Bill Maher Rings In The New Year

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - December 28, 2011
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Bill Maher, pictured here New Year’s Day at Lincoln Theater in Napa Valley, will take the stage at the Waikiki Shell New Year’s Eve his first show in Hawaii. Steve Jennings photo

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. Sometimes that gets him into trouble. But it’s also allowed him to carve out a niche on the standup circuit and on television.

Maher is coming to Hawaii to perform two shows, including Dec. 31 at the Waikiki Shell. I recently spoke with him about his life and his particular brand of comedy.

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.

Correct. That’s partly because Politically Incorrect was on every night of the week. But that was a different show. Politically Incorrect was a sillier show, it was a show that somewhat lived off the gimmick of mixing together people of very different backgrounds and very different IQ levels, and seeing how that would play if we just threw them together and they were mismatched.

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. But mainly, on New Year’s Eve, my show will be a survey of what’s been going on all year. 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? I think it’s going to be a fun show on New Year’s Eve.

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.

There’s always a little nugget that is very serious within the comedy.

Especially with somebody like Newt Gingrich. I was a little more sanguine about Mitt Romney because, although I’m not a big fan of Romney, at least I feel like he eats with a knife and fork. I mean, the rest of these people are just insane. I was always confident that it would be Romney as the nominee, but with Newt Gingrich throwing bombs in there, I don’t know who is. I mean, if it’s Newt Gingrich with his finger on the nuclear button? And let’s be honest, in an election year with the unemployment rate at 9 percent, Obama could lose.

Have you been to Hawaii before?

I’ve been there many times, I’ve just never worked there. I talked to my agent and said, can’t you get me booked into Hawaii? And he’s always had a million excuses, and I kept saying, what’s the big deal here? It’s Hawaii. It’s a state now. I heard something about the president being born in that state. And there are lots of intelligent people there who want to laugh, so ... we finally got it done and I’m thrilled.

What a nice way to make a living.

(laughs) And easy. Maher’s Jan. 1 Maui show is sold out. Tickets are still available for his New Year’s Eve show at the Waikiki Shell as this is written.

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