Last Friday, at the end of the season premiere of his political talk show, Real Time With Bill Maher, the comic and host plugged the stand-up appearances he’s doing this weekend.
The famously liberal Maher mentioned his Saturday show at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis and his Sunday stop in Baton Rouge at the River Center Theatre.
In the next few months, Maher’s also appearing in Tulsa, Okla.; El Paso and Austin, Texas; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Norfolk, Va.
None of the above sounds like the land of liberals. More like Bill Maher’s Red State Tour.
“I spend most of my time in the red states,” Maher said during a recent telephone interview. “And I love doing it.”
First of all, Maher explained, people in red states who may happen to have liberal leanings are grateful that he, unlike many of his liberal friends, doesn’t dismiss their states as a lost cause.
“I have found that, in every red state, no matter how red it is, there are a lot of liberal, progressive-thinking people,” he said. “And when I come to town, they come out of the woodwork.”
So perhaps Maher’s Sunday show at the River Center will be the largest gathering of Louisiana liberals, maybe Mississippi liberals, too, since the venue’s 2010 Joan Baez concert.
“I think there’s something about me going to a place where people like me don’t come often that adds to the excitement,” Maher said.
Of course, Louisiana is among the reddest of red states, a Deep South conservative stronghold presided over by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“I’ve had my fun with Bobby Jindal over the years,” Maher said. “On Real Time, we did a long essay about the exorcism he performed in college. I don’t know if America’s ready for an exorcist president.”
On the other hand, Maher sees a 2016 Republican presidential ticket featuring Jindal and New Jersey’s popular governor, Chris Christie, as a formidable challenge to whatever Democratic opponents may arise.
Maher also gives Jindal credit for his quick response to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012’s presidential contest. Jindal, after spending months out of Louisiana campaigning for the Romney-Paul Ryan ticket and other Republican candidates, turned on his party’s losers just days after President Barack Obama’s re-election.
“I gotta give Jindal some credit because of his statement a few months ago that the Republican Party has gotta stop being the party of, and I’m paraphrasing, stupid,” Maher said.
Beyond Jindal’s red state voter-aimed politics, Maher sees the governor’s ethnicity as a great asset for the Republican Party.
“Like any politicians, more than anything else, the Republicans, want to win,” he said. “I’m sure some of them are saying, ‘Well, we’re not doing too good as the party of old white people. We gotta get some color on this ticket. Bobby Jindal!’
“I don’t know what race the Republicans think Jindal is, but he doesn’t look like the typical Republican candidate,” Maher added. “And Christie is the one guy who does know how to stand up to the crazies. He’s not afraid.”
A Jersey boy himself, Maher grew up in Bergen County’s River Vale Township. He sharpened his stand-up comedy skills in New York in the 1980s. He also made some 30 appearances on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson between 1982 and 1992.
“Johnny was great to me,” Maher recalled. “And I pretty much lived for The Tonight Show when I was a teenager and a college student. I watched it every night. I absorbed Johnny’s monologue style. He was the master.”
Maher became the host of his own Emmy-nominated TV show, Politically Incorrect, in 1993. The show aired through 2002 on Comedy Central and later ABC. He moved to HBO in 2003 for Real Time with Bill Maher.
For his new Real Time season, Maher is mostly sticking to the show’s successful format: an opening monologue, a guest interview and panel discussion. Past panel guests included Pat Buchanan, Michael Moore, Kevin Costner, Drew Barrymore, Robin Williams and Wesley Clark.
But there will be one significant change this year for Real Time.
“We’re moving the panel set closer to the studio audience,” Maher said. “I think it’s going to make a difference in how people react. Because people in the audience had been watching the panel part of show on the monitors. It was like watching TV, which is a different experience.
“But now we’ve moved the panel down front, where I do the monologue, so people in the audience can watch us directly. They’ll see the sweat on our brows, as it were. I’m looking forward to that.”