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Queen of Some Media

Comedian Stephanie Miller is performer and pundit, radio talk-show host and political commentator. If her dad could hear her now.

July 12, 1998|Judith Michaelson | Judith Michaelson is a Times staff writer

Peppy and raring to go, Stephanie Miller bounds out of an hours-old black minivan on a near-empty KABC-AM (790) parking lot, and rushes to the passenger side. It's less than a half-hour to showtime, and this June night she brings special company to her radio table--another Stephanie Miller, her mother.

Here the talk-show host's disparate worlds will collide--well, sort of:

That of her proper, conservative-Republican, Catholic-school, country-club upbringing, as exemplified by her 75-year-old mother, who has just come from the funeral of Barry Goldwater, who in 1964 chose her husband, Rep. William E. Miller, Stephanie's father, to be his vice presidential running mate--and her own persona, as expressed weeknights, 7-9, on her irreverent, liberal, sexually-charged, topical, personal, funny, flirty, sometimes mean, sometimes silly and altogether entertaining show. She does not bore.

"Ladies and gentlemen--my mom," Miller opens, with a dash of happy music--an uncommon formality from a host who greets male callers with pet names like "love puppet" and "stud monkey." "We had to get the headphones over the Republican helmet hair, had to take the Republican earrings off. Are you OK with that, Mom?"

"I think I'll manage--if you don't insult me too much," replies her soft-spoken mother gamely, noting that people will now hear "my actual voice" instead of Stephanie's "mimic." But her mother is a veteran at these duos, having done them when Stephanie worked at outlets in Rochester, Chicago, New York and KFI-AM (640) in Los Angeles.

"Guess where I'm taking her tonight, Faith," Miller tells listeners and executive producer Faith Beth Lamont, a six-foot-tall woman who began working with her 4 1/2 years ago. Lamont's low-toned, soothing voice, reining the host in as much as she cheers her on, is backdrop to the show. "I'm taking her to see the drag queens [at a local restaurant club]."

And it's off to the talk hustings. Ask her mom anything in the next two hours, about the run with Goldwater, the funeral, "and, of course, me," urges Miller, whose Cleopatra bangs frame ironed-straight hair. "Because, really," she tweaks herself, "what is more fascinating than me?"

Under Miller's prodding, her mother mentions that House Speaker Newt Gingrich told her at the funeral that he campaigned for the 1964 ticket. "So that's what happened," Stephanie says of the landslide defeat. "It was Newtie's fault." Miller Sr. also says that Nancy Reagan "referred to the wonderful speech her husband Ronnie gave in support of the Goldwater-Miller ticket." 'How'd she look?" Stephanie interrupts. "Come on, dish with us." No meat here; she looked "fabulous."

Then her mother allows that Bob Dole "referred to the time he was up in Buffalo to help in the campaign [when] your brother was running for Congress" (he lost in both 1992 and 1994).

"Did he discuss his Viagra use at all?" Stephanie asks. "I don't mean to be indelicate . . . but did he appear aroused? . . . You were looking there?"

"Oh, Stephie, you leave me speechless . . . "

At 36, single and the youngest of four children, Miller personifies that new multi-faceted media phenomenon: Performer-pundit-commentator-comic. The entertainer as news maven. And vice-versa. She is that soundbite-friendly hybrid--comfortable in a variety of arenas, not unlike Bill Maher, the comic-turned-host of ABC's "Politically Incorrect," or Susan Carpenter-McMillan or Arianna Huffington--conservative good buddies with whom she can parry on-air one day and party the next.

Like a politician rising from the ashes of a stinging defeat, she has overcome a failed late-night TV talk show to achieve national prominence. Besides her radio show, which will be syndicated nationally in September by ABC Radio Networks, she was until recently co-host of the public-affairs show "Equal Time" on cable's CNBC, paired with conservative Bay Buchanan. She is a regular on the local stand-up scene but also talked politics as a guest three times this year with Larry King on CNN, among other appearances. She will soon be seen on the Fox Family Channel and hopes to star in her own sitcom.

Miller's radio program is itself a hybrid--one minute serious, next funny, sometimes hard to tell the difference. A few weeks ago, for example, a caller named Paul asked: "Don't you feel deep down inside as a woman that [Clinton] betrayed so many women?" No, she said, he's been been strong on women's and feminist issues--and a good president. But look at his personal life, Paul persisted.

"Allegedly, allegedly . . . " Miller retorted. "I don't know that. A lot of the women who have come forward, their stories are so shaky."

Yet in a stand-up bit on air that night, Miller played Hillary Rodham Clinton, about to write a book with Buddy and Socks: "What do you see that big horndog do in the Oval Office? Come on, talk . . . We're never going to get a book until you start cooperating."

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