Bill Maher has a TV show, standup tour, podcast, and new HBO special coming out.Screen grab/graphic from Bill Maher: #Adulting on HBO
For one hour each week (and a little extra online), Bill Maher addresses, dissects, skewers, pontificates and debates with guests the social and political topics of the day on his long-running HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher.
But given just how batshit crazy things are going these days in the world on every level and subject fathomable, the longtime comedian/satirist/social commentator could easily fill many more hours of programming.
And he’s trying. In addition to the show, Maher has launched a new podcast with a more leisurely feel (Club Random with Bill Maher), will have his 12th HBO standup special debut on April 15 (#Adulting), and is also on a standup tour. He’ll have a date with Houston and surrounding areas April 9 at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land.
One person who probably won’t be in attendance is area resident, full-time U.S. Senator from Texas and part-time elementary school Librarian Ted Cruz, a frequent target of Maher’s pointed barbs.
“He could be a better gift to comedy than Trump,” Maher says via phone. “I have a bit where in 2016 Ted Cruz was asked about what kind of music he listened to, and his response was ‘Before 9/11, I used to listen to classic rock. But after, it seemed more right to listen to country.’ And anyone who says that kind of answer to the most innocent question, you have to watch out for. Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar ‘beware lean and hungry men.’ It’s not the stupid ones you have to worry about in Congress, it’s the ambitious ones. And Ted Cruz has been running for president since he was three years old.”
Maher does note that Cruz has “flirted” with coming on Real Time. And as any viewer knows, the show’s guests represent pretty much every notch on the sliding scale of thoughts, viewpoints and opinions. “I’d love to have him on! I will talk to anyone,” Maher says. “This is America. We have to talk to each other.”
That said, Maher considers himself a liberal, though lately he’s had just as many verbal knives sharpened for Democrats as Republicans. Noting that much of their wokeness, wishy-washy and non-confrontational habits allow them to be steamrolled by Republicans and conservatives.
“They’ve embraced things that they never used to. People say I’ve changed, but I’ve always been the same guy. Five years ago, no one was talking about abolishing the police or saying ‘Silence is Violence,’ but looting is not,” Maher offers.
“This is the kind of insanity on the left. It shouldn’t be that difficult to be less crazy than the Republicans. That’s a party that does not believe in the emergency of climate change or even democracy anymore. A majority of them did not even vote to certify an election that they knew was legitimate!”
He adds that the Democrats are still “savable,” but only if they don’t continue to go off into “loony areas” and stick to minimum wage, the environment, health care and education issues. And be cautious of their Wokeness Level, especially as it relates to comedy. On a recent show, he referred to "The Nothing is Funny People."
Bill Maher is not Nostradamus, but he’s been consistently prescient for years on one thing about Donald Trump since even before he was elected President: That if he lost the election for a second term, he would not go quietly. Or go at all.
“I knew this guy would never abide by the norms of [succession]. Like saying about the person who beat him it was a tough race, but he wishes him the best and hopes he succeeds. As George Bush said to Obama [upon succession],” Maher says. “Trump is not just stupid, he’s crazy. But he embodies them both.”
In terms of Trump and comedy, Maher says he’s a big fan and admirer of the James Austin Johnson, the current Saturday Night Live “Donald Trump.” He says believes that Alec Baldwin’s impression was OK, but too over the top.
“[Johnson] does Trump better than anyone. He gets it. He speaks in that very normal voice which Trump does,” Maher says. “Trump says the most dangerous and crazy things, but he does it so calmly and without bluster. Like ‘Columbus went to the moon in 1922!’ and people just go along. That’s the danger of Trump. He’s an insane person who doesn’t sound insane. I mean to prove a [rigged election], they were looking for bamboo in the voting ballots? And somehow Venezuela was involved?”
Maher has been a vocal critic of what he calls the “panic porn” that’s accompanied the pandemic. And Real Time viewers have seen the show evolve from no new episodes to ones filmed at Maher’s house with an ironic laugh track, to live in front of a handful of masked staffers, to a larger-but-still-masked audience.
Now finally able to record in front of a fuller capacity and naked-faced group in the studio, he says that some Darwinian-style natural selection has taken place.
“I think I’ve got a better audience now! We were able to weed out the ‘groaners,’” he says. “I used to fight with the audience a lot because we’re in L.A. and it’s politically correct central here. And I would think ‘What show are you coming to? Do you know who I am? Why are you groaning at [this joke]?’ But since the pandemic, I don’t have to worry about it! It’s a much cooler group.”
He’s also aware that the television media landscape has changed dramatically and thus splinters viewership. Not too long ago when there were basically three free television channels, shows only had to compete with a few others. Audience numbers for a regular hit sitcom then are now only reached by mega-events like the Super Bowl.
Current television shows also must compete for screen-blearied-and-shot eyeballs not just against streaming and YouTube, but against every other television show ever made, viewable on demand and at the touch of a button.
When told that this writer’s 18-year-old son Vincent is an avid watcher of Real Time—but takes issue with how often Maher shits on Millennials and Gen Z for being uninterested in history and obsessed with their phones, the host clarifies his position.
“Just the fact that your son is watching my show doesn’t mean I’m talking about him. He’s interested in politics and what’s going on with the world now. And if everyone in his generation was like him, we wouldn’t have the problems I’m talking about. So that makes him atypical!” Maher offers.
“But I’m talking about the majority of his age group. And they don’t vote as much. Real life problems seem very far away when you’re 22 years old. Then you get married and have kids and a mortgage and taxes then you start to care what’s going on with the world and how the country is run. So, I say to your son, congratulations, you’re an outlier!”
Finally, a bit about a favorite moment on Real Time history. In 2004, Maher’s guests were the left-leaning filmmaker Michael Moore and progressive consumer activist Ralph Nader, who at the time was heavily considering another tilting-at-windmills run for the U.S. Presidency.
It was a move that, as many liberals feared, would split the Democratic/liberal vote and hand the election to the Republicans. Some feel that’s what happened when Nader ran in 2000 and George W. Bush squeaked into office.
At one point, Maher and Moore literally dropped to their knees on the set and begged Nader not to run, pleading and cajoling as the bemused looking Nader sat in a chair. Nader ran for office, and George W. Bush did indeed win a second term (though Nader’s possible impact was debatable).
“I don’t think [Nader] really wanted us to beg him not to run, but I think he understood the point we were making,” Maher says, adding that it’s “a real problem” that there are only two viable political parties in elections.
“It’s only ever Coke or Pepsi in our system, unlike so many democracies around the world. This is one reason that George Washington did not want political parties. He foresaw the factionalism that it would create and where we are now with partisanship that suffocates any chance for progress in this country,” Maher sums up,
“But now, George Washington has been cancelled. So, fuck him!"
Bill Maher performs at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 9, at the Smart Financial Centre, 18111 Lexington. For more information, call 281-207-6278 or visit SmartFinancialCentre.com $49.50-$175.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.