Bill Maher has hung onto his job hosting HBO talk show “Real Time” for 10 years now, despite his penchant for politically incorrect comments that would require most public figures to turn their publicists into human shields.
But he knows that at some point, his bosses at HBO could tap him on the shoulder and put him out to pasture.
“They did it to Johnny Carson when he was 67, and he was still the biggest star in television almost … certainly in late-night,” says Maher, 57. “The grim reaper waits for no man, television-wise.”
So he continues to hit the road with his smug, snarky brand of political comedy: This winter, his weekly schedule typically has included the hourlong show aired live on Fridays from a studio in
Angeles, followed by Saturday and Sunday shows in various cities.
This Sunday night, he performs at U.S. ’s Belk Theater. (Details: www.ncbpac.org.) Charlotte
“Stand-up,” Maher says, “you can do till you’re 100. George Burns was booked at the Palladium when he was 100, and he damn almost made it.”
Maher spoke to the Observer recently about Donald Trump, who is suing Maher for $5 million over a joke he made about Trump being descended from an orangutan; President Obama, who Maher calls “Django Unchained”; and the real “Django Unchained” – a movie he found almost as disturbing as Trump.
Q. Is it hard to switch gears like that between doing the TV show and then doing your stand-up act?
No, because they actually feed each other. I love going out into the country because I feel like I take it back to
and have a sense of
that I wouldn’t have otherwise, so I’m not just talking about it from an ivory
tower. And I’m very fortunate in the type of material I do, being political,
I’m always being given a fresh batch of fun material to work with. I feel sorry
for these observational comedians who sit there at a diner looking at the
ketchup bottle, thinking, “F---, I’ve gotta come up with a joke about this.
What is funny about a ketchup bottle?” And then you finally come up with
something and they tell you, “Oh no, George Carlin observed that in 1974.” But …
especially with these Republicans, I’ve got funny stuff every week. America
Q. And with Trump, right?
Trump! Everywhere I go now, that’s the first thing the crowd yells out. “Trump!”
Q. So have you been really busy fretting about his lawsuit against you?
Oh my God, when this thing goes to the Supreme Court, let me tell you. Ahh, no I don’t know what to tell you about this man. Like I told Conan last week, it’s as if they made Lenny from “Of Mice and Men” a billionaire. … It’s insane. I don’t think he’s even a person. It’s like some sort of ’80s pop reference that I’m having a feud with. It’s like J.R. Ewing and I are fighting.
Q. He was actually in
earlier this month and was
talking up the golf club he bought in Mooresville, which isn’t far from here.
Maybe you can check out the course when you’re in town. Charlotte
I’m not a golfer, but I know that one of his hobbies in life is ruining coastlines, like that thing he had in Scotland, remember that? But yeah, if that keeps him off the streets, fine.
Q. I take you have no interest in ever being on “The Celebrity Apprentice”?
Or any other reality show.
Q. Your thoughts on Obama at the beginning of his second term?
It seems like the ball really is in Obama’s court now. After the State of the Union … and this being his second term, people are wondering what’s he gonna do – I keep calling him “Django Unchained” for the second term – and the Republicans are really … coming across … to the American public as just sulking, just pissed off, reacting out of personal grudge as opposed to what’s best for the country. And we’ll see. I think Obama had a very important lesson to learn in the first term, which is that yeah, it was right to reach out to people … and he certainly did reach out, you cannot blame the guy for not trying. But all he got was the back of their hand and “Go back to
f------ Socialist.” So it just seems like he’s taking a different tack now,
which is basically to take it to the people and embarrass the Republicans into
doing something. Kenya
Q. Earlier this month, you made headlines after airing an editorial on “Real Time” that skewered the Pope’s resignation and Catholics in general. There was one story I found that was basically just a transcript of the monologue, and there were 361 comments on it.
Oh really? All positive, I’m guessing?
Q. Absolutely. Why do you think people get so fired up about religion?
Well, because for so many people, it’s what they cling to. Remember what Obama said, “they cling to their guns and their religion”? And with some people, I understand that, I said that in my movie “Religulous,” that if you’re in prison, and you say, “All I got in here is Jesus,” I get that. But for a lot of people, I don’t think it’s really that necessary. It’s yes, frightening when the light goes out at night to think that you may not wake up and if you don’t you’re just worm food, but come on. It’s attached to too much bull----. There’s too big a price to pay for that, and obviously, the point we were trying to make in that editorial, was that … Catholics don’t really follow anything the Pope says anyway. Ninety-eight percent of Catholics use birth control – that’s quite a blowing-off of church doctrine. … They masturbate and they divorce and they have pre-marital sex. OK, so if you’re not really following what the Pope and the Church says anyway, and the Church has been shown to be a safe haven for child molesters, what are you sticking around for. If he quits, you can quit.
Q. Let’s talk about the South. Your views of it?
I play the South so much. I love the South. In the old days, I loved it because it was always more fun to go out after the show. Now that I’m old, I don’t really go out after the show, so that’s out of the question, but yes, it was always more fun to go out in Charlotte or Houston than it was in Boston or even San Francisco is not much of a party town. The South knows how to have fun. But beyond that, I love playing the South. … (Audiences) are pretty much the same all over, people who come to see you and pay money to see you generally are your fans. They generally want you to do well, and then you really want to do well for them. But there is just a little extra bit of love and enthusiasm when I play red states, because first of all I think they expect me not to come there, they expect me to have written off that state as a bunch of rednecks. … What I’ve found is that everywhere, (even in) the reddest of the red states … there are always two or three thousand liberal, progressive, very often Atheistic-thinking people even in places like Alabama. They just are marbled into the woodwork. But they come out when I come out when I come to their town, and so it’s sort of I think a release to be in a room with all people who think like you when you thought maybe you were the only one in town. So there is a really special feeling in places like that. Now,
is a big, sophisticated city so I’m
sure these people are aware that there are people like them. But maybe not so
much in Charlotte . Maybe not so much in Tulsa, Oklahoma .
But … I just think that in general, the feeling in the South is just different.
It’s just more laid-back. It’s more friendly. I’m not saying it’s exactly
Mayberry if you walk down the street, but there’s more humanity, as opposed to
that “don’t look at each other, don’t make eye contact” that you find in
Northern, colder cities. Huntsville, Alabama
Q. Lastly, since it’s Oscar week, let’s talk about movies. Did you see “Argo” (which won Best Picture Sunday)?
“Argo” – loved it. Great entertainment.
Q. How about “
Loved it, and I saw that and then I saw “Django Unchained” about a week later
and I noticed that because they’re up against each other in the same year and
they both happen to be talking about similar subject matter, right, it’s about
slavery and that whole era … they’re compared to each other. … I had real
problems with (“Django”) as far as going from low comedy – like that scene
where they can’t see out of their klansmen outfits, it’s right out of “Blazing
Saddles” – to go from a scene where Kerry Washington is whipped to that scene,
I just couldn’t make that adjustment. I guess some people can, but I couldn’t
go back to laughing after I saw her whipped, or the two slaves’ fight to the
death in the living room. This I found was very disturbing. And for Steven
Spielberg to be able to do a movie about not the dramatic stuff that we think
about with Lincoln – (no) battle scenes … just the procedural movement of
legislation – and still make over $100 million, I think is an amazing
achievement. I just think he is widely perceived as the greatest director, and
he’s still underrated. Lincoln
Q. “Zero Dark Thirty”?
I wasn’t all that entertained. It was OK, but it was a little too documentary-like, and yeah, I didn’t know what all the fuss was about, quite frankly. I liked her other one, “The Hurt Locker,” a lot more. … As far as that whole controversy about the torture, I thought it was bull---- for the movie to present the capture of bin Laden as dependent on that torture because the experts seem to disagree.
Q. And last one – I’m particularly curious, since it has religious themes – did you see “Life of Pi”?
No, I have not seen “Life of Pi.” I have stayed away on purpose. I like Ang Lee a lot and I think he’s a great director, and I’ve really enjoyed a lot of his movies – “The Ice Storm” and “Brokeback Mountain” – but I know people who’ve seen it and they’ve told me, “Bill, you’re probably not gonna want to go see this one.”