The Rolling Stones dubbed their recently postponed tour No Filter. "No filter” more accurately describes Bill Maher.
Whether hosting his no-holds-barred Friday night HBO talk show, “Real Time with Bill Maher” — now in its 17th season — or doing stand-up comedy dates around the country, Maher is unapologetically blunt. He loathes Donald Trump but also has no use for holier-than-thou, politically correct liberals.
His filter-free approach sometimes gets him in trouble. Questioning the cultural contributions of newly deceased Marvel Comics auteur Stan Lee and the intelligence of adults who read comic books earned him a heap of scorn last fall.
But he’s not afraid to put his money where his mouth is. During the 2012 presidential campaign, he donated $1 million to a pro-Barack Obama super PAC.
Maher will be at the Saenger Theatre on Saturday (April 6); tickets are still available.
We spoke days after Attorney General William Barr’s summation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report essentially cleared Trump of colluding with the Russians.
Suffice to say, Maher was disappointed.
On your show last week, before the conclusions of the Mueller report were known, you described it as having the potential to be “Christmas for liberals.” Apparently, Santa delivered a sack of coal.
Maher: Yeah, I still don’t understand it. I’m reading a lot of articles that say we should just get over it, and I guess that’s true. But I don’t understand why, if your campaign manager meets with a Russian operative and gives him polling data, that’s not collusion. I guess we’ll have to wait until the full report comes out.
Did you think the report would have the power to bring down a president?
Maher: I thought we had that power even without it. As I said on the show, I don’t need the Mueller report — I have a TV. I saw this president talk about how he fired the head of the FBI to end this Russian investigation. I don’t know what you have to do in this country to prove obstruction of justice.
The possibility of obstruction is still out there, but the attorney general doesn’t seem inclined to move in that direction.
Maher: That’s what happens in Third World countries. The dictator appoints a stooge — in this case, it was a more credible stooge, but a stooge nonetheless — who declares his innocence. Barr wrote a memo, unsolicited, back in June that said he didn’t believe in obstruction of justice for this president. He even put obstruction in quotes, like, eyeroll, “obstruction, right.” He didn’t decide Trump was innocent (in late March). He decided it nine months ago.
Does it get to a point for you personally where you have trouble finding comedy in things like this?
Maher: No. It gets to a point where I have trouble finding sleep but not comedy. The comedy is abundant. There’s never been a better time for comedy, but we’re whistling past the graveyard.
It’s comedy that's infused with a nervous edge because I don’t think we’ve ever been in this place in America before, where we really have to worry about whether it’s going to be a lawful democracy.
The president is already talking about revenge against the people who were doing their job. The administration sent out a memo to cable news and other news outlets basically saying, “You shouldn’t book these people as guests anymore.”
We know he talks about, “Lock her up.” We know he talks about how he has the “tough” people on his side, the military, the police. He even talks about biker gangs. All of this is Third World, banana republic, dictator stuff. We’ve never been here before. So it’s funny until it’s tragic.
When I interviewed you in 2013, you said you were “scared to death” at the prospect of a Mitt Romney presidency. I’m guessing you would trade Romney for the current president?
Maher: Absolutely. That million dollars that I gave to Obama in 2012 to make sure Romney didn’t become president, I would gladly give to Mitt Romney tomorrow if he would take over the country.
Even Mike Pence. … I could do Mike Pence standing on my head. Mike Pence is just George Bush with white hair. He’s a super-Christian Republican hack. He does not want to be a dictator. He would basically follow policies that I don’t agree with but that we could all endure, and then hopefully elect someone who is more akin to my thinking.
I don’t worry about anybody but Trump. He’s the crazy one. And more worrisome than him is the fact that so much of the country goes along with him and thinks this is just fine.
He hasn’t really done anything that has eroded his base of support. And given all the divisions in the Democratic party, Trump’s reelection chances don’t look too bad.
Maher: I didn’t think it was looking bad for him in 2016, but nobody wanted to believe me. I think it’s looking pretty good for him.
Based on the summary of the Mueller report and him crowing all weekend, even after all that, his (approval) numbers didn’t change. You would think his approval numbers would have gone up because they found him innocent. But if you don’t like him, you already don’t like him fully. If you’re in the cult, it didn’t change your opinion anyway. So it didn’t move the needle one bit.
That’s the scary thing about our democracy right now: Facts don’t move the needle. People already decided. The election is going to depend on how much (Russian President Vladimir) Putin (messes) with us, probably.
Are you aware of any Democratic politician that is not running for president?
Maher: (laughs) No. I’m surprised that a few of them that I thought would get in, like (former attorney general) Eric Holder and Sherrod Brown (the senior Senator from Ohio), have stayed out. I thought maybe (California governor) Gavin Newsom would jump in.
We have a whole lineup of the candidates coming up (on “Real Time”). We have Pete Buttigieg. He’s the 37-year-old, openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He’s amazingly impressive when you see him. He’s brilliant. I don’t know what Trump is, but this is the opposite of that.
Brilliance is not necessarily a requirement for the highest office in the land.
Maher: It’s mostly seen as a detriment.
America also has a way of choosing the opposite of what we just had. We like to swing back and forth. And America just likes something new. At this point in our history, we just pick the least likely. Obama was the least likely guy. Trump, the least likely. Next time, it might be Pete Buttigieg.
I thought Mitch Landrieu might run. He’s a good politician. We had him on (“Real Time”). I was impressed.
Are you done picking fights with the comics industry?
Maher: (laughs) Uh, yes. I’m done, although they know how I feel.
I’m not a big fan of comic book movies. To me, there’s too many of them, and they’re all the same. My favorite is “Catwoman.” That shows you how much I care about comic book movies. At least in that one I got to look at Halle Barry.
So I guess I’m not (done).
Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock stopped playing gigs on college campuses because college students are overly sensitive. What is your take?
Maher: Those two are jumping on my bandwagon — I stopped doing that long ago. Chris Rock is a guy who says some controversial things. But when Jerry Seinfeld says you’re too politically correct, trust me, the problem is yours, not his. His act is so clean, it whitens teeth.
I did a show called “Politically Incorrect” for almost 10 years. It started in 1993. I purposely named the show that because I was saying even back then, a quarter-century ago, that this is a problem in this country that’s going to be more of a problem.
And man, did it ever become more of a problem. The internet only made it worse. One of the main reasons Donald Trump got elected was because people were choking on political correctness for so long and they wanted somebody who was not politically correct.
Now, he’s an a** and he’s wrong about everything, but it was a breath of fresh air to have somebody who didn’t talk like a politician, who didn’t clean up every thought in his head, and who just honestly said what he felt without having to check with the PC police. That is a very powerful message in this country.
I go after the left constantly on the show, the fringe left, the people who are always making everybody apologize for everything. I like Beto O’Rourke a lot, but he started his campaign with nothing but apologies for bull****, for nothing, for something he wrote when he was 15 years old! What are they going to find next, that he wrote something in his poop when he was three?
This has got to end. It’s not funny anymore. And no one wants to live in this atmosphere. It’s stultifying. No one wants to always be looking over their shoulder: “Did I use the right term? Did I say it the right way?”
You just have to trust some people, that we're well-meaning, that we evolve. We don’t get there overnight. We all were less than who we are now. In the ‘80s, we didn’t have the word “woke”; in the ‘80s, the word “woke” meant you had cocaine. So can we just give crimes of woked-ness a rest?
Ill-informed photos in your yearbook from 30 years ago may not be the biggest problem facing the country.
Maher: That’s what the people in Virginia decided (about Gov. Ralph Northam, whose medical school yearbook page included a racist photo). I thought it was very telling that the African American people of Virginia, more than the white people, were willing to say, “You know what? It’s not cool, but it’s not a deal-breaker. He doesn’t have to resign over it.”
This is what I call “white people being more offended than the victim.” You can’t be more offended than the victim.
So I don’t play campuses either.
And whoever comes to your show should leave their sensitivities at the door.
Maher: That’s right.