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Next for Stephanie Miller: The Queen of All Media?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When comedian Stephanie Miller arrived in town about a year and a half ago only to get a call from talk radio station KFI, she was more than a little underwhelmed.

“I never thought about doing talk radio,” Miller said. “To me talk radio was like old gray-haired guys talking about the budget.”

But then Miller--fresh from doing New York morning-drive radio, stand-up comedy and performing in her own one-woman Off Broadway show--realized KFI was offering perhaps the best forum for her varied talents. She would have her own two-hour show and be able to talk about whatever she pleased--in a serious or comedic fashion.

The real lure, however, came in a more symbolic form: The show would afford Miller the chance to break down the walls of the radio boys club. Miller, 33, would be one of only two women on commercial radio in Southern California to host an issues-oriented talk show. (The other is feminist lawyer Gloria Allred on KABC 790.)

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On Sunday Miller celebrated one year as host of her own irreverent 7-9 p.m. talk show (in the spot previously occupied by former L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates).

“I finally found my niche in radio,” Miller said. “I like having my own show. I love this format. It’s obviously more accessible to the masses. I just really found a passion for this. It’s particularly great when you’re used to people saying, ‘Shut up and play the music!’ ”

KFI officials wouldn’t dare tell Miller to shut up. In fact, they encourage her to wield her wisecracking wit on a wide range of topics, including her nemesis, Rush Limbaugh, whose nationally syndicated show is also heard on KFI.

“What makes her unique is that she’s able to talk about anything from dating to the economy and she’s always funny,” said KFI program director David Hall. “She puts an entertaining spin on everything, even intellectual topics, and that’s pretty rare.”

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Her biting brand of humor often revolves around music: She screeches atonally in a faux commercial of Faye Dunaway doing Broadway show tunes; cues up “Dueling Banjos” whenever she invokes the name of a conservative politician--such as incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and blares the disco anthem “I Will Survive” when discussing spousal abuse.

“One night I might do a serious political issue, then another night I’ll do a light topic like ‘What’s the worst sexual experience you’ve had,’ ” Miller said. “It’s a forum.”

And though she openly mocks her callers, they just keep coming back for more.

A listener named Jim opens his call with: “Hi, Bud. How are you?”

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Miller: “Oh, thanks very much. I love it when a man calls me ‘Bud.’ ”

Jim: “OK--'girlfriend.’ How’s that?”

Miller: “Oh, yeah. That sounded really hip coming from you.”

“I get the weirdest callers,” Miller said. “To me those are the best shows.”

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Her politics are clearly left-of-center, an ironic twist given that her father, William E. Miller, was Barry Goldwater’s running mate in the 1964 presidential election. But her listeners come from all points on the political spectrum.

“I get calls from people saying, ‘I don’t agree with anything you say, but I think you’re funny, so I listen to your show. . . .’

“I’m a world-class flirt,” Miller says of her racy repartee with callers. “I had my training in the best training ground possible: Catholic school.”

Since her debut, Miller has doubled her audience in the sought-after 25-54 age group. Miller’s listeners are predominantly male, though Miller is making efforts to even up the score by talking about more women’s issues.

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Soon Miller will have another venue for her sarcastic take on life. Disney is syndicating a TV talk show for Miller. The program--the first late-night entry for a female host since Joan Rivers--has already been sold in eight of the top 10 TV markets (including KCOP Channel 13 in Los Angeles). Miller describes the show as “sketch colliding with talk.”

And with this new job comes the opportunity to invade still another all-male bastion.

“I keep going from one boys club to another: stand-up, talk radio, late-night,” Miller quipped. “I keep wanting to get into that boys’ locker room.”

She describes late-night as “the last door that women haven’t gone through. . . . Women deserve the same chance to fail miserably on late-night and embarrass themselves on national television as men do.” “

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Though these are heady times for Miller, she has no plans to leave radio.

“It’s just a blast having my own show,” she said. “The format is so much more unfettered. You just have complete freedom to do whatever you want to do. Now, the challenge is how to translate that to TV, not to lose what got me here in the first place.”

It was an unlikely path that got her here in the first place. The youngest of four children in a politically minded family, Miller’s outspoken liberal tendencies run diametrically opposite her ultra-conservative upbringing near Buffalo, N.Y. Miller was only 3 when her father lost the election.

“It was never conscious in terms of rebellion or anything,” Miller said. “I’ve just sort of developed my own set of beliefs. It’s not like I’m Patti Davis or anything. Believe me, there are no nude pictures.”

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Her family was known for its heated political discussions, and even as late as high school Miller was considering a career in law and politics like her father’s. But that dream came to an abrupt halt when she performed in a high school revue sketch dressed in a giant frog costume and singing “You Don’t Bring Me Dead Flies” (to the tune of the Barbra Streisand-Neil Diamond duet, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”).

“I got my first laugh, and that was it,” she said. “It was all over. I was a shy kid. I didn’t become the class clown until I was like a sophomore in high school. I must have been sequestered for years, and I somehow just snapped when I was a sophomore.”

She went on to study theater at USC then fell into radio in Rochester, N.Y., in 1985.

“It hit me completely by accident,” Miller said. “I had a friend who was on a radio station and I started doing bits. I did a lot of impressions and characters. Then they started paying me a lot. It wasn’t an accident anymore.”

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After doing her own show in Rochester, Miller progressed to morning-drive in Chicago, then in New York City opposite such broadcasting heavyweights as Howard Stern and Don Imus, catapulting her into the salary stratosphere. The woman who started out in radio earning $4 an hour was soon one of the highest paid women on New York City radio. But over the three years she spent as a ribald New York morning deejay, Miller grew frustrated by the limited on-air time.

“I got to be funny for five minutes between songs,” she said. “But it wasn’t going anywhere. I thought: ‘Where am I going with this? I can’t be Limbaugh or Stern.’ And I wasn’t acting.”

So she moved West, where, between the radio show, the upcoming television project, occasional satirical essays for The Times and other ventures--including a possible animated show--Miller has little free time. “I have absolutely no life,” she says, launching into a game show patter.

“You get a career or a husband and that’s it,” she responds, mimicking a Don Pardo-like voice.

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“But can’t I have more?” she asks plaintively.

“I’m afraid not, you loser,” Miller as Pardo intones. “But here’s some cellulite as a parting gift.”


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