Bill’s Actually A Good Hang. Maher Or Less.

There’s a lot about Bill Maher that one could find objectionable.  In my case, it was a long-ago experience I had when he was simultaneously hitting on and harassing friends and relatives I knew who were working the now-defuncy Santa Monica Improv comedy club.  Apparently a few beers in, he was both charming and belligerant.  A lot of what I observed was personally appalling.  But after talking with people who knew him better, including folks who worked with him on his forgotten Showtime sitcom HARD KNOCKS (most definitely not the HBO sports reality series), they defended him as someone who more often that not was pretty decent, so long as you didn’t piss him off with ignorance or elitism.  Indeed, even my relative admitted that she could have been a bit nicer to him when they interacted.

So when I see the kind of reaction he generates these days as an unapolgetic observer and provocateur in both his role as the ringmaster of his HBO weekly REAL TIME and as author of his latest book, WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAYS WILL SHOCK YOU, as he makes the rounds of other shows and podcasts as a plug-eager guest, it’s fascinating to me that while he enjoys far greater influence and success after decades of practice and success straddling the lines between comedy and politics, he’s not all that different from the younger, polarized version of himself I once saw with some regularity.

As Maher shared with the clearly left-leaning and mundane Geoff Bennett of the PBS NEWSHOUR just after last Monday’s release of said book:

I wanted to answer the question in my own mind, is it mostly me who’s changed, or is it the politics that has changed? Because I heard in the last five, six, seven years, people say to me more, you make fun of the left more, to which I say, yes, I do, because they got funnier.

And that’s what I wanted to make sure I was right about. And I think mostly that is the case.

And when probed, Maher is both unapologetic and informed in backing up why he feels–no, he KNOWS–he is right.  He calls out far leftists for bastardizing the concept of woke–which to Bennett he accurately observed its original meaning is certainly good. Alert to injustice is certainly something everybody should be for, but it migrated to something very different.  

And at the same time, he stepped into the lion’s den with FOX NEWS’ Greg Gutfeld and produced this memorable exchange with the right-leaning WESTERN JOURNAL’s Rachel M. Emmanuel “reported” on:

During his appearance on “Gutfeld” on Monday, Maher mocked the host for not being aware that Trump had once sued Maher over a comment comparing him to an orangutan.

“I didn’t know that,” Gutfeld said.

“Really? You’re in news?” Maher asked, as if Trump’s lawsuit against him 11 years ago were of vital national importance.

He also sat down with Sirius XM and one-time FOX megastar Megyn Kelly and passionately debated her on election denialism and Janaury 6th, culminating in this incendiary dialogue:

When Maher suggested that Trump would “show up at the White House whether he’s invited or not” if he lost the election, Kelly challenged him on it, saying, “Oh stop it, he’s not going to do that.”  “Like there was never an attack on the Capitol,” the HBO host responded. “That never happened. Like they didn’t show up at the Capitol and break windows and knock down doors and kill cops –” “They didn’t do that,” Kelly cut in.  “They didn’t break windows, knock down doors?” he said. “They didn’t kill cops,” she responded. “They of course did,” Maher replied, raising his voice. “No, they didn’t,” Kelly said calmly.

I could go on and on and waste both time and space showing how Emmanuel builds her “narrative” to a crescendo to prove how Kelly’s version is, in her mind, accurate, but the point here is Maher wasn’t buying it for a second and was more than capable of standing up to her interpretation.  He more than many knows Kelly failed miserably when she attempted to leave her right-wing bubble (still being paid $70 million for her troubles by an embarrassed NBC).  He repeatedly calls out the likes of Kelly and other alt-right peers for selling out whatever personal reservations they may have for the trappings of financial and political gain, a.k.a. the pending Trump administration.

But at the same time he will give them an others a forum to express their opinions to an audience that otherwise would never see them.  As Nicole Hemmer, described as an associate professor of history and director of the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Center for the Study of the Presidency at Vanderbilt University, wrote in a lengthy CNN opinion piece that dropped last Friday:

From the debut of his show “Politically Incorrect” on Comedy Central in 1993, he has presented himself as a truthteller, beholden to no party or ideology, fearless in the face of the censorious mob.

Which is why regular REAL TIME viewers like myself have seen and heard Ted Cruz, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Ann Coulter and others, along with guests from both Hollywood and Washington liberal think tanks that join him onstage for discussions that evoke the spirited panels of the early days of POLITICALLY INCORRECT.  We hear both sides, and we hopefully can then process what’s sensible, sane and legitimate and what is outright batsh-t crazy.

WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAYS WILL SHOCK YOU takes that spirit of Voltarianism–“I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”–that Maher offers his guests and applies it to himself.  As Hemmer further noted:

In 24 topical chapters, Maher touches on just about everything — internet influencers, Republican radicalism, marijuana legalization, football brain injuries, fraternities, and most of all, kids these days. Unlike his earlier books, which are mostly highlight reels from his television shows, “What This Comedian Said” has a broader goal: to lay out Maher’s worldview in longform.

(T)hat worldview  is built not on transgression — nothing here is likely to shock you — but rather a relentless nostalgia for the good old days, before Democrats went “woke” and Republicans went coup-crazy.  Annoyed that some critics have detected a conservative turn in his commentary, he pored over the last 20 years of editorials… and walked away satisfied that he has remained constant.

If it sounds a lot like how I tend to feel more often than not,  it should.  The difference is Maher has reached a level of personal success and contentment to double and triple down on his way of thinking; at one point in the book, he jokes about taking pride in losing 40,000 Twitter followers in one day.  I’ve lost far fewer one-time friends in number but far more significant in relevance.  I continue to pay a price for trying to have a balanced view, especially when we exist in such a hyoper-polarized world where the likes of Emmanuel and Kelly are on one side of the aisle and many lesser lights I’ve known over the year have passionately, zealously defending Joe Biden as the greatest president in the history of the Republic, apopletic that I could even consider not casting my vote in what they see as a binary choice between sanity and insanity.

Again, I’m not so deluded that I believe Bill Maher isn’t  flawed in his own right, and not just because of what he did decades ago.  I concur with Hemmer’s summative view of what she thinks motivated this undertaking:

Nostalgic longing for the America of late 20th century is the relentless drumbeat of Maher’s book. Lines such as these stand out: “College today is not the college you remember.” “People used to get their news from newspapers.” “Cell phones have obliterated courtesy.” “Nobody knows what words mean anymore.” “The phone ruined dating and porn ruined sex.” You could be excused for wondering when Maher morphed into the grumpy “60 Minutes” editorialist Andy Rooney.  The way it was isn’t always the way it should still be.

And yet–as someone who experiences daily struggles, especially with ageism and a media industry seemingly hell-bent on choosing leaders other than those most qualified to do the best job–when Maher calls those practices out with scathing accuracy and resonance, I can’t help but nod my head in vehement agreement and wish I had half the cojones to emulate him in more different ways.  Because I know it’s working.

Think of this:  Because of his appeal and his show’s cost-efficiency, Maher’s assured of a job through 2026.  No presidential candidate or WBD executive can make the same claim.

That alone was reason enough for me to buy and recommend this book.  But for the record, it was the Kindle version.  Like I said, progress (not to mention a much cheaper price) has its place.

Until next time…


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