Bill Maher opened his October 2003 show at the Carpenter Center on the Cal State Long Beach campus by asking the audience if he was in Orange County.
“BOO-OOO-OOO-OOO!” the audience growled back so loudly it temporarily flustered the comedian.
Maher seems to have that effect on people. They hate him, they laugh at him. And Maher gives it right back: despite being branded a lefty-libertarian who champions pot smokers, Prius drivers and defenseless animals, he opposes moves to make it easier to vote because Americans have proved to be, by and large, idiots. He hates you, he laughs at you.
Despite the shaky opening that night in Long Beach, Maher went on to kill, riffing on hypocritical moralists, George W. Bush (then campaigning to stay in the White House) and most especially Arnold Schwarzenegger (then just days away from taking over the state house).
Fans of Maher's political incorrectness lap up every line he serves—but we must also acknowledge how easy it is to be turned off by his smugness, his nebulous politics and his knack for banging Playmates despite possessing a face that resembles Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs.
And then there was, of course, those infamous remarks he made on his former ABC show Politically Incorrect shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For those of you who have just emerged from your spider hole, Maher said it was inappropriate to label the hijackers as “cowards” due to the fact that they sacrificed their lives for their cause—as opposed to the U.S. lobbing bombs from afar. (Bonus points to anyone who remembers that Maher was actually agreeing with a point first brought up that night by his conservative guest, Dinesh D'Souza.)
But even with Maher's smirky attitude and hedonistic lifestyle and penchant for off-putting remarks, there is no denying one simple fact: dude can be flat-out hilarious.
Going back to his days cracking up Johnny Carson through to his club dates, his HBO specials and that cable network's current program Real Time With Bill Maher, Maher just has a way of rooting out humor both on the world stage and in everyday American life.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his Real Time show's closing New Rules segment. Maher does this routine as photos of subjects that offend him appear over his shoulder and the guests he'd earlier cajoled or embraced sit alongside him and guffaw with the live studio audience. Take this New Rule from four months ago—please!
“New Rule: if you work at an office, you have to take a turn cleaning the office microwave. I opened ours the other day, and a bat flew out. The inside looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. The three settings are now 'Cook,' 'Defrost' and 'Hepatitis.' And if you're not going to clean the damn thing, at least take out whatever is growing in there so we can harvest the stem cells.”
Many of his darts—which HBO recently released on DVD—are aimed at Washington, but his best ones are apolitical.
“New Rule: no more cell phones in movie theaters. Please, you're not a cardiologist on call. You're a putz whose baby sitter wants to know where the ketchup is. And then you tell her in the middle of the movie theater! Sometimes it's so loud I can't hear what the black people are yelling at the screen. There is a simple solution: put your cell phone on vibrate and then up your ass.”
Many would gladly return the favor—once they finished laughing.
BILL MAHER, NEW RULES. HBO. $19.97; MAHER PERFORMS AT THE GROVE OF ANAHEIM, 2200 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 712-2700. SUN., 8 P.M. $63.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.