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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Tom Miller announces retirement from 39-year open mic variety show

The Gainesville performance artist will host his final show at University Club in December

Comedian Tom Miller works the bar at The Bull on Friday, March 15, 2024.
Comedian Tom Miller works the bar at The Bull on Friday, March 15, 2024.

Tom Miller, a 58-year-old multidisciplinary performance artist and screenwriter, has graced Gainesville with open mic shows since his humble beginnings as a UF theater student.  

Decades later, he will step down as the king of entertainment in downtown Gainesville, a place he calls “the known center of the universe.” 

This year, Miller announced his retirement as host of “The Reverend Angeldust's Tabernacle of Hedonism,” otherwise known as “The Tom Miller Show.” Running at the top floor of University Club, an LGBTQ+ nightclub at 18 E University Ave., the open-mic variety show offered a stage for performers and audiences to express themselves since 1985. 

Miller said his retirement concludes a lengthy, yet entertaining, four decades. He is now interested in focusing on other projects such as screenwriting.

“We've done great things with [“The Tom Miller Show”],” he said. “Now, my work as a performance artist is the most ordinary, boring thing that there is to do, so it's time to step out.”

“The Tom Miller Show” is the longest-running open-mic live variety show in America, Miller said. 

“If [“The Simpsons”] stopped doing episodes of ‘The Simpsons,’” he said, “my show would have run longer.” 

The show operates as a platform for creatives to share their goals of legalizing marijuana and reverence for mystical beings, he said.

As host, Miller introduces performances that range from spoken word pieces to burlesque dances.

“We like encouraging artists and musicians to tell their stories and to share with us who they are,” he said. 

The show was born as a convergence of independent shows of Miller and the show’s figurehead, Paul Yerima Cohen, otherwise known as “Reverend Angeldust.” 

In the 1980s, Cohen met Miller by knocking on his door to sell self-published poetry books. He began to invite Miller to his open-mic poetry performances. Over time, the two grew close and began “The Tom Miller Show” together. 

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“When you're dealing with an Elon Musk … a Walt Disney or somebody like that, they're not worried about the economy,” Cohen said. “Their deep dream takes precedence. Tom would be very much in that category.”

While Miller’s retirement is a significant loss to the live show, Cohen said, the two have discussed potentially making it a podcast.

The show has featured a cast of local artists and eccentric characters, including Michael Garvin as “The Best Dressed of the Deacons.”

Garvin, grieving Miller’s retirement, said he is in the denial stage. The local performance artist began attending the show more than twenty years ago as a UF student. Now, he has an act of his own.

“I don't know what Gainesville would be without Tom Miller,” Garvin said. “He has become such a vital figure here.”

Michelle Biggerstaff, a cast member of the show, said she jokes about creating protest signs that read, “Tom can’t go, he cannot leave us alone.”

Introduced to the show in 2020, Biggerstaff has written two songs about Miller since. She said she has found community through the show and her character, “Auntie Bobo.”

“[The show] really saved my life,” Biggerstaff said. “And that's what Tom does: he just leads people around in creativity.”

Jill Dumas, a burlesque dancer and friend of Miller’s for more than 20 years, wonders what the future holds for the open mic community.

“[He] has given so many people an opportunity I don't think they have otherwise,” Dumas said. “When Tom stops, it's going to leave a big hole in the opportunity to perform.”

“The Tom Miller Show” runs Monday nights at 10:30 p.m. Miller’s final performance as host will take place in December.

Contact Molly Seghi at Follow her on X @molly_seghi.

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Molly Seghi

Molly Seghi is a first-year journalism major at UF and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When not writing or journaling, she can be found at a live music event or working on her podcast “An Aural Account.”

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