January 20, 1956– Bill Maher:
” I have a problem with people who take the Constitution loosely and the Bible literally.”
I seem to always be offending someone on social media, often when I feel my posts are rather easy to digest, principled, and usually offered with a dash of silliness, but I always seem to bring out some outrage from my readers. This is just one of the reasons that I love Bill Maher so much; he is smarter, funnier and braver than I will ever be.
Donald J. Trump filed a $5 million lawsuit in February 2013 against the Maher after he appeared on NBC’s The Tonight Show and made a quip about the orange thing’s mother. Maher, referencing Trump’s unrelenting pressure for President Obama to produce a birth certificate, joked that if he saw a birth certificate that proved that Trump was not “the spawn of on orangutan having sex with his mother” then he would donate $5 million to charity. Trump responded by sending his birth certificate, with the following note: “Attached hereto is a copy of Mr. Trump’s birth certificate, demonstrating that he is the son of Fred Trump, not an orangutan”. The lawsuit was withdrawn a few months later.
Beginning with Politically Incorrect that aired from 1993 to 2002, and after doing 14 seasons of his scathing Real Time for HBO, Maher remains a prickly outsider, a cynical stoner guy, and the kind of self-styled comedy asshole who will never be embraced by regular folks but whose biting humor cuts through the ignorance with a tidy precision that is both old-school and Internet modern.
“Don’t get so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance.”
Maher has spent the last 25 years poking politicians, pundits, and Presidents. He really stirred up controversy with Politically Incorrect that largely led to cancelling that program, and he continues to do so today. The program was canceled in 2002, after Maher made controversial statements about 9/11. But the next year he was back hosting Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO.
He was born William Maher in NYC, one of two kids, and raised in River Vale, New Jersey.
As a kid, Maher was exposed to television news because his father, William Maher Sr. worked as an editor for NBC’s news division. At his house, dinner table talk touched on the major issues of the day, and young Maher was encouraged to voice his opinions.
After high school, Maher attended Cornell University, graduating with degrees in English and History. But, he always wanted to be a comedian, but his career had a slow start as he worked the comedy clubs in NYC and Los Angeles. He had some small roles in a few forgettable feature films and television programs, including the series Sara (1885), starring Geena Davis (1985); and the award-winning film Cannibal Women In The Avocado Jungle Of Death (1989). He hosted a CBS talk show, Midnight Hour (1990), which lasted one season and got a solo gig on HBO’s One Night Stand in 1992. Maher became a frequent guest on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and Late Night With David Letterman.
Most comics in the 1990s, thought the prize was getting a sitcom or working in films. But that never happened for Maher. But, in 1993 Maher was approached by a new and struggling cable network, Comedy Central, about hosting a program. Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher, was his answer and he brought together people from various professions, rock stars, athletes, actors, just to sit and talk about current events. To keep the conversation moving, Maher would offer with his very opinionated, wry comments.
“We’re all gonna be gay if we get health care!”
The show was a hit, and Maher won three consecutive Cable ACE Awards. After three years, ABC picked up the program to air after Nightline, going up against the second half-hour of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and The Late Show With David Letterman.
But, then came that controversy after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when Maher remarked on-air that the USA had been more “cowardly” than its attackers for going after its enemies with long-distance cruise missiles. ABC rebuked Maher for the comment, and he immediately issued an apology, but the damage had been done. Nine months later, Politically Incorrect was cancelled.
But, Maher was anything but washed-up. In 2003, he returned with a new real, Real Time With Bill Maher for HBO. He also made a number of television comedy specials, including Bill Maher: I’m Swiss (2005) and 2007’s Bill Maher: The Decider. In 2008, he released a documentary Religulous, with a cynical, satirical look at the world’s religions. Larry Charles directed the film. In 2013, Maher partnered with Shane Smith as executive producer of the HBO documentary series Vice.
This week Maher spoke about what it means to be “the losers” in Donald Trump’s American, warning: “No one knows what this man is capable of doing”. He told the NY Times that the new POTUS unpredictability differs drastically from his predecessors, including George W. Bush:
“I never, ever, ever felt worried—it never crossed my mind—that George Bush would do something crazy, even though I knew he hated me. He never sued me for a joke.”
Maher now warns us that Trump “lives for vengeance”, adding that of all Trump’s adversaries: “No one’s been meaner to him than me”. Apparently ignoring the contribution of writers and crew at World Of Wonder.
Maher is particularly worried about reports that an anti-Hillary Clinton insurgency in the FBI worked to leak negative information about the former Democratic candidate for President. Maher:
“It is a very troubling idea that the FBI is politicized. When the internal police department is politicized, that’s a place I don’t want to be on the wrong side of—I mean, that’s fascism.”
Still, Maher argued that liberals, particular in showbiz, need to make an effort to understand people who voted for Trump:
“We’re the losers now, so it behooves us to break out of that bubble more.”
Maher has been a longtime friend to LGBTQ people. His frequent guests on his panel at Real Time have included Dan Savage, Barney Frank and Andrew Sullivan. When the Supreme Court decided Marriage Equality in June 2015, Maher said America was now what liberals thought we would become. Maher, celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision by declaring:
“America is finally growing up. It has a black president, it has gay marriage. Pot is legal in four states and medical is legal in many, many more.”
“This is the America we always thought, the liberal half, that we thought we would become. This is the one that they did not want to see and it drives them crazy. It just drives them crazy.”
Maher is the perfect comic personality of me. He is a pot smoker, vegetarian and Animal Rights activist. He may be a very funny guy, but he is incredibly serious about his work on behalf of other species. He has been an advocate of animals for decades and a board member of the People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA) since 1997. Maher also gives time and money to Best Friends Animal Society and the Farm Animal Rights Movement.
After taking a winter break right after that fateful election, Maher returns to Real Time for a 15th season tonight. The timing is ironic in two ways; it is Maher’s 61st birthday and also Inauguration Day. With The Trump Family Singers moving into the White House on this day, I am expecting an especially interesting, and yes, funny show tonight. I’m going to watch while smoking marijuana with a dog on my lap.
“New Rule: Gay marriage won’t lead to dog marriage. It is not a slippery slope to rampant inter-species coupling. When women got the right to vote, it didn’t lead to hamsters voting. No court has extended the equal protection clause to salmon. And for the record, all marriages are ‘same sex’ marriages. You get married, and every night, it’s the same sex.”