Bill Maher is one of the most politically astute humorists in America today. His unflinching honesty and commitment to never pulling a punch have garnered him the respect and admiration of millions of fans. In 2003, Maher launched a new show, "Real Time with Bill Maher," on HBO, a network that's a perfect fit for his irreverent style. The hour-long show will be back with original episodes on July 30th, live at 11:00PM on Friday nights. In 1993, Maher created "Politically Incorrect." On Comedy Central, Maher brought together some of the most interesting politicians, entertainers, and journalists to participate in some of the most controversial, topical and comical discussions. Winners of four CableACE Awards combined, Maher and his program grew in popularity year to year, eventually catching the attention in 1997 of ABC and capturing the post-"Nightline" time slot. A cutting edge contender of provocative late night television, "Politically Incorrect" survived for five years on ABC and concluded its final run in July 2002. "Politically Incorrect" received a total of 18 Emmy nominations since 1995.
Maher, inspired by the show's success, assembled some of "PI's" most memorable highlights in his book, Does Anybody Have a Problem With That? Politically Incorrect's Greatest Hits. In it, Maher's brings us his tongue-in-cheek commentaires on such modest proposals as putting warning labels on the Bible, why we should have drunk driving lanes, and his regular "Get Over Yourself Award," given to such notables as Newt Gingrich, Santa Claus, and the O.J. Simpson defense team. He also offers a collection of some of the funniest and most insightful thoughts of "PI's" panelists, including Ben Affleck, Marilyn Manson, Ann Richards, Pamela Anderson, Oliver Stone, Ron Howard, Arianna Huffington, and Janeane Garofalo.
Last November Maher's latest book, "When you ride ALONE you ride with bin Laden, was released. The book is a useful and hilarious guide for the many Americans who want to help the war effort, but are at a loss as to how. A combination of 33 new posters, as well as several classics from our government's archives, and text by Maher, help Americans make the connections between what we do and how it can help our troops and ourselves. In conjunction with the book's release, Maher went on a nationwide stand-up tour and drew standing ovations for his hilarious routine which utilized the posters from the book to illustrate his commentary.
Maher's credits include five HBO specials, including the critically acclaimed "Bill Maher: Be More Cynical." Maher has participated in comedy tours throughout the United States. Most recently, he received a Tony nomination for the three-week run of his one-man Broadway Show, "Victory Begins at Home."
An English major graduate from Cornell University, Maher began his career honing his act during the '80s on the New York club scene. He reflects upon this time in True Story, a novelization of his club life and a funny, revealing depiction of the comic.
Bill William Maher was born on January 20, 1956, in New York City, and grew up in River Vale, New Jersey. His father, who has the same name, was a news editor for NBC, while his mother, Julie, was a nurse. Maher has an older sister, Kathy, who is currently an English teacher.
After graduating from Pascack Hills High School in New Jersey, Maher went on to Cornell, where he earned a BA in English in 1978. Maher already wanted to be a funnyman, and after getting his degree, he soon began making the rounds at comedy clubs in the New York area.
Throughout the 1980s, Maher soldiered on in relative obscurity despite his cutting edge material; he claims to have been the first comedian to tell an AIDS joke. In 1983, he began acting in movies and sitcoms, beginning with the film D.C. Cab, in which he starred alongside Mr. T and Gary Busey, while in 1985 he was cast as a sleazy lawyer in a short-lived television series called Sara, starring Geena Davis. Later, TV appearances included roles in Club Med (1986), Rags to Riches (1986) and Out of Time (1988).
His first starring role came in the ominously-named movie Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989), alongside noted pin-ups Shannon Tweed and Adrienne Barbeau.
Although Maher's success as a mainstream comic actor was lukewarm, the late '80s saw greater opportunities for comedians, especially on cable television. He was co-host of the CBS late-night stand up series Midnight Hour in 1990; he later appeared on Comedy Central's The A-List, HBO's One Night Stand, and as a "special correspondent" for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In 1992, Maher pitched a series to Comedy Central. Without even making a pilot, Maher got the fledgling network to produce his idea for what he described as "The McLaughlin Group on acid": Politically Incorrect.
Maher's offbeat forum for discussing current events was a hit soon after its 1993 premiere. The next year, Maher received a CableACE Award as the Best Entertainment Host, and Politically Incorrect won its own CableACE in 1995 and 1996, as the Best Talk-Show Series. In 1997, Politically Incorrect moved to late night on ABC, and was nominated for multiple Emmy Awards.
In the midst of his Politically Incorrect success, Maher got his very own HBO specials entitled Stuff That Struck Me Funny (1998) and Bill Maher: Be More Cynical (2000).
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Maher came under fire for comments that were critical of the government. (What Bill Maher said exactly was: "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building -- say what you want about it, it's not cowardly.") The show's sponsors were outraged, and though many cooler heads came to Maher's defense, the decision was soon made to cancel Politically Incorrect -- simply for living up to its name.
Nevertheless, six days after the last episode of the show in June 2002, Maher received the President's Award, the Los Angeles Press Club's highest honor, for "championing free speech."
But Maher cannot be silenced so easily. The author of numerous books, including Does Anybody Have a Problem With That? The Best Of Politically Incorrect (1997), True Story: A Novel (2000), and When You Ride Alone, You Ride with Bin Laden: What the Government Should Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism (2002), while his one-man show on Broadway in the spring of 2003 lambasted politicians of every ideological stripe.
Maher's return to grace was completed with the February 2003 debut of his new live series on HBO called Real Time with Bill Maher.
His words to live by: "I believe in goodness for goodness' sake, not because you're getting some reward in the afterlife. If you're being good for an award, then what sort of person are you anyway?"
Bill Maher is a classic comedian
Knowing early on that he had a gift for making people laugh, Maher struck out on the New York comedy circuit with his unique brand of political humor right after college. After cutting his teeth throughout the 1980s, his star began to rise on cable TV comedy specials. Soon he was able to develop the perfect vehicle for his talents: Politically Incorrect.
Always outspoken and sometimes, well, politically incorrect, Maher is no stranger to controversy. In fact, it was for his controversial statements amid the touchy times after 9/11 that his award-winning show was halted by ABC.
Maher managed to rebound, landing a new show, Real Time with Bill Maher, on meddling-sponsor-free HBO. Billed as America's "daily intelligence briefing," the show is even more in-depth than its predecessor, but still showcases the pillars of Maher's personality: wit, intelligence and passion.
Maher, as you would expect, is outspoken, smart, and a man of deep convictions. Though no stranger to sarcasm, unlike many other comedians, he always fires his barbs at worthy targets with a greater concern in mind. He has supported such diverse causes as PETA and Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. Attacked by the narrow-minded as un-American, he is, in fact, deeply patriotic, and is always on the lookout for ways to make his country greater.
To these personal quests Maher brings his love of political discourse and his comedic bent. The success of Politically Incorrect showcased Maher in a role perfectly suited for his unique gift: a mind just as full of civic conscience as it is with snappy comebacks.
Maher's sandy, unkempt hair and snide, lopsided grin certainly give him the air of a classic comedian. And we all know that "sense of humor" is a perennial, and often necessary, attribute for the ladies who are looking for love.
But Maher admits that there's some misconception about his seductive prowess. "People assume I go out with bimbos," he laments. "I couldn't go out with bimbos if I tried! I scare them off!" Obviously, Maher has more to offer intelligent women who appreciate his acerbic insights. So the best he can say about the Play..boy mansion is: "the food is out of this world!"
With his iconic show, Politically Incorrect, running nearly a decade, Maher created a rarity in American television: a talk show as popular as it is topical. But bringing comedy to serious discourse, and vice versa, isn't all Maher has done. As a performer and author, he has won kudos for his defense of free speech; as an entertainer, he garnered ratings and awards.
Since Maher's satiric material is all about current events, it's no surprise that he's often in the public eye. Even when the press he receives is bad press, such as the fallout from his 9/11 remarks, his fame remains strong. With a new show, Real Time, now on the air, Maher's bound to keep shaking things up in the public arena for a long time to come.
Growing up, we all knew the goofy-looking smart-ass in school whose sole purpose seemed to be to drive teachers nuts and expose their hypocrisies. The class clown always commanded a fair amount of coolness just for pulling the stunts most of us wouldn't dare, but secretly wanted to. Age that archetypal troublemaker by 35 years and give him his own forum on national TV, and you've got Bill Maher.
For all his sincere beliefs, Maher gets extra points for not taking even serious things more seriously than necessary. For example, he's casually aloof when describing tightened airport security as a "Potemkin village," pointing out that he is asked for autographs while being scanned by metal detectors.
As a host and moderator of public debate for over 10 years, Maher proves that some stand-up comedians still have to dress up for work. As a result, people most readily recognize Maher in the well-tailored suit and tie that have become his trademark. Promotional material for Real Time hardly veered from the formula, depicting Maher in a conservative tie and rolled-up shirtsleeves.
Though it would clash with his professional dress, Maher does have his own unique tastes when it comes to casualwear. For instance, he's been spotted working behind the scenes in an orange and white bowling shirt.
Bill Maher: 'I'm spreading the anti-gospel'
Like many comedians, when Bill Maher talks, it's difficult to tell where the shtick ends and the truth begins.
Or, for that matter, whether there's any difference between the two. So when Maher is already riffing on religion as a reporter walks into the Los Angeles offices of his HBO show "Real Time With Bill Maher" for an hourlong interview about his spiritual beliefs, it's hard to say if the commentary is spontaneous or part of a routine.
"If there was just one topic I could talk about for the rest of my career, I would pick religion," Maher says, leaning back in his desk chair as if he's settling in for a long yarn. "It's the one that makes me angriest, I think, and it's the one that's least discussed, in my opinion."
Maher's relationship with religion seems to be a complicated affair. An attraction-repulsion kind of thing.
"It's a good subject because it's the most, sort of personal. What could be deeper than what people think about this stuff? And they usually don't talk about it," he says a few minutes after referring to Jesus as an "imaginary friend" and mocking Sen. Joseph Lieberman for strictly observing the Jewish Sabbath.
"I think so much that's wrong with our society stems from religion," Maher announces, launching into a dissection of what religion has to do with New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey's recent announcement that he would resign, in part because he's gay and says he's been living a lie for most of his adult life.
"Why does someone feel they have to hide who they are their whole life?" Maher asks rhetorically. "Where is this coming from? What is the root cause of that? The root of that is all from the Bible, from religion. If we didn't have religion, there wouldn't be this massive problem with gay people."
Maher's no fan of religion. He tries to make that much clear.
What's not clear is why.
Does he believe in God?
"I'm not an atheist, but, if I learned at the moment of my death or before, somehow, that there is no God, it's not like I'd be blown away by it," Maher says. "It's like Michael Jackson and kids. I never made Michael Jackson and little kid jokes because there was no proof, to me. I believed O.J. killed his wife, I had enough proof, you know? But if I found out definitively that Michael Jackson was having sex with little boys, it wouldn't surprise me. So in the same way, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out there's no God.
"But I also tend to think that there's enough strange phenomenon and coincidences and unanswered questions that I don't dismiss some force in the universe. But I sure as hell don't respect people who make up stories to answer questions they otherwise couldn't," he says, gathering steam.
"That's one of the things that really bugs me about religion. If you don't know the answer, just say, 'I don't know.' Don't make up stories and make people believe them, and then work backwards in everything in life from the dumb little story you made up, you know? We don't know. Be a good person just because it's the right thing to do. How 'bout that?"
There's a lot Maher says he doesn't know about this life and the next. And he's OK with that.
"How did we get here? I don't know. What will happen when you die? I don't know. Is there a heaven? I don't know," he says, repeating his litany of disbelief. "I don't know if you're on the list to get in. I don't know. You don't know. But it's better than making up a story."
Losing his religion
Maher, 48, grew up Roman Catholic, attending weekend catechism classes, and weekly Sunday mass with his father and sister. His father was Catholic, his mother Jewish.
When he was 13, his father pulled everybody out of church.
"It was like V-J Day in my room," Maher says, laughing. "I couldn't have been more thrilled.
"My father, God bless him, became very disillusioned with the pope at the time, which was Pope Paul [VI]. He loved Pope John [XXIII]. He was the liberal pope, 1958 to 1963. So my father, as an Irish-Catholic American, was in his glory in the early 1960s. He had an Irish president. He had a liberal pope, whom he loved. But Pope Paul obviously rubbed him the wrong way."
This explains, at least in part, why today Maher has no religion. And no middle name.
When his family left the Catholic Church, he was preparing for the sacrament of confirmation.
"I was dreading it because that's where you get your middle name, and mine would have been Aloysius," he says. "It's actually a very common, Irish, Catholic, horrible name. So that's why to this day I don't have a middle name. I got off the hook right at that moment."
Aloysius is the patron saint of teens.
Maher's memories of the Catholic portion of his childhood are hardly fond.
"They tried to scare me," he says. "I remember vividly once when I was preparing for my first communion . . . I remember I was sitting, my arms were on the pew in front of me. I was slumped over. And I remember a nun said to me, 'The boy who is slumped over is going to go to hell.' For slouching."
He uses words like "poison" and "stupid" to describe his early religious indoctrination.
And then there are the jokes.
"I believed all this stuff when I was young," Maher begins, smiling wryly. "I believed there was a virgin birth, I believed a man lived inside of a whale, and I believed that the Earth was 5,000 years old. But then something very important happened to me -- I graduated sixth grade."
"It's kind of cruel, I realize," he says of that last punch line, momentarily cringing. "It kind of sticks the knife in and makes people feel. ... But you know what? At a certain point, I just lost patience with the faithful and pretending, pretending that this was something that was OK, to retain childish thought patterns into adulthood."
Religion is like mercury fillings, Maher says.
"That was something else that was drilled into my head when I was a child that I had no control over, into my teeth -- literally. They would fill our cavities up with [mercury]. Five years ago, or whenever it was, I had it drilled out. And I say the same thing about religion.
"As a child, you cannot be held responsible for the dumb things adults do to you. But you do have to take responsibility, I think, when you become an adult, to drill them out, to undo the damage."
Angry and annoyed
In person, Bill Maher the man is just like Bill Maher the TV character. Just as snarky, just as opinionated, just as curmudgeonly. Perpetually perturbed.
Few things, though, seem to get his dander up like religious folks.
"One of the many things that annoys me about religion is that it's arrogance masquerading as humility," he says. It's a sentiment he'll repeat on his HBO show a few weeks later. "How arrogant to think you know what happens to you after you die? You don't. That's your guess.
"It's arrogant to think that, if there is a force in the universe, this force, whom most people refer to as 'Him,' has the time and inclination to listen to your stupid, petty laundry list of what you want in this life. Prayer. That's another, silly Santa Claus notion. Pray to Santa, and he'll give you what you want. It's so silly. It's so childish. And so much of the world is getting over this," he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Maher pauses and produces a stack of those blue TV note cards, like the kind Dave Letterman reads his top 10 list off of each night. Maher's blue cards contain factoids and statistics about religious beliefs and practices. He's searching for one particular statistic and, after a few moments of shuffling and flipping, he finds it.
In 1990, about 7 percent of the American population said they had "no religion," and in 2000, that number had doubled to 14 percent, he says.
"So, in 10 years, we've doubled the amount of people who say they don't have a religion," he says. "I find that incredibly encouraging."
The world would be much more "sane" without religion, Maher argues.
"So many of these born-agains, these evangelicals, when you hear them speaking, no matter what the question is, they can't leave Jesus out of it for two seconds," he says, his voice rising. "It's OK when you're a child. Children have an imaginary friend. When you get to be an adult, no more imaginary friends. But Jesus is their imaginary friend. Everywhere they go, everything they do, Jesus is along. Oh, Christ."
The root of his disdain
Why does this bother him so much?
"Because it's childish!" he snaps.
"Childish things retard the progress of society as a whole! As a society, we cannot move forward if there is a huge drag at the back of the parade!"
Has he always felt this way about religion?
"No, I was Catholic," he says, adding that he's not sure when his vitriol hit the boiling point.
"I don't remember. I guess my stand-up act is a better indication of where my thinking was. I don't remember in my stand-up act, for example, in the '80s, having a lot about religion.
"When I was first a comedian, it was about being half-Jewish and half-Catholic. But those were just jokes. That was just a comedy routine. It didn't really have a point of view about religion."
Maher's professional attention shifted to religion when he began working on his former TV chatfest, "Politically Incorrect," in 1993.
"I started having to cover issues where religion was prominent," he says. "The more I covered it, the more it angered me."
Despite his bellicose relationship with Christians -- and believers of any religious persuasion, for that matter -- Maher does have an odd appreciation for a kind of basic morality that just happens to be rooted in the Gospel.
"Morality is mostly the Golden Rule, treating other people the way you would like other people to treat you," he says. "I mean, the teachings of Jesus are a great moral guide. Jesus is one of the greatest role models I can think of. It's a shame that Christianity has gone so far from the teachings of Jesus. I don't know anyone less Jesus-like than most Christians.
"And, by the way, the Bible does have wisdom in it, but it's written in parables," he continues passionately. "It's the idiots today who take it literally. And the first parable that is in the Bible is the story of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge.
"What I believe that writer was trying to tell mankind was, 'You can't know. Don't try to eat from the tree of knowledge. You can't know. That's for God to know, not for you to know.' . . . And I believe that is a fairly wise story. You can't know."
Maher, who is single and has no children, says he believes in an afterlife, just not the kind that most religious people might describe.
Squaring the circle
"One way you could perceive the afterlife, and the difference from this life, is life on Earth is filled with all sorts of dualities," he explains. "It's fractured. Everything is fractured. There's man and woman. There's past and present. There's good and bad, heaven and hell, what you have and what you want. Everything is a duality, and that causes all the tension and pain in life.
"And, once in a while in life, when you kind of square that circle and make it something unified, when giving is receiving, when you feel like, 'Oh, the greatest gift is that I gave to you,' that is sort of touching the edge of heaven there," he says. "When lust and love are completely aligned, when your work is your play. Whenever you're squaring these dualities, that, to me, is a little taste of what a successful bridging of the afterlife might be."
Asked how what he does for a living is affected by his spiritual beliefs, Maher is ready with a provocative answer: "Well, I'm spreading the anti-gospel, aren't I?"
Like any polished preacher, his anti-gospel message, based on the premise that religion is "dangerous," can be summed up in three clear points.
"It wastes energy -- so much time and energy that could be spent on more important things, more-constructive things. It stops people from thinking. And it justifies insanity," he says, laughing. "Flying planes into buildings was a faith-based initiative. Other than that, I love it."
Quick-witted and outspoken, Maher gets charged out of politics
Bill Maher is that rare comedian whose brain and mouth work at the same time. Good thing for him, since he rarely takes time off from using either, though that often gets him in trouble. Two years ago, Maher's groundbreaking "Politically Incorrect" was booted from ABC when, ironically, Maher made politically incorrect comments on the show about the Sept. 11 hijackers. Only a few months later, he released "When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden," an outspoken critique of the war on terror told through essays and World War II-style propaganda posters.
After a three-week, Tony-nominated run on Broadway with his one-man show, "Victory Begins at Home," Maher landed on HBO with "Real Time" last year, once again butting heads with Hollywood and Washington on television. On the season three finale, he tangled with former senator Alan Simpson over gay rights, the Christian right, and the election. With a few months to spare while the show is on break, Maher is on tour. We had a chance to chat with him by phone this week before he plays the Orpheum Theatre tomorrow night.
Q: Is the environment for debate on the show good or bad right now considering the partisan nature of things? You had a blowout with Alan Simpson on the last show.
A: That was our last show of the season right after the election. It's hard to say because I haven't been there since. That was Nov. 5. But you know, from what I see on TV from other people's shows, I see a lot of sore winners, is what it looks like to me. A lot of castigating of the liberals and the left wing by the conservatives. A lot of finger-pointing, "You get it now!"
Q: I know you sort of made light of this on the show a bit, you made a plea for people to vote for George W. Bush at one point.
A: Completely tongue-in-cheek.
Q: Would you ever consider voting for someone who's better for the show?
A: No. That would be a decidedly unpatriotic thing to do, to put your career above your country. Especially when we're in times like these.
One major reason I think that George Bush is a lousy president is because he has not taken care of homeland security. And I think one of the main targets, one of the easiest accesses for the terrorists to get a dirty bomb in would be the port at Long Beach.
I don't live too far from it. So, if I really wanted George Bush to be president for my career and then I got blown up in a nuclear attack, it really would've backfired on me, wouldn't it?
Q: Do you think the politicians are getting their jokes in as well or do you think they're too serious?
A: Well, it's their job to be serious. [laughs] They're supposed to be serious. I want them to be serious. When a politician tries to be funny when he's not, it's just painful to watch. It's chalk on a blackboard.
Q: Do you think there's a way to turn back to a reasonable discourse?
A: The unpleasant answer to that is, disaster does it. And the even more unpleasant answer is, we had a disaster, and it obviously wasn't enough. People do not want to hear this, but it is the truth, that 3,000 people dying on 9/11 was absolutely not enough to shake things up. And, you know, 'What do you mean? 9/11 changed everything.' [But] 9/11 changed very, very little except for rhetoric.
If 9/11 changed everything, then we'd be a lot better protected, and people would be working together much more. If 9/11 had changed everything, would they be fighting right now about how to reform the intelligence communities that performed so badly leading up to 9/11?
Q: We decided all of our agencies didn't work and, in the face of that, we decided the solution was to create another agency.
A: Exactly! It's not that the CIA can't do the job. First of all, it's called the Central Intelligence Agency. I mean, it's right there in the title. We have that already. It's just that they've never been held accountable to the job.
Q: Do you see the media as being able to play a role in this?
A: Absolutely. Media can always play whatever role they want. The media has the ability in this country to change anything. Because that's the kind of society we live in now. The media's most important job is to make interesting what is important, a job, by the way, which they routinely fail at.
Q: Where do shows such as "Real Time" and "The Daily Show" fit into that media environment?
A: Well, I mean, they're different shows. I think "The Daily Show" is more of a very funny guy standing on the corner watching the parade go by and making funny, cogent comments about it. It's more bloodless than our show. Our show is a little more passionate. That's just my nature. I will talk about the subject that I think is important. I won't let the media dictate it to me.
On our second-to-last show of the year, I talked about the environment. And the environment came up once in three debates. Three 90-minute debates -- four, including the vice presidents -- one question.
Q: Do you think Jon Stewart went too far [on Crossfire when he blasted show cohosts Tucker Carlon and Paul Begala over journalism ethics and called them "partisan hacks."]?
A: I don't think that was the right way to deliver that message. And, I've said this before, I don't think he's the right one to deliver that message. If you're delivering the message that the media is contributing to the downgrading of our political system, the guy who allows politicians on his show and then doesn't ask them very difficult questions, I think that's a much bigger problem.
The reason why these politicians don't have to answer the tough questions is because they can go on shows like that. John Kerry didn't go on my show. And he didn't go on "Hardball," with Chris Matthews. And there's a reason. Because they don't have to.
Q: Do you think the entertainment industry made any sort of dent in this election one way or the other?
A: Not really. If they did it was probably not the dent they were hoping for.
I do think it's possible that for every concert that was given by the left wing, it aroused the right wing to get their people out to counteract it. For every action there is a reaction.
And obviously the young people the Democrats were counting on to come out to the polls -- the ones who were supposedly enjoying those Bruce Springsteen concerts -- they didn't show up. They voted the exact same percentage numbers as they did in 2000.
And I don't know who the genius was who thought that bringing in a bunch of 40-and-up rock stars was going to energize the young people. These guys are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a reason -- they're old. John Fogerty? Let me guess, Little Richard was booked.
Q: What about "Vote or Die," the P. Diddy effort?
A: Exactly. [laughs] Teenagers actually thought that P-Diddy was going to come to their house and bust a cap in their [expletive], and they still didn't vote.
Q: He's probably not doing the busting himself anymore. He farms that out.
A: Yeah. He gave that up to Shyne.
Q: Does applause really bother you on the show?
A: Well, I'm always worried we don't have an even amount of conservatives and liberals in the audience, and I would hate to be a liberal going on a show knowing that the entire audience was going to cheer what the other side said and be skeptical of what I said. But I have not found a way around that here in blue Los Angeles.
Q: Do you still define yourself as a Libertarian?
A: Yeah, but it's my definition. I'm always amazed that people, especially Libertarians, which has the word "liberty" in it, have called me to task, because my Libertarianism doesn't line up exactly with theirs. And I always say, well, other parties are allowed to have a big tent.
Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger are allowed to be Republicans, and they're pro-choice. I mean, what could be more of a big tent than that?
Bill Maher still charged up about politics
Comedians are not shy about bashing the Bush administration. Jon Stewart, George Carlin, and Chris Rock all take jabs at the president and the socially conservative values he stands for, but Bill Maher likes to push things even further, to a place that isn't at all comfortable, even for liberals. ABC yanked his late-night talk show "Politically Incorrect" off the air after he made what some consider an unpatriotic remark about the United States government being more cowardly than the Sept. 11 terrorists.
He hasn't stopped speaking his mind, though, and now hosts "Real Time With Bill Maher"on HBO.
Saturday at the Orpheum, George Bush and Co. were still the main target. "I don't hate America," he said, "I'm embarrassed it got taken over by cretins." He hit all the hot points: drug laws, abortion, stem cells, Christianity -- "It's very nice to have an imaginary friend," he said.
But the biggest issue on his mind was gay marriage. "I thought we were having a rational election . . . but apparently it was a referendum on boys kissing," he said. He didn't let Democrats off the hook, either, berating them for pushing for civil unions instead of marriage. "Either we're all drinking from the same fountain or we're not," he said.
Maher, dressed all in black, his hair grayer and shaggier than it used to be, glanced at a music stand holding his notes throughout the 90-minute show.
"I know I'm very angry; I just can't remember at what," he said.
Oh yeah, at George Bush, and he wouldn't let up on him about the seven minutes he sat in that elementary school classroom after he learned that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. "The man was getting some orders from Jesus -- it takes time," Maher said. "Seven minutes is a long time. 'Layla' is seven minutes. Did he think he was being Punk'd?"
Maher has dubbed the so-called spreading of freedom in Iraq: "Operation: Get a Load of Us." And he wants to know why US troops are bothering to defend an American public that's made up in part by the lazy, childish, narcissistic people of reality TV. It's a good question.
Maher's good at quickly making a salient point and then illustrating it with humor.
Single people are treated like second-class citizens in the workplace, he said. And then: " 'Go ahead Bob, you've got twins in the school play.' What if I've got twins in the Jacuzzi?"
He went from Medicare (not funny) right into hot dogs (always good for a laugh), and then talked about how vigilantly and ridiculously the Republicans have acted against "unpatriotic" acts, such as Linda Ronstadt's dedicating a song to filmmaker Michael Moore during a Las Vegas performance. "They didn't make this much of a fuss when the lion ate Roy," Maher said.
He isn't necessarily profane or shocking, he's just sharp, unapologetic, and intent on making sure his point gets across.
One of his funniest bits was completely silly -- a little something he calls "Master P's Theatre," in which he translates rap-song lyrics into straight English.
When he started one by Snoop Dogg with, "I was talking to a sibling," audience members were in stitches. They had been eating out of the palm of his hand the whole night, of course; judging from the amount of whistling and applauding, there couldn't have been a single Republican in the house. And if there was, no way he was laughing.
Bill Maher is a ''confirmed bachelor''
Bill Maher has fired back at the busty beauty who's suing him for $9 million in palimony, proclaiming he's a "confirmed bachelor" who never promised to take care of her.
In a stinging countersuit against Nancy "Coco" Johnson, the loud-mouthed HBO talk host claims the one-time nude centerfold model is a would-be extortionist out to shake him down for big bucks.
Maher, 48, describes himself as a "confirmed bachelor, and a very public one at that," in legal papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by thesmokinggun.com
He claims Johnson launched a vicious campaign to embarrass and humiliate him after their 10-month relationship ended.
Bill Maher doesn't like blood sport
Bill Maher got fired up enough about cockfighting to write a letter to Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico -- one of the few states where cockfighting is still legal.
"Why is it that in your great state of New Mexico, it is still legal to strap blades onto roosters' legs and let 'em go at each other? I thought this kind of fighting was reserved for the political arena," writes Maher in a letter posted on www.peta.org. Being Maher, while he's at it, he takes a little dig at a couple of his favorite targets.
"You want to see real bloodshed? Put Ralph Nader and Ann Coulter in a room together. Now that's entertainment."
Rue McClanahan gave a shudder worthy of an Oscar when she saw a pile of hooks made for cockfighting. McClanahan, a former star of TV's "Golden Girls" comedy series, came to town as part of a Hollywood campaign to get New Mexico to ban cockfighting.
"Rue McClanahan is our celebrity for the day," Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez said as he welcomed the star to his podium. McClanahan laughed. She'd swept into Chavez's conference room past a bank of TV cameras and cooed, "Hello, media." Add McClanahan to a growing list of celebrities hoping their dazzle - or what remains of it - will help sway public opinion.
"I find the whole thing appalling," McClanahan said. A native of Oklahoma and resident of New York City, McClanahan referred to New Mexico as her "home away from home."
Pamela Anderson began the barrage by writing a letter to Gov. Bill Richardson earlier this month asking him to ban the practice. Likewise TV pundit and comedian Bill Maher is reportedly drafting a letter to the same effect.
And whenever the New Mexico Legislature discusses the matter, Ali McGraw turns up on the floor of the Senate to make her appeal for a ban. She turns some heads, gets glowing introductions and gives Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, a Portales Republican, a smooch on the cheek, which he treasures. After McGraw leaves, the Legislature carries on with its business and, if the last session is any indication, declines to address the matter.
Now People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is angling for what it hopes is a soft spot in Richardson's hide. The animal activists are aiming at his pet project in New Mexico: the film industry. "Usually, pressuring people through business is possibly the best way," said Dan Matthews, a field coordinator for PETA who traveled with McClanahan to Albuquerque. "It's just one point of pressure."
After retooling a new set of incentives for movie companies, New Mexico's film industry has seen a dramatic uptick during the past two years. The industry has pumped an estimated $80 million into New Mexico in the past year, with about 14 productions taking place in-state.
Matthews said he's been talking with well-known producers and directors, the group Richardson wants to woo, and said they're receptive to his message. Not quite an outright call for boycotting film work in New Mexico, but not quite a pass, either.
"It's frustrating because everybody loves New Mexico," Matthews said. "It has this sort of black eye." Asked whether he thought cockfighting would be enough to force film people from doing business with New Mexico, Matthews said, "There's a lot of states that want film business." But only two - New Mexico and Louisiana - allow the blood sport.
Bill Maher too busy to take it seriously
EX-Delta stewardess Coco Johnson suing Bill Maher for $9 million for breach of giving her a ring? Another in the Pin the Tail on the Celebrity cases?
Black, beautiful, breasts reminiscent of those '57 Chevys that had big bumpers, she says he promised to marry her. Please. I mean, please. Please! I know this dude. Every time I see him he's oiling his movable parts with another female. Marry? Please. Just the thought of going steady makes his body break out in blisters.
She also accused him of being racially demeaning. Bill's pad looks like the U.N. She also says he promised her children. Bill gags even at photos of other people's kids.
So I asked how's he taking it? "I'm too busy working on my TV show right now to even take this seriously," says Bill Maher.
Real comedy with Bill Maher
That Bill Maher is one of the last truly funny contemporary topical comedians is as much a testament to his willingness to skewer both sides of the political spectrum as it is to his sharp, smart sense of comedy. Dennis Miller and Al Franken have been too absorbed by the right and the left respectively to remain truly funny, and George Carlin has lost more than a few comedic steps since his 1970s heyday, leaving Maher and Jon Stewart as lonely voices of reason amid the political madness. Then again, some of the things Maher says make one question his reason, if not his caustic sense of humor.
In an interview conducted before the recent presidential election, Maher - who, though he leans left, isn't so dogmatic as to take certain conservative stances when they strike him as appropriate - said the current political climate is about creating fear. For Republicans, it's fear of terrorist threats; for Democrats, it's fear of rising debt and global isolation. But it's all about fear. "This is a fear election," said Maher, who brings his stand-up act to Eastern Michigan University's Convocation Center on Friday. "This is an election that has been framed along the lines of: Elect this guy or you'll die. "But you know, that's the only thing Bush can run on. His domestic policy is praising Jesus and cutting Paris Hilton's taxes. So he's got to run on, you know, be afraid, be very afraid."
But to hear Maher tell it, Americans are afraid of all the wrong things. They believe Osama bin Laden is lurking behind every airport baggage claim, but ignore a sluggish economy, rising deficits, health-care costs and other issues he believes affect them more in their everyday lives. "But the economy isn't so awful that it's the No. 1 concern on people's minds; their safety is more on their minds," he said. "It's about the marketing. It's not about what's real. It's about what they market to people. "I mean, they were able to morph bin Laden into Hussein. Do you think they can't make a little debt go away? That's something people don't even care about in the first place."
If Maher sounds feisty, consider that his words came weeks before the election even took place. Imagine what he'll have in store when he hits town in the wake of President Bush's narrow victory last week. "You have to understand this is an administration that, more than any I've ever seen, counts on the intellectual sluggishness of the American population," he said. "This is a 'little learning is a dangerous thing' administration. "That's a good thing for them, because the American public has a little learning. Very little, but just enough to be a dangerous thing."
Maher, 48, said he comes by his cynicism honestly. Raised in a liberal household by a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, he learned early to see two sides to every issue. It's an approach that served him well during five years hosting the political three-ring circus "Politically Incorrect," before ABC cancelled it after Maher made typically indelicate comments about terrorism, and currently as host of "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO. It also works in his new book, "When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden." The HBO gig suits Maher's frequently loose-cannon, often profane style better than the network format, although Maher insists he constantly struggles to keep comedy at the forefront and current events as background. After all, he said, it's comedy, not news. "For my own world I've created the best kind of journalism, which is sort of comedy journalism," he said.
"There is no better way of changing a person's mind than to make them laugh, because a laugh is involuntary." And if that makes for some uncomfortable on-stage moments, all the better for the show, Maher said. "My favorite moment in any show is when I say things where I can feel the audience withdrawing, when I bring up the premise and then I say the joke and they laugh," he said. "Anybody can get up there and confirm prejudices. "It's a lot more satisfying to unsettle people's prejudices and challenge them and say things that make them re-examine who they are and what they believe."
Bill Maher Sued For $9 Million!
An ex-galpal of funnyman Bill Maher sued him for $9 million yesterday, saying he enticed her to give up a successful career as a flight attendant with false promises to marry her and buy her a home in Beverly Hills.
A spokesman for Maher, host of HBO's ``Real Time'' political satire show, had no immediate comment on the breach of contract suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by fetching ex-model and airline stewardess Coco Johnsen.
In the suit, Coco said she and Maher met in 2003 and that their relationship lasted about 17 months, during which time she moved in with him and he promised to marry her and buy her a Beverly Hills house that was formerly occupied by Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Nothing says ``happy future'' like ``formerly owned by Bennifer''!
The suit said Maher convinced her to say buh-bye to her 12-year job with Delta airlines so she could devote herself full-time to him and his spectacular career. But the suit added that after Johnsen quit working, Maher became abusive and made ``insulting, humiliating and degrading racial comments'' about her, as a black woman, and physically threatened and abused her. Now that's Not Politically Correct!
She said she ended the relationship in May 2004 and now wants $9 million in compensatory damages. Real money!
Bill Maher will be honored as one of the ''Banned, Boycotted, Bold, and Brave'' artists
One of our favorite upfront, upright, no-nonsense, funny and super-intelligent men, Bill Maher, will be among the "Banned, Boycotted, Bold and Brave" artists to be honored by the People for the American Way at its Spirit of Liberty Awards gala in January. This happens at the Plaza. People for the American Way was founded by Norman Lear 23 years ago to protect artistic expression. We need it now more than ever! Speaking of Bill, I get a laugh whenever I come upon one of his early acting gigs. He did a lot of "Murder, She Wrote." He was good, but so much better these days as his own unfettered self.