I remember going to a church group and hearing everyone talking about Bill Clinton–pretty much all of it in support of the impeachment. I was a liberal at such a young age because I shared that I didn’t think our president’s private life should be up for debate and I didn’t think his infidelity had anything to do with his ability to be a good president. 

SM: I was on Larry King and I said I didn’t vote for a husband; I voted for a president. Their business is their business. The other reason I think it resonated so much for me is that I was still in the closet. I remember feeling so strongly and saying on TV several times, “It’s why it’s called a private lifebecause it’s private.” It’s none of anybody’s business. And again, back then, my friends and family knew. I just wasn’t out publicly. I think I’ve talked about that before, but I think it is interesting how you don’t really control your own marketing. 

A lot of friends of mine like Chely Wright–we’re in this business where you’re sort of marketed to men. It’s not like you’re the one doing that. But, I remember my first ad said, “Making men rise in the morning” because I had really great ratings with men. Talk radio tends to skew male anyway. So, I’m sure early on that was part of it. It was a business thing and I wondered if being out would hurt me. Since I came out, one of my program directors has said to me, “Steph, exactly what about you being with another hot woman did you think was gonna be a turn off for men?”


AE: But, you don’t want that to be a distraction either. You want to be taken seriously and not reduced to an image in a porno.

SM: Lily Tomlin is one of my very good friends and we know how old she was when she finally came out publicly. She came up in a different era than we did. She didn’t want to be defined like that. She was America’s girl next door. And I get that–that she didn’t want to be known as the lesbian comedian. Same with me. 


AE: I imagine that’s a fine line you have to walk because you want to be and share your authentic self, but you maybe have things that you don’t want the whole world to know. I remember when Anderson Cooper came out. We all knew, but he hadn’t come out publicly. When he finally did, he shared that one of the reasons that he hadn’t earlier was because, as a journalist, you have to be a face and a voice and that’s all. You don’t want your personal life to be a distraction from your work.

SM: I don’t even remember the year I came out; you probably do.


AE: 2010, I believe.

SM: Everybody was so nice to me at AfterEllen! You never read the comments section about yourself, but everyone was so nice!


AE: I’m so glad!

SM: But, even at that point, there were lots of issues being discussed such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, marriage equality. It got to a point where I thought I can’t just say I’m for this anymore, I have to say I am this. It didn’t feel authentic to me anymore to be talking about these issues as if they’re about someone else. I always called Chely Wright my coming out coach because she really was one of the people that convinced me of that. She said, “No one’s ever going to accuse you of being a hypocrite. You’ve been a liberal and pro-gay rights throughout your career.” She told me it makes a difference to that kid in Kansas who may be thinking about killing herself because she doesn’t think she’s ever going to have a happy life or that teacher that has to take Pepto Bismol every morning because she’s afraid somebody is going to find out. She reminded me that it makes a difference to people to know that their favorite radio host or football player or singer is a queer person. 

The day after I came out, I was doing a town hall in Seattle and Randi Rhodes was sitting right next to me. This beautiful 16-year-old girl and her family came up to me and they were all crying. They thanked me and told me I had given their daughter the courage to come out today. We all hugged and cried. And I told the young girl that it’s going to be okay now; you’re going to have a good life. Randi Rhodes started crying and told me I had made that 16-year-old girl believe that she can have a successful life, love, and career. You don’t really do it for that when you come out. You just do it because it’s the right time for you. 

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