Unpopular Opinion

Bill Maher gets real Acerbic television host and political comic Bill Maher views the 60-70 stand-up gigs he does each year as opportunities to connect with the American gestalt. His Oct. 24 Omaha Music Hall show will be among them. “When I go out into America I can really get a feel for what this country is all about. I especially love going to places I’ve never been before, and I don’t think I’ve ever played Omaha,” he said by phone from his CBS Television City studio office in L.A. “Then when I go back to Hollywood and do my show here I feel like, ‘Yeah, I’m not just sitting in a place that’s not really America.’ I do the work, I go out there and I see America, and I enjoy it more than anything.” His topical late night HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher” is in its eighth season. It’s among the few programs that neither talks down to its audience nor apologizes for its signature unabashed sarcasm. Before this show he enjoyed a decade-long run with “Politically Incorrect,” which began on Comedy Central and ended on ABC. Executives at ABC cancelled it after Maher and a guest made controversial remarks in the wake of 9/11. Unlike the network wonks that freaked, he says HBO’s suits take his incendiary humor and viewer reaction to it in stride. “They’re like a Jewish mother. They will let me know after the fact if I’ve caused them some consternation or pain. They’ll be like, ‘Aw, don’t worry about us, we had to handle 50,000 emails yesterday, it’s OK, we’ll be alright.’ Yeah, that sometimes happens, but to their great credit they don’t ever stop me.” Considering his barbed comments on sensitive subjects, just staying on the air may be the greatest accomplishment of this self-described Libertarian who considers organized religion a neurological disorder. “I’m proudest that I’ve somehow managed to remain on television for 18 years,” he says. “I mean, from the end of ‘Politically Incorrect’ to the start of this show there was only a six-month break. You would think someone who espouses as many unpopular opinions as I do, I mean just religion alone, would have been shown the door a long time ago instead of getting a star on the (Hollywood) Walk of Fame. “So it’s pretty amazing to me, but that shows something good about America. When I started on ‘Politically Incorrect’ in 1993 all the critics said this show is never going to last because you can’t have a host who tells an opinion. Hosts were all playing out of the old Johnny Carson or Bob Hope playbook, where you just never let the audience really know your politics. You didn’t know if Johnny Carson voted for Nixon or Humphrey. You still don’t know who Jay Leno or David Letterman vote for.” Maher, who regards America as a declining empire with a dumb body politic, lets viewers know exactly where he and his guests stand. “People, even if they don’t agree with you, as long as you entertain them and you’re honest about it and you’re not down-the-line doctrinaire, they respect that,” he says. “They can take it if they don’t agree with you.” The edge “Real Time” maintains, he says, is the unfiltered, unapologetic way things get said. “I think people feel like it’s more honest than anything else on TV. That we will give a very raw and different point of view. Admittedly, it’s my opinion and they may not agree with it, but I think they respect the fact it’s real.” “Real Time” also fills an information niche, albeit a highly interpretive one. “Part of it is we’re a live, news wrap-up show on Friday night,” Maher says. “I think the purpose we serve for a lot of people is they have busy lives, they don’t have a chance to be newshounds all week like we do. What I try to do is to make sure that anyone who hasn’t really gotten a chance to look at the paper that week will be caught up on most of the important things that happened if they watch the show. We will touch upon them in one way or the other, either in the monologue, in an interview, in the panel, in New Rules, or in the editorial at the end.” At the end of the day then, what is Maher — comic, humorist, critic, commentator, pundit or talking head? “Well, I guess we live in an age of hybrids, so there are times when I am any one of those things, but I always think of myself first as a comedian. That’s why I still go on the road, because that’s what I love, that’s what I know best, and that’s what I do best.” For tickets to An Evening with Bill Maher, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. at the Music Hall, 1804 Capitol Ave., call 1.800.745.3000 or visit ticketmaster.com.

posted at 08:25 pm
on Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

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