Bill Maher On Comedy And GOP

People either love Bill Maher or they hate him. The comedian/political commentator/actor/author/ provocateur readily admits he brings out the extremes in people, and he’s just fine with that. He’s a political progressive, an atheist and famously outspoken in expressing his views. Recent concerts on Oahu and Maui gave MidWeek an opportunity to talk with him.

You started your show biz career in stand-up comedy …

And that was like 30 years ago, and I’m still doing it.

I used to watch Politically Incorrect, and now you have Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. I like it better. Your guests are more knowledgeable, and the show has more heft.

That’s partly because Politically Incorrect was on every night of the week. But that was a different show. The show I do now, as you appropriately point out, is a better show, and a show with more heft, and no, we’re not trying to just put together weird combinations anymore. What we want are really intelligent people. We don’t have a lot of celebrities on this show. The only celebrities who do Real Time are the few who are real political junkies. I could name them on one hand: Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Ben Affleck, Keri Washington. There are really only a few who really follow politics closely enough to sit on that panel.

So with all these smart people on your show, you have to do your homework, a lot of research. But you still have this quality of saying whatever comes to your mind.

It’s intriguing to some and hateful to others. But I’ve made my peace with the fact that I am a polarizing figure because this has been going on for a very long time. Politically Incorrect went on air in 1993. My god, I’m coming up on my 20th anniversary doing this. And yeah, there’s no way in this country that you don’t engender a lot of animosity if you speak your mind. I even see it on my Twitter feed, and these are people who are following me! (laughs) You’d think they would be mostly with me. But half the time even on the Twitter feed there are people who are spouting some sort of hate.

That makes me wonder what your upbringing was like. Did you come from a family where you all sat around the dining room table and argued?

No, I came from a wonderful, loving family. I was fortunate. I mean, my sister and I fought, but that’s just normal. But what I did come from was a family that was interested in politics. My father was a radio newsman and so we were always talking at the dinner table about what was going on in the world, about what was going on in the country. I knew the names of the politicians who were running the country, even when I was a kid. That’s what gave me my interest in this area. I always wanted to be a comedian. It’s just my background, my family background that led me toward doing the kind of comedy that I do that’s based on politics.

How does your standup differ from your TV show?

Stand-up is very pure. It’s just you and the audience and the joke. But, of course, the jokes that I do are based on the same subjects that I cover in the show. Most of the show has to do with Obama and the Republicans, what’s going on in the country … I kind of veer off from time to time; I do like to talk about sex and drugs, rock ‘n’ roll (laughs) … fun stuff. Um, religion, of course, is something I like to touch on. It’s been a crazy political year where I basically had to rewrite my act every week. It seems like almost every month there was a new Republican front-runner. For a while it was Trump, and then it was Michele Bachmann, and then it was Rick Perry everybody was talking about. One week it was about Herman Cain having all these sex scandals. And then it was about Rick Perry can’t remember the three branches of government. It’s been just a crazy, crazy year. And what about Newt Gingrich?

From my point of view as a progressive, (the GOP candidates are) very much a comedy lineup. Unfortunately, it’s a comedy lineup that could wind up running the country.