Political comedian Bill Maher, host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” thinks marijuana should be legal. He’s all for gay marriage. He donated $1 million to the Obama SuperPAC. He famously called Sarah Palin an obscene word that shall not be printed here. Yet Maher, 56, expects no controversy when he makes his first visit to Idaho for a stand-up performance Saturday at the Morrison Center (8 p.m., $45 and $60, Select-a-Seat).
“I travel all the time to places where people suspect I shouldn’t go, and it’s always a great time,” Maher said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Because what I always find is that there’s a lot more really smart, progressive people in that town than people think.”
Obviously, you perform for friendly crowds — people pay to see you. But do you wear dark glasses in the airport when you land in a state as red as Idaho?
That’s funny, too, because I have no illusion that there are not a lot of people out there who don’t like me, but when they don’t like you, they just don’t generally approach you in person. Maybe they’re grumbling under their newspaper. But read my Twitter feed. (Laughs) You’ll see an amazing amount of hatred and horrible things. But it’s just so much easier to do it on Twitter than in person.
As a comedian, you should thank the state of Idaho when you get here. We are, after all, responsible for Larry Craig among other things.
Oh, Larry Craig. I know. That was comedy gold. Larry Craig was wonderful. Although he was quickly eclipsed in that department by Anthony Wiener. So, he did not keep his title long.
You wrote an op-ed earlier this year in The New York Times that said, “If it weren’t for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn’t get any exercise at all.” Why have Americans become so easily offended?
That’s a great question. That’s worthy of a whole book. It started quite a while ago. I remember when “Politically Incorrect,” my old show, went on the air. That was 20 years ago almost, 1993, and that was sort of the idea of that show. That’s why it was called “Politically Incorrect.” Because we had gotten too politically correct.
I think that the short answer is that we became a victim of our own success. We became a spoiled society, very pandered to — not just by politicians, but by media, by advertisers. Everything was “have it your way.” And we got it into our heads that we could not endure even two seconds of something that made us feel uncomfortable. Whereas in the old days, if people saw or read something that offended them, they might have grumbled, “Look at this a--hole,” and they turned the page.
And that’s what I would advise people to do now! (Chuckles) If you read something or hear something that you don’t like, and you really believe in free speech, as you should, don’t try to make that person go away. That’s all that they do now is just try to make them go away. That’s why I actually had to defend Rush Limbaugh this year. (Sounds pained) Not that I agreed with what he said, but I am very against trying to make people go away.
I think part of it has to do with social media: Everyone has this urge to rush out and crush things because everyone has this instant voice.
That’s true, too. The other part of the technology aspect is everyone has access to getting the word out about what anybody does at any given moment. Chris Rock was interviewed in The New York Times yesterday, and he was talking about the fact that you can’t even go into a little comedy club to work out new material anymore without worrying that somebody is going to start tweeting about something you said that was inappropriate. Chris said that back when he was working out his “black people vs. n-word” routine, he said it took six months to get it right! And if he had to do it today, they would be down his throat while he was getting it right! And that’s a real shame.
I’ve heard of similar sentiments from avant-garde musicians who are afraid to let go on stage because someone might be filming. You have so much to lose, I guess.
You do. I feel like I’m in a very lucky position because I’ve been on a network for 10 years that doesn’t have sponsors. I lost a show once because of sponsors. And if you don’t have sponsors threatening to pull out, it’s a lot harder to pull the plug on the show. I have a very supportive hierarchy there at HBO who understands about resisting people’s pressure when they get mad at something you say. And I feel like I’ve been through the mill. I’ve been inoculated. ...
But I really feel for some of these younger comedians coming up. I heard Daniel Tosh got in trouble for something he said in a club. Dane Cook had to apologize the other day for something he said. And, boy, if you can’t use stand-up comedy as the last bastion of total freedom, we’re in real trouble.
Ted Nugent recently told a crowd, “The whole world sucks, but America still sucks less.” Do you agree with that statement?
Well, I’m certainly never leaving America. I’m not asking for the check here. I’ve never understood why people have to say, “We’re the best country in the world.” To me, it’s childish. It’s like saying, “I have the best wife in the world.” You know, why can’t she just be the best wife for you? Does she have to be the best wife in the world?
It suits me, this country. I was born here. I have no intention of doing anything but staying and fixing it. I know Ted would love it if I left.
We suck more at certain things. Among the club that is the wealthy, industrialized, democratic nations in the world, we have some of the worst stats going! For people who are always bragging that we’re No. 1, we’re like 50th in life expectancy; we’re behind Bosnia. And we’re behind Cuba in infant mortality. Our poverty rate is appallingly high. We’re something like 19th in literacy. When they talk about “Why are we messing around with the greatest health care system in the world?” Well, gee, I don’t know, maybe it’s because the U.N. ranks it 37. Not two or five. We’re not even close — 37. They should put down their foam No. 1 finger that they wave all the time and look at some of the facts. I know the facts aren’t in the Bible, but they should count a little.
You said something recently on your show about conservatives being in a bubble, but liberals being in one, too. Each side lives in their own bubble where they have trouble seeing clearly through that foggy Plexiglass.
That is correct. I’ve said that, too — liberals have a bubble, too. I don’t think the liberal bubble is quite as impermeable nor are the facts in there quite as dangerous. But they definitely do live in a bubble. That is true. We did an editorial on the conservative bubble last year. I do intend to do one on the liberal bubble this year.
Not to bring up the Nuge again, but who will wind up having a “meeting” with the secret service if Mitt Romney gets elected? It won’t be the Nuge.
(Laughs) That’s true. If Mitt Romney got elected, it would be the best thing for me. Even though I don’t want him to get elected — and I put my citizenship before my personal aspiration — for a comedian? To have Mitt Romney? The guy who practically is ... he’s about a step away from lighting a cigar with a $100 bill. I mean this guy has no sense of how he looks to the public. It would be comedy gold. He would make Larry Craig look like Warren Christopher.
Have a safe trip here. You’ll like it as long as it’s not too hot. It’s 104 degrees outside.
That’s a shame that it’s 104 degrees up there. Because I was thinking, as the global warming starts suffocating us, “You know, I should buy some little piece of land way far north where the heat isn’t going to get to.” (Dejectedly) I might have to go to Palin country.
TONIGHT ON ‘THE OTHER STUDIO’
Join radio host Tim Johnstone and me as we debate new music from Mumford & Sons, Aaliyah, Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr. and more.
“The Other Studio” airs from 9 to 10 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.
COMING FRIDAY IN SCENE MAGAZINE
Æ Norah Jones continues to develop her style.
Æ Preview the Western Idaho Fair.
Æ Check out a standout Mexican eatery in Nampa.
Michael Deeds’ column runs Fridays in Scene and Sundays in Life. Email: mdeeds@ idahostatesman.com. Twitter: @IDS_Deeds