Bill Maher doesn’t fear the boos
On political correctness, Roseanne, and Donald Trump’s reign
“Was I sober?” Bill Maher asked on the phone, when I reminded him we met at the “Titanic” Oscar party in 1998.
“What the hell were you doing there?” he asked.
“I was dating a girl who wanted to go really badly,” he said. “So I finagled tickets.”
Bill Maher and I don’t know each other, but we’re comedians, and even though he plays in the majors and I’m in Triple A, there are connections.
Carrot Top, for instance.
“Oh, I just saw him in Vegas! He’s such a great guy,” he said.
Bill Maher and Carrot Top are dear friends.
That’s perfect actually.
As for Maher’s relationship status with America? Well, it’s complicated.
Barry Friedman: C-Span’s Brian Lamb once asked Christopher Hitchens, “Do you do any of it for effect?” I’ll ask you the same.
Bill Maher: Never enters my thinking.
Maher: Seriously. In fact, on Mondays, on my desk, there’s an inch-thick sheaf of printed-out reactions from the previous show and obviously some of it is not positive. Fox News will always find something to yell at me for, as very often will the liberals. I’m one of those few people who get it from both sides. But what’s so interesting is, you can’t predict. Sometimes you think, “Oh this is definitely going to get them all charged up and … nothing.” But recently, I said I was hoping for a recession because it’s one of the few things that could undercut Trump’s popularity, and they went ape shit. I don’t even think that’s controversial. Recessions are survivable. Trump isn’t.
Friedman: Once, talking about casino guys—Wynn, Trump, Adelson from Venetian, Stupack from Vegas World—you said Trump was “the most normal guy in the room.” Still?
Maher: I don’t know what I thought was normal, but it sounds like this was well before he got into politics. Don’t forget, he’s changed his party affiliation like five times. Even now I don’t think you can call him a Republican. He took it over and reversed their positions … on the debt and free trade … the minute he got into office. So, I don’t know what he is, but he’s not the most normal person in any room.
Friedman: Do we survive this?
Maher: The worst thing that happened in the country is when Donald Trump started to like the job. When he was first in the White House, he didn’t seem like he wanted to be there. He bitched that the place (impersonates Trump) “is a dump.” And he can’t get laid as much as he used to. Certainly can’t meet Stormy Daniels at a golf tournament anymore. Now, he’s not going to go away until he decides to go away. And that includes the 2020 election. He’s already said if he loses, “It’s rigged.” Fifty-two percent of Republicans believe the election can be cancelled—Fox will get it up to 80 percent—if it’s “politicized.” And his supporters will believe because it’s a cult. This is right from the playbook of all strongmen and dictators. He emulates them. Those are the people he wants to be friends with. We’re only a year and a half into this nightmare. We may look back and say, These were the good old days of Donald Trump.
Friedman: Does Democratic fecklessness bother you as much as Republican evil?
Maher: No, of course not. Nothing is as bad as what’s going on with Donald Trump and undermining the rule of law, the environment, and stacking the courts with Neanderthals, but I do think it is the place of any conscious liberal to be after his own team to do better. Because when you don’t control any branch of government, because when you’ve lost over the past 10 years thousands of seats in local legislatures, it behooves you to say, “Maybe we’re doing something wrong.” I did a show back in the ‘90s, called “Politically Incorrect,” and I tried to tell people this insane obsession with political correctness is the elevation of sensitivity over truth and is going to come back to haunt us. I never dreamed it would get as bad as it has. And I think we played a little game of chicken with the Trump people in 2016. Liberals said, “You cannot be so stupid as to vote for Donald Trump,” and they said, “First of all, don’t tell us how stupid we can be” and then said, “Yes, Donald Trump is crazy. We’ll give you that, but if you think Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, and you lose your shit when a white girl dresses up as Pocahontas on Halloween, and you have a severe liberal backlash when Matt Damon says something as innocuous as a pat on the ass is different than rape, well, then, you’re crazy, too. And we can’t trust your judgment.” When they interview his supporters, it’s always “We’re a year in. Do you like him?” “We’re 18 months in. Do you still like him?” Weather alert: They always still like him. I tell liberals there’s not a lot we can do, so next time, a little more about we’re going to bring your jobs back and a little less about we’re going to make you pee next to a guy in a dress.
Friedman: You’re coming to Oklahoma because of the comfort of the blue enclaves, yes?
Maher: I do have more fun in the red states because of the extra bonding, and they know I didn’t write them off. But the other reason is in Tulsa, in the middle of the country, you find the old-school liberals, as opposed to what you might find in San Francisco, where they are going to be too politically correct. And I don’t want to fight with those people during a stand-up comedy special. In Tulsa, they’re going to be good liberals, but not the crazy ones.
Friedman: What about Colbert, Stewart, Noah and Samantha Bee? You’re not as beloved as they are. That bother you?
Maher: I try not to talk about others who do the similar type of thing, but I certainly wouldn’t object to your depiction. I do think everybody else, in essence, is very much afraid to ever say anything that would garner any sort of reaction from their liberal audience other than cheers. But maybe it’s time to look at your shit if you’re a liberal and decide it’s a little raggedy.
Friedman: You called religion a neurological disorder in America. Is its power waning?
Maher: Definitely. In my stand-up act, I used to save religious material until the end, I’d say to the audience, as they were walking out, “I just want you to know I saved this part till the last so you’ve already got your money’s worth.” That seems a planet far, far away.
Friedman: Lighting round. Ready?
Friedman: Julian Assange.
Maher: Started out great and something happened along the way, so please don’t try to tell me he’s not in league with Russia. And he’s also quite responsible for getting Trump elected, along with Facebook and feckless liberals and evil Republicans and the electoral college and Hillary being a bad candidate.
Friedman: Al Franken.
Maher: Should still be in the Senate. It’s a good example of how the Democrats fight completely differently. No sane person would defend how Republicans stick to their guns with someone like Roy Moore and Donald Trump, for that matter, but Democrats’ vision seems to be, “Okay, my elbow touched a girl’s breast in the sixth grade. I resign.” What he did, I mean, in the picture—was a gag. I wouldn’t say this about a lot of people, but I’ve known Al a long time and, of course, we don’t know what’s in people’s hearts, but I just don’t think he’s that guy. And I think it was a shame that one of the great Democratic champions was taken off the board.
Friedman: Richard Spencer.
Maher: I’m against all Nazis, and I don’t care who knows it.
Friedman: Kanye West.
Maher: Someone, like my friend Roseanne [Barr], who has legitimate mental problems. And everything that comes out of either one of their mouths has to be judged partly with that in mind. In the abstract, Americans pay lip service to mental health and how it should get more funding, is just like any other disease, but somehow when someone who has documented mental issues—all that theorizing goes out the window.
Friedman: What about Roseanne?
Maher: Well, I can’t defend her tweet because it was racist and wrong, but someone who has always said she had seven different personalities, I mean, how about “You did a bad thing, Roseanne, now how about we try to get you the help you need?”
Friedman: Ann Coulter.
Maher: What we have in common is we’re not afraid to get booed.
Friedman: Is it performance art with her?
Maher: That’s the question I’ve always asked myself, and I can’t honestly tell you I know. She seems too smart to believe some of the things she says. Her recent statements about the kids at the border being child actors—I can’t believe she really thinks that. But let me say this about the Republicans: Roger Stone was on my show, General Flynn has been on my show. They’re easier to get on my show in front on an entire liberal audience than some liberal politicians. They’re also not afraid to get booed.
Friedman: [Christopher] Hitchens flipped off your audience.
Maher: (Laughs) So have I. But that’s how you win politics in America. You stand your ground and don’t flinch. The Democrats always fear polls. Republicans look at polls and say, “We’ll change it. People think Mueller is a straight arrow—give us six months, we’ll turn him into a criminal.”
Friedman: Barack Obama.
Maher: The Jackie Robinson of American politics, and like Robinson, Obama had to be perfect. Branch Rickey told Robinson, “I’m going to bring you up to the majors, the whole world is going to be watching you, but you can’t ever take the bait.” And that’s what Obama did. He never took the bait. He bent over backwards to not scare them with his blackness and no matter what he did, they were going to make him this monster he never was. And when you think about what he did—from TPP to the Paris Accords to Obamacare—it’s like Trump’s only directive is, “Undo it all so we can pretend America never had a black president.”
“You have time for one more?” I asked.
“I really don’t.”
I had one more name on the list: America.
But he had already answered it.