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A chat with Bill Maher, who performs at Shea's this Saturday

Real Incorrect
A chat with Bill Maher, who performs at Shea's this Saturday

For over two decades, comedian Bill Maher has been at the center of political humor. Despite having had massive success in television, movies, and books, Maher still goes back to his roots in standup comedy performing shows across the country. On Saturday he’ll be at Shea’s Performing Arts Center for an 8pm performance. This week Artvoice talked with Maher about where his career in stand up comedy, his feelings on the PC culture we live in, and standing up for (and to) liberal beliefs.

AV: Bill, you have a live show hereon Saturday, at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. Did you cut your teeth doing standup or were live shows something that you started doing as your career grew?

BM: On no, this is how I started. This is the golden goose. I started right out of college, and those early years were challenging to say the least (laughs,) as they are for almost all comedians. It’s not the kind of thing you get good at right away. I played all the small clubs and paid my dues. Then I started doing Politically Incorrect in 1993, so then I had a day job, but I never ever stopped doing stand up. Of course as you get older, and better at it, and more well known to the audience, [standup] becomes ever more fun. Which is why I still get my ass out of bed on a Saturday morning, get on a plane and fly across the country to do a show.

AV: So obviously your comedy has a pretty specific brand that’s involved with politics, news, and social commentary, where does that come from? Has that always been your schtick?

BM: That really comes from my family background. My father was in radio news, in the days when every radio station had news at the top of every hour. So news, politics, what was going on in the world was always discussed in my family. So it was a point of interest and I think it was a family that had a good sense of humor, too. It was probably baked into my DNA that I was going to do something where I tried to put humor into the news.

AV: So once you started talking about something at home, you eventually started making jokes about it and it grew from there...

BM: Yeah, I think my father was a good living room comedian. You’re a little kid, you see him looking popular with his friends and getting laughs and you want to do that.

AV: So the thing dominating this week’s news cycle is the case of Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas boy who was arrest for bringing what looked like a bomb to school, but ended up being a clock... You talked about this on your show and said there’s perhaps a lack of perspective on the situation, and that we shouldn’t view the teachers as wrong for questioning him about the clock. Obviously, many people disagree with you and feel the only reason for his arrest was because of his Muslin background. In your opinion, do you think that we as an American culture have become too “PC” and are afraid of doing something that may be viewed as politically incorrect?

BM: Well you’re asking the guy who did a television show call Politically Incorrect if you think we’ve become too politically correct? I think that guy’s going to say yes. I think that guy’s going to be totally on that page. Of course, I thought back in the 90s when we were doing Politically Incorrect—which was named that precisely because I thought we were too politically correct—I thought we were going to be able to drive a stake through the heart of political correctness, but it’s only gotten worse in the next century, mostly because of the Internet, because people can be anonymous about their tweets and their virtual vigilantism. So yeah, I think we’ve become too PC, and we don’t have any common sense anymore. Schools somehow led us to believe that as a kid you can’t even make a gun symbol with your hand anymore, and yet, someone brings in a clock that looks exactly like a bomb and we need to ask ourselves first if it’s politically correct to see if it is a bomb? I mean we would have done the same thing if the kid were white, because lord knows white kids have shot up a lot of schools in this country, and young Muslim men have blown up a lot of stuff. Let’s just see if it’s a bomb first.

When I talk about perspective, this kid was taken out of class, they were wrong about it, yeah, give him an apology, but I mentioned on the show Friday night that there was actually someone in Saudi Arabia who was going to be crucified and beheaded for the crime of going to an anti-government demonstration. Maybe you want to use some of your vigilantism tweeting about that? And I noticed over the weekend that no, the liberals don’t really care about that—he’s just going to die. Meanwhile, this kid was insulted by the principal. So I just don’t understand it. I don’t understand how liberals can turn their back on the basic liberal principal of standing up for who is really oppressed.

AV: Do you think your show Real-Time gets more in-depth on issues because of its round table format?

BM: Well our show is more into it not because we have roundtable discussion, our show is more into it because other shows don’t ever challenge what their core liberal audience already believes—which sometimes needs to be done, because liberals, who are my tribe, who I love, can also be idiots, and they’ve been rather blind on this issue. However, I’ve noticed a huge change in my studio audience, they used to boo me when I said the word “Muslim,” and now I think just by repeating the message so many times, they get it. That to be a liberal, you have to stand up for liberal principals, and it’s not my fault that the most illiberal culture in the world today is the Muslim culture. Somebody was taking me to task on some website saying that: “Bill Maher has a blind spot on Islam. He paints it with a broad brush—what about moderate Indonesia?” and then they made my argument for me without knowing. “Only 18 percent of the people support honor killings, only 15 percent believe in death for leaving the religion, only one out of three believe in stoning a woman for committing adultery,” this is a moderate country?

So this is not my fault and liberals should have the backbone to standup for people who are oppressed anywhere in the world and by whoever is oppressing them, regardless if it’s their only culture.

AV: So switching topics here, back to live shows, what can people expect from your stand up?

BM: Oh, well it will be a lot funnier than this. This seems rather serious. The point of stand up comedy is to make people laugh, hard and long until they can take no more. It’s not a lecture, it’s not humor, it’s not a Ted Talk, and it’s not even my show that veers back and forth between serious and funny. Now, are some of the topics I’m interested in the same as the ones that I’m interested in on television? Yes, I’ve never been a comedian interested in the trivial. I’m always one to talk about politics and world affairs and stuff with a certain intellectual-esque to it—but in standup comedy, it’s quite different. You are only saying things that will make people have a belly laugh, and I love to do that.

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