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I don't mean to get off on a rant here, but if it's true that comedy is tragedy that happens to other people, Dennis Miller is plenty funny in his spots for M&M's and Victoria's Secret. I like Miller for his eloquent diatribes that make me laugh even when I disagree with some of his views. But that's Dennis Miller the standup comedian, the wry TV host, the Dennis Miller who delivers weekly bursts of razor-tongued entertainment on HBO.

His alter ego is Miller the Shiller; the cutting-edge social critic who's eagerly complicitous in stripping away all substance (call him Miller Lite); the spokescomic who appears to be for sale to the highest bidder. He irks me.

I'm not being preachy here. In this post-David Brinkley, Show-me-the-money era, I've already gotten used to media stars who cash in on their celebrity status and think nothing of impugning their own credibility. At the end of the day, that's their business, I suppose. Moreover, in true post-modern fashion, I'm not sure that, for instance, T. C. Boyle's latest novel is more culturally important than the new Wheaties box design; and I don't necessarily ascribe more value to a fine feature film than to a great commercial. So when Dennis Miller puts his talents at an advertiser's disposal, I don't take his moral measure and find him wanting. I just expect him to be funny -- and that's where he falls down, with a thud loud enough to wake up Rip Van Winkle.

Miller is in good company. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld's Elaine) takes the cake with her awfully unmirthful Clairol spots. Runner-up is John Lithgow, who, as executive editor Terry Kattleman writes in this month's cover story (page 22), had to have been "about three rocks from his better judgment" when he decided to do those cringe-inducing MCI commercials.

Not that we claim to have a monopoly on what's funny. What makes me grin might make you groan. Humor is a matter of context and taste -- and not necessarily good taste either. In fact, "Good taste and humour are a contradiction in terms, like a chaste whore," the late Malcolm Muggeridge observed. Even though we've cut way back on the gerbil jokes, Creativity, our detractors say, continues to