Throwback: Interview /w Bill Maher of HBO
Interview with Bill Maher
Politics Never Sounded This Good Before…
By: Patrick Gipson
Before God there was nothing. And before John Stewart, or say, Stephen Colbert, there was Bill Maher. First invading our television sets in 1993 with his Comedy Central show “Politically Incorrect,” Maher now hosts a weekly HBO talk show “Real Talk with Bill Maher,” where the comedian satirically touches in on a variety of today’s hottest issues, including gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana and well…fat children. His commentary makes him both a magnetic figure of liberating discussion and a target for say, God’s lightning strike? Aside from writing and producing the film “Religulous,” a glaring mockery of modern religions, Maher steps on toes with groups such as PETA and Project Reason.
Maher’s humor stands atop the pedestal where social critique and political satire crash. With a “tell it like it is” attitude, his controversial dialogue can expose the truly sensitive, hidden underbelly of America. The comedian recently took the stage at the Tennessee Theatre for a night of stand-up, but not before treating taking some time to discuss with me some of his latest thoughts, such as his honorable land in Tennessee, immigration laws and his strong repulsion for Tim Tebow.
What’s it like doing your stand up in the South, where many people see your commentary as highly controversial?
“I love playing in the south, in any red state. There’s something about when I come to a place where I’m probably politically a minority and the minority of the people who come to see my show and we kind of bond over that. I think there’s a lot of free thinking, liberal thinking people in the red states and you just need something to make them come out of the woodwork.”
Do you welcome the political opposition?
“There’s no opposition usually in the theatre that I’m playing, it’s usually the people who come to see you. I think there’s a feeling among the crowd that, ‘hey, finally somebody came to our area who thinks like we do, as opposed to what we’re always hearing at the supermarket.’”
What is the Bill Maher drink of choice?
“First of all, I really don’t drink anymore, which is very sad. It’s sort of like losing an old friend when you stop drinking, but when I did drink, I drank a ton of Jack Daniels. In fact, I was such a good customer that I owned one square-foot of land in Tennessee, which the Jack Daniels corporation gave me so I could pay Tennessee squire. I’ve never visited my one square foot of land, but maybe this would be a good opportunity.”
Your Cornell Big Red had a nice run in March Madness. Did you follow it at all?
“I’ve never been a follower of collegiate sports. My attitude has always been, when they’re good enough to get to the pros, and then I’ll follow you. I do know that I don’t like that Tim Tebow.”
Oh reallllly? Why?
“Because he writes bible verses under his eyes! I remember I was watching, it was like a big game, I swear to God I’ve never watched a college football game in my life and they kept talking about Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow and there he was with his biblical writing under his eyes. I twittered something about how I want to become a professional football player and write hail Satan under my eyes.”
Does there need to be a greater separation of religion in college athletics?
“It’s in the Constitution, separation between college sports and state. (laughs) But no, certainly people are allowed to do whatever they want to their body. I think we were the first ones to point out how stupid it is when athletes talk about how God helped them, like God could give a f— about who wins a game. I’m not a big believer in God, but if there is a God, I hope he has better things to do then root for the Gators. Also, I notice that even though a lot of athletes point to heaven when they do something good on the field, they never blame God when they drop a pass or strikeout.”
You’ve preached that America has lost its stance as Number One…will we ever get it back?
“Well I hope we get it back, I love my country and that’s why I’m out there talking about what needs to chance. But the truth is, what are we number one in? We are number one in the military, we have the bigger military than then next fifteen powers combined. We’re number one in the percentage of people we put in prison, in fat children. But they can measure, they do measure, other things that matter, for example, literacy we’re like nineteenth. Infant mortality rate, we’re sixty-fifth in the world, we’re behind Cuba. Spending on education, we’re fifty-seventh; life expectancy we’re only forty-ninth in the world, we’re behind Bosnia. Teenagers are thirty-fifth in math and science. Social mobility, which is basically the ability of one generation to do better than the last generation, for you to do better than your parents did, we’re only tenth in the world. That’s the definition of the American Dream right? To do better than your parents did? That’s like Sweden coming in tenth in making Swedish meatballs. So I always say if you love your country, fix it. The right wing, these days, they’re all about ‘there’s nothing wrong with America,’ because they live in their fantasy world, where America is always number one and it’s always 1945 and that’s their room full of balls at Chuck E Cheese. This is one reason why we had such a problem fixing healthcare, because one of the main right wing talking points was ‘why are we messing around with the greatest health care systems in the world?’ Well maybe because the U.N. ranks it thirty-seventh.”
With the problems we’re acknowledging with airport security and border control, where and when is racial profiling legal?
“I don’t know if you ever want to racially profile, but profiling I’ve always been for, especially at the airports and within the war on terror. I’m a little hardcore on this and sometimes the liberals don’t like it, but that’s too bad because I fly a lot. Every time there’s a terrorist incident, it seems like the people who pay are the travelers. It seems like it’s not really a war on terror, it’s a war on travelers. After that Christmas Day bomber, that guy who tried to blow up his underwear, they said you couldn’t have anything on your lap for the last hour of the flight, not even a pillow, which is what I use to smother the screaming child next to me. I think profiling is the basis of any good police work. This idea that you don’t discriminate, and discrimination also is not a bad word, it just means telling unlike things apart, but if you don’t discriminate a little bit when you’re checking over a crowd to see who might be more likely to be the terrorist is ridiculous. I think airport security needs to do their job a little better; that captain underpants guy got on a plane with a one-way ticket, which he bought in cash with no luggage, and he was going to Detroit in the winter and he had no coat and they allowed him on the plane.”
What is the difference in singling out a Hispanic-American citizen in an airport rather than the streets of Arizona?
“Well first of all, the Hispanic-Americans in Arizona don’t have a history of blowing up airplanes. John McCain just put out a new ad where he’s walking along the fence in Arizona and talking about home invasion and murder; it’s a completely misleading ad. The immigrants who come to this country from Mexico, including the illegals, are coming here to look for work, not to commit crimes. We talked about this on the show, the crime rate in Arizona is the lowest it has been since the ‘70s. They’re not coming here and committing crimes; it’s an economic situation and it should be handled that way.”
Who’s more dangerous: the right-wing extremist or the left-wing extremist?
“Oh by far the right-wing, are you kidding? I don’t even think there are any left-wing extremists. I can’t even name anybody in a realm of government who has any sort of influence who is a left-wing extremist. I guess that would be Ralph Nader, who is completely irrelevant and nobody talks about him and take him seriously which is a shame because he has some good ideas. Just look at this new Supreme Court justice they’ve put up. This is a liberal president, supposedly, Barack Obama; democrats just won the last two elections by huge margins in 2006 and 2008 and he puts someone who we have no idea what her politics are. When the Republicans win an election, they don’t do that. They put up for the Supreme Court people who they know very well are extremely conservative and the best the liberals can do after winning two elections is put up somebody who is a complete question mark?”
What are your thoughts on the Obama administration thus far? Have they let you down in a liberal sense or done all they can against a conservative backlash?
“Well, that’s a good point; he can only do so much. I would give him pretty high marks. First of all, he didn’t run as a liberal, he ran as a centrist and that’s pretty much how he’s governing. He’s done some boneheaded things, like coming out for offshore drilling three weeks before the biggest spill in history. He compromises a little more than I’d like to see, but that’s his method, his nature. He’s not somebody who likes to start a fight, he’s somebody who likes to make peace with everybody. I’m not sure you can make peace with the tea baggers; I’m not sure that what they want for this country is the right thing, I’m not sure they’re even very informed. But as far as what Obama has accomplished, he’s got health care through, if he can get some sort of environmental legislation, immigration reform, before his first term is out, I think you’d have to say he was pretty successful.”
You didn’t discover your Jewish heritage until your teens and furthermore your Catholic father was defiant to some facets of his religion. How do you feel like these events shaped your views on religion?
“Most of my religion that had to do with my parents came when I was a kid. I think they were just doing what the tradition told them to do, which is raise your child with the religion and of course in that era it was the religion of the father; there was no doubt we were going to be raised Catholic even though my mother was Jewish. We just went to church every Sunday and it scared the s— out of us. Not that I was ever abused, although I’m a little insulted by that because I was a cute kid. I would say that I’m glad I had that background, because at least I know from the inside what it’s like to belong to a church and see what religion is all about. It allowed me when I got older and decided to strike out on my own, to understand what I was dealing with. Religion, in my view, is a cause of more misery than anything else in the world and has cock-blocked more progress than anything else in the world.”
What were your thoughts on the recent controversy surrounding South Park’s toying with the image of Muhammad?
“It just struck home to me, because this is something I traffic in. We live in a free country and it has to stay that way; freedom of speech is very important and I don’t really care if it offends somebody religious-wise. We see this going on all over the world; I don’t know what the Muslims’ problem is with cartoonists. They apparently watch more cartoons than a pothead. I did an editorial that I think probably upset some liberals, but it’s something I’ve said many times before…our culture is not just different than Saudi Arabia, its better. Rule of law is better than theocracy and freedom of speech is better than the lack of freedom of speech. Things sometimes aren’t just different, one is actually better. I know the Muslims who live in this country are mostly peace-loving, law-abiding citizens; that’s great we’re happy to have them here. But if they think we’re going to assimilate their culture into ours, some things are not negotiable. Freedom of speech, not negotiable; women have the right to work here and you can’t beat them, not negotiable; separation of church and state, not negotiable. So I take it very personally when someone in the arts is threatened by someone in the religious community.”
If God emerged and spoke to you now, what do you think he’d say?
“I think he would say, ‘Bill thank you so much, because all of these people who had been praying to me before you told them not to were bugging me. Thanks for the day off man.’”
Interview conducted May 2010